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    Description

    WILLAMETTE - AN EXTREMELY NOTEWORTHY OFFERING, THE CROWN SECTION OF THE MOST FAMOUS METEORITE IN THE WORLD

    Iron, medium octahedrite; shocked and recrystallized
    Clackamas County, Oregon

    Now provided is the unique opportunity to acquire the missing portion of a centerpiece exhibit at a world-renowned museum: the crown section of the Willamette meteorite at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

    The Willamette meteorite is the largest meteorite recovered in North America and the 6th largest in the world. It is believed the meteorite fell in Canada or Montana and was a glacial erratic (i.e., it was deposited in Oregon by glacial activity during the last Ice Age, which ended approximately 12,000 years ago). In 1902, miner Ellis Hughes discovered the meteorite on property adjacent to his own, which belonged to Oregon Iron & Steel. Recognizing an opportunity to profit, Hughes endeavored to move the meteorite onto his property. Using a horse, wagon, cables and capstan, over a period of nine months he ingeniously moved the 15.5 ton nickel iron mass onto his land - and then charged the curious to view it. When the local newspaper reported the meteorite's discovery on October 24, 1903, the crowds on the Hugh's property swelled in size. Unfortunately for Hughes, one of his customers happened to be an attorney from Oregon Iron & Steel, and he noticed the telltale groove in the forest leading onto his employer's land. The company subsequently sued for possession, and after several colorful court cases, prevailed in its claim. In 1905, the meteorite was exhibited at the 1905 World's Fair; while the meteorite's future resting place was being debated among civic leaders, Oregon Iron and Steel sold it to Mrs. William E. Dodge, who then immediately gifted the meteorite to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

    The Willamette meteorite has been on display at the Museum for 102 years - and its tenure has not been a quiet one. It has been the centerpiece in two major exhibit halls where it has been seen or touched by an estimated 50 million people. There have also been two additional custody disputes. In 1990, tens of thousands of schoolchildren signed petitions to have the meteorite returned to Oregon. A bill was proposed in support of the schoolchildren's ambitions in the U.S. Senate and an Oregon congressman suggested withholding federal funding earmarked for the Museum until the meteorite was returned. This civics lesson ended when the children's mentors were ultimately convinced to discontinue their effort. In 1999 a coalition of Oregonian Native Americans, The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, filed a claim to have the meteorite returned to Oregon by invoking the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) - more typically used to retrieve burial remains and crafted artifacts. According to Clackamas Indian tradition, the meteorite called "Tomanowos" was delivered from the Moon to the Clackamas and conveyed messages from the spirit world since the beginning of time. The Museum filed a lawsuit in federal court that challenged the Grand Ronde's claim and requested a declaratory judgment that the meteorite was museum property. The parties eventually settled out-of-court, where it was agreed the meteorite would remain a Museum centerpiece and never again be cut.
    As a result of its uniquely dramatic appearance, textbooks frequently use an image of the Willamete to illustrate a meteorite (conveying an incorrect impression of what meteorites usually look like). The deep basin of the meteorite is likely the result of inclusions having melted during frictional heating in the atmosphere, which caused small depressions in which water pooled and oxidized the mass over thousands of years in a manner that would be determined by Willamette's internal structure - which is also unique. As evidenced by its singular crystalline matrix, the Willamette meteorite recrystallized, and it is believe this could have only occurred as a result of it having melted following a cataclysmic collision in outer space.

    The crown section offered here was removed from the meteorite in 1997 to complete an exchange between the Museum and the Macovich Collection (for which the Museum received a highly exotic piece of the planet Mars). The section is comprised of two swooping flanges, one of which contains a naturally formed hole, joined just above the specimen's cut and polished surface. Two large troilite (iron sulfide) inclusions punctuate the sparkling crystalline face.

    As conveyed in the Introduction to Meteorites in the beginning of this section, when a single meteorite is recovered and there are no additional specimens from the same event, the meteorite must necessarily undergo subdivision by scientists for analysis. The American Museum's Curator of Meteorites, the late Dr. Martin Prinz, wished to display Willamette's singular internal structure by cutting off a section of the meteorite, and as a result of his having done so, science was again served. Following Dr. Prinz's death, Darryl Pitt, the curator of the Macovich Collection, noticed peculiar bubbling along the perimeter of one of the sulfide inclusions and reached out to the world's foremost expert in iron meteorites, Dr. John Wasson of UCLA, who stated "These bubbles are fascinating. We cannot remember having seen angular FeS fragments entrained into a eutectic melt before." Ongoing research is continuing to take place.
    This is the largest specimen cut from the most famous meteorite in the world - and an unprecedented opportunity to obtain a conspicuously missing section of a renowned museum centerpiece. 246 x 279 x 158 mm (9.75 x 11 x 6.25 inches) and 13.998 kg (29.5 pounds).

    Provenance: American Museum of Natural History, NYC. This specimen was featured on CBS Sunday Morning and in pages of, among others, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Economist and The Robb Report - where it was presented as one of "21 Ultimate Gifts" in December 2010.


    Estimate: $875,000 - up.

    Condition Report*: Condition report available upon request.
    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

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    Auction Dates
    June, 2011
    12th Sunday
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