How This Dinosaur Fossil Became Worth $32 Million
The rare fossil set has been valued in the tens of millions, and it's for good reasons.
Collecting dinosaur fossils have been a unique trend in the last decade. Perhaps gaining the most interest in 2007 when celebrities Leonardo DiCaprio and Nicholas Cage ended up in a bidding war over a $276,000 tyrannosaurus batarr dinosaur skull. Cage won but later returned the fossil in 2015 to Mongolia, because the artifact had been stolen for auction from the country.
Just last fall, a 40-foot-long Tyrannosaurus Rex, nicknamed Stan, sold to an anonymous buyer for $32 million, a record figure for the now-popular public auctions.
What is the draw to owning dinosaur fossils and causing the bidding war to continue to escalate?
Appeal Of Owning Dinosaurs
The likes of DiCaprio, Cage and Russell Crowe have established the collections as super exclusive and coveted pieces to have in one’s home.
The cost of owning your own dinosaur fossil is comparable to owning a famous painting and artists don’t have their equivalent of Jurassic Park, making the collections cool and modern with the film franchise’s popularity.
Herbivore dinosaur fossils can go for $500,000 to $1 million and carnivores such as the T. Rex and the Velociraptor go for $3 million to $10 million.
DiCaprio is a known art trader as well, with drawings by Picasso, Dali and Jean-Michel Basquiat according to Art Net which put them in the same ballpark as a 60-million-year-old artifact.
Australian actor Crowe recently held a large auction following his divorce from Danielle Spencer. Among the auctioned items, was the fossil of a giant marine reptile, a Mosasaur for approximately $40,000 and leading many to believe Crowe has a small collection of fossils at home.
As the trend grew, auction houses and galleries like Aguttes, Christie’s and Sotheby’s have regularly sold a variety of dinosaur fossils to ultra-rich collectors, but scientists say the practice can be detrimental to the science community.
Scientists Speak Out
Art collectors and enthusiasts claim skeletons are truly a work of art, requiring paleontologists, artisans, designers and historian experts to restore the large pieces, according to W Magazine. However, scientists say the private trade among celebrities and rare collectors result in historical artifacts standing idle in someone’s living room versus open for investigation, study and new discoveries in the science world.
According to Mercury News, the Paris auction house Augettes recently sold a dinosaur fossil to an anonymous buyer for $2.1 million, excavated in 2013 and thought to be a new species of dinosaur but has not yet been identified by scientists.
The Society for Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) spoke against the sale before the auction began saying “Fossil specimens that are sold into private hands are lost to science.”
While some buyers loan their purchase to a museum or for further scientific study, scientists fear the vast majority will remain the property of someone that only sees the fossil as “art” and not something rich in scientific discovery.
All of the collectors bidding for the worlds most rare and unique fossils has led to the largest sale in history – $32 million for one T. Rex named Stan.
Stan’s Rich History
The men behind Stan, brothers Peter and Neal Larson have a sad and sorted history together. The two have spent decades searching and digging for dinosaur fossils, excavating 11 T. Rexes and many other fossils now housed in museums and collections around the world.
They are the pair behind Chicago’s famous Field Museum T. Rex, Sue. She was the most expensive dinosaur to date at $8,400,000 until Stan was sold in 2020.
After a lifetime of working together and discovering new scientific evidence, the two had a falling out and wanted to separate their assets at the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in Hill City, S.D., including their coveted Stan.
According to the Wall Street Journal, two years ago a circuit-court judge ordered the brothers to divide their assets and part ways.
Pete received the institute, 100,000 fossils and private museum valued at $5 million and Neal was given the right to sell Stan, estimating its value around $5 million to $6 million. However, as the live auction began on Oct. 6 both brothers watched virtually as bidders began to rise higher and higher for the famous piece.
In the end, a $32 million price tag took Stan off the market and Neal is a lot richer than originally anticipated.
“That’s more than we’ve grossed in the entire history of our business,” Peter commented.
The brothers have had their share of misfortune and disappointment over their work. In the mid-1990’s they lost a legal battle over Sue, handing her over to a local for ultimate auction. The family began falling apart after that, and Stan is perhaps the final blow.
“The trauma from that older case still grates on this family, and I think it exacerbated any existing cracks,” said Kristin Donnan, Peter’s former wife. “Stan did what Sue couldn’t do: It broke up the family.”
Lawsuits, one brother firing another and the need to part ways grew over the years, culminating with the court’s decision two years ago,” said the Wall Street Journal.
Despite the brothers amazing discoveries and personal story of loss and disconnect, the questions remain how to protect science and allow all to enjoy.
While fossil collecting doesn’t seem to be losing steam, hopefully the world as a whole doesn’t suffer in scientific discovery and education.