Economic Downturn Slashes Dinosaur Fossil Prices

With the global recession biting hard and the impact of an economic downturn, it seems that even dinosaurs are not immune to the harsh financial realities of 2009.  Fossil collectors were able to bag themselves some real bargains at an auction of prehistoric fossils and other relics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada last week.

The prices paid for rare dinosaur fossils at auction have soared over the last few years.  Wealthy individuals have been competing with each other to acquire the most impressive specimens, often taking them out of public hands into private collections thus denying these fossils the chance of being studied.

In 2007, we published a number of articles on fossil auctions and reported on the phenomenon of wealthy individuals bidding for dinosaur fossils; often paying extraordinarily high prices for a particular item.

To read an article on this: Celebrities bid up the Price of Fossils

Last year we reported on a number of fossil auctions, including the sale of a virtually complete Triceratops skeleton.  Although this lot was not sold at the initial auction it did eventually find a buyer.  An unnamed American collector paid over $940,000 USD for the 7.5 metre long specimen.  The fossil failed to find a buyer at the actual auction held at Christie’s.  During the actual auction, bidding for the 7.5 metre, 70% complete specimen reached 490,000 euros but fell short of the seller’s reserve price on the day.

However, the auction team decided to keep the telephone bidding lines open and to extend the deadline for receipt of offers for 14 days.  Within 48 hours the Triceratops had been sold.  The failure of the star lot to be sold at the time may have been an indicator of the more testing times ahead for sellers of prehistoric remains.

To read the articles concerning this auction: Triceratops for Sale

The concluding article: Going, going, gone – Triceratops Finds a Buyer

The fossils which made up the auction lots at the Vancouver sale were mostly of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals from North America.  Maynards, the auction house involved with the sale, had acquired them from a Japanese department store that had closed.

Despite the difficult economic conditions, nearly every lot was sold, but the prices fossils fetched were considerably lower than expectations.  For example, a nearly complete mounted skeleton of an Edmontosaurus was sold for $150,000 CDN, a lot of money but much less than a similar specimen would have fetched had it been sold a couple of years ago.

A virtually intact Triceratops skull was sold at the relatively bargain price of $70,000 CDN, less than 50% of its estimated value.

Do you have a head for a Bargain?  The Triceratops Skull

Picture Credit: Maynards Industries

The skull specimen looks like a Triceratops horridus (the skull is a key diagnostic feature when trying to identify species in a genera).  There are only two valid Triceratops species recognised by palaeontologists but differences in skull morphology and characteristics has led to extensive debate amongst scientists as to how many different species of Triceratops evolved.

With an auction price of $70,000 CDN this item is beyond the reach of most people but when this price is compared to the $940,000 USD paid last year for an almost complete mounted specimen it sounds like very good value to us.

The 2008 Triceratops Fossil that went to Auction

Picture Credit: AFP

Perhaps the impact of the world-wide recession will have some good news for museums.  If fossil prices continue to fall then they may be able to afford to purchase more items for study and public collections.  Falling prices may also act as a disincentive, preventing unscrupulous fossil hunters trying to cash in quickly on any finds that they make.

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