We will rock you: Meteorites land in SA sale
Bidders invest in stardust at the first meteorite auction in South Africa
A man bought himself a piece from space on Tuesday for his 50th birthday next month in Johannesburg.
“My favourite movies have always been like Star Wars things. I was always interested in cosmo things like time machines … I like all those movies,” Harvey Li said after the auction at the Killarney Country Club.
Li bought a 428g Gibeon meteorite cube for $1,200 (R15,200) and a Gibeon knife by knife maker Andries Olivier for $1,200 (R15,200) at the first meteorite auction in South Africa.
Gibeon was first recognised as a meteorite by Sir John Hershel after he analysed a fragment found in Namibia in 1837.According to the brochure thousands of pieces have since been collected and combined into a mass “well over” 100 tons. The largest specimen weights 680 kg and is currently held in a museum in Cape Town.
Li moved to Johannesburg in 2003 from Shandong Province in southwestern China. He often accompanies his wife to auctions, but on Tuesday went to buy something for himself.
He smiled when he said:“I am going to tell her. She is my boss.”
The auction was held by Stephan Welz & Co. and was also the first time mineral specimens were auctioned locally.
Collector Ronnie McKenzie said the meteorites sold at the auction were remnants of meteors that survived the “corridor of fire through Earth’s atmosphere” and landed on Earth.Meteorites were largely stored in universities and museums before the 1960s and private ownership was rare.
No South African meteorites were auctioned, because local meteorites belong to the state. They can only be traded with a permit from the South African Heritage Resource Agency (SAHRA).
Some of the factors that determine the price of meteorites are rarity, origin, preservation, beauty and if someone witnesses the meteorite crashing down to Earth.
Six of the 21 meteorites were sold on Tuesday. The most expensive was the NWA 6950 Lunar Gabbro for $2,600 (R32,900).
According to the brochure it is lunar igneous rock that is the “rarest of the rare”. Igneous rock is formed when magma becomes solid, often when it is poured out of a volcano.
Anton Welz, divisional head of Stephan Welz & Co Fine Art and Design Auctioneers, said this auction is part of the evolution of the auctioning industry.
“I think financially it was not good, because a lot of it was unsold. But it is the first time that we have tried this.”
Welz said sellers encouraged them to do it again irrespective of the result. He said meteorites are a niche market because of the limited supply.
“It will appeal to a particular sector of collector. It doesn’t have the universal appeal that a Kruger Rand has got.”Stephan Welz & Co. also auctions fine art, jewellery, furniture, books, ceramics, maps, coins and classic cars.
The room of about 30 people on Tuesday were subdued with only a handful bidding.
“When there’s a fairly full room and stuff is selling, then there is a great energy and great atmosphere. Today was hard work, because there wasn’t a lot of bidding going on.”
Bidders do not have to be in the room to bid as they can register online before the auction from anywhere in the world. Others book a telephone bid in advance on an item and then when that item is being auctioned, someone in the room phones the bidder so they can bid in real time.
Art specialist Chris de Klerk from Stephan Welz & Co. said they started setting up the auction in September last year by speaking to collectors who either owned or knew others who owned meteorites.
“Where a lot of people buy art as an investment, meteorite is a lot more for the collection value.”
De Klerk thinks most find the auction process very intimidating, but said it is transparent and clear.
“When you pick your nose, the auctioneer is not going to think that you made a bid. You get a card that you hold in the air.”