Since meteorites is an unregulated market, it is largely self-policed. However, laws that already exist can often apply to meteorite trading. For example, fraud and mail-fraud are illegal. If a seller claims a meteorite is classified, and it is not, they are committing fraud. If the amount of the sale is over a certain amount, the fraud becomes a felony. Sending a bogus specimen through the mail exposes the seller to mail fraud charges, which are considerably more serious. If the seller accepts a USPS money order for a fraudulent specimen, then the charges really start piling on. However, fraud cases brought against meteorite sellers are quite rare and scammers are notoriously dismissive of consequences.
This leaves the market to police itself. As I said before, the meteorite market is relatively small, compared to other collectibles like coins. Word gets around fast and there are unofficial "black lists" of disgraced dealers who will be avoided by knowledgeable collectors and legitimate dealers/wholesalers. Nobody wants to be associated with a scammer, because even an indirect association can be damaging to one's reputation and business.
One of the unspoken rules of meteorite dealing is : never misrepresent a specimen. If a "legit" dealer says the specimen is classified, then it has been classified. What does this really mean? It can mean a few different things, depending on the situtation. Let me give an example based on my own experience :
The Sulagiri you asked about that is on my website. I purchased it from Matt Morgan of Mile High Meteorites. Matt Morgan has a squeaky-clean reputation, does exchanges with reputable institutions, is on a first-name basis with several reputable meteorite scientists, and has a long history of cultivating reliable connections with meteorite hunters and wholesalers abroad. He purchased a large quantity of Sulagiri, which he then sliced up for resale. The cutting process created a lot of small crumbs, slivers, and specks. He packaged up those crumbs into small lots and I purchased one. I now resell those crumbs as micromounts.
Now, the next logical question becomes - how do I *know* these crumbs are really Sulagiri? And further, how do I know that Matt Morgan *knows* these are Sulagiri? Who was his source? How trustworthy is his source? It is a can of worms that requires detective work.
First, I have owned (over a period of several years), no less than 3 different batches of Sulagiri material. One batch consisted of large fresh fragments that I cut up into slices for another dealer who had purchased the lot. These batches of material came from different sources, but they all had one thing in common - the material from each batch was identical the material in the other batches from other sources. This material was also identical to photos of material in established collections in institutions and universities. I have also studied this material in thin-section form, in hand macroscopically, and under the microscope - not to authenticate the material per-se, but to satisfy my own curiosities. I am confident the material is Sulagiri.
Now, back to the source of my current batch, Matt Morgan. I never asked him where he acquired the material from. This is always a touchy question with dealers, because many dealers do not want to reveal their sources for reasons of competition. Some dealers are happy to tell you, if you ask. Some dealers are reluctant to tell. I never asked Matt because I trust him completely. That trust is not given lightly and I have known Matt for years and his reputation is spotless. If for a moment I thought that I could not trust Matt or his source, I would have never bought the material in the first place.
An uneasy truth in the meteorite world is that most material is not individually tested before it is resold. The majority of material is identified by eye and in hand or in photos. Here is a common scenario :
1) an established dealer is contacted by one of his sources in Morocco. This source is someone they have bought many batches of material from previously and there is an established relationship. The source says, "I have 2 kilograms of NWA 869 for .15 cents a gram, are you interested?"
2) the dealer asks for specifics - photos, weights, and find circumstances. Where did the wholesaler acquire the material from? Several photos are sent along with numbers.
3) If the dealer likes what he sees in the photos, haggling will take place and a price is agreed upon.
4) the dealer sends money via Western Union to the seller in Morocco.
5) the seller boxes up the meteorites and mails them to the buyer via FedEx.
6) The dealer receives the meteorites. He/she unpacks them, inspects them visually and determines whether or not they are indeed NWA 869, based on previous experiences with the same material. Some meteorites like NWA 869 have a distinctive appearance, so that determination is easier to make with some meteorites.
7) if the dealer is satisfied with the material, he weighs the pieces, photographs them, and then offers them for resale.
Very rarely does the dealer send a sample of each batch of material to a lab for testing. Very rarely.
For unclassified material or new meteorites, this process is different. A legit dealer will cut off a sample from a representative specimen and send that specimen to a reputable lab recognized by the Meteoritical Society for testing. While awaiting the results, the dealer holds the material in reserve because it becomes more valuable and marketable once the testing it completed. Once the tests come back, the sample is submitted for approval by the Nomenclature Committee (NonCom) of the Meteoritical Society. Final approval and publishing in the Bulletin can take months or years. Once the material is approved by NonCom, it is assigned a formal name or catalog number. At this point, the material is "classified" and can be sold as such.
A unique or new meteorite is relatively easy to do detective work on. For example. NWA 6928 is a relatively-unique and anomalous diogenite. I picked it off the top of my head. It is a relatively small find of only 223g before classification. The entry in the Bulletin lists the owner of the main mass as Gary Fujihara. Gary is easy to reach via email and will be happy to answer questions about any potential NWA 6928 specimen - he can tell you who bought a given piece and he can examine photos to tell you whether a given specimen is indeed NWA 6928. Any other similar material from another source other than Gary is likely to be sourced from Gary originally, or it is not NWA 6928. Any mystery involving a meteorite like that is pretty easy to solve.
With something like NWA 869, the situtation is trickier because there is a likelihood that no actual lab-testing was done on the material being offered. It was "self paired", to use the parlance of the field.
And then there are legalities - NWA 869 comes from Algeria. Algeria forbids the export of meteorites. Meteorites from Algeria were not exported legally. If you buy an NWA 869 meteorite, the Algerian Police are not going to show up at your house with an Interpol arrest warrant. But, that does not change the fact that NWA 869 (or any Algerian meteorite) is a "grey area" meteorite.
Collecting meteorites is complicated and it involves the laws/regulations of dozens of sovereign nations on multiple continents. Many of those nations do not have established laws regarding meteorites. Some of those nations with laws in place do not enforce them, like Algeria. Some of those nations do enforce the laws, like Argentina and Australia.
I know this is a lengthy and ultimately-unhelpful reply. But I wanted to touch on how complex and layered the meteorite collecting world is. It is a deep rabbit-hole and it takes time to understand the players involved. The best and safest route to take is to do your homework on your sources, find a reliable source and stick with that source(s). I still buy a lot of my material from the same sources that started me out many years ago. I could probably find cheaper and more profitable deals if I lowered my standards for my sources, but then I would not trust my own material. If I would not collect a given piece, then I would never sell it to another collector. To maintain the integrity of my collection, I am very picky. Some dealers are not so picky. It's fairly easy to identify which dealers to avoid, because their names are all over the Google Search results. And, people like the collectors in this forum and myself will be very candid when it comes to helping new collectors. Besides being my personal hobby and obsession, this is also a business for me and helping to educate collectors is good for business and the hobby. Whenever a newbie gets burned, it scares them away - like a cheap department-store junk scope can scare someone away from visual astronomy.
Edited by Glassthrower, 27 October 2014 - 03:56 PM.