Old Bones: In order to get a sense of the changing economy, investors watch market indexes, unemployment rates, and maybe the rise and fall of hemlines. Then acting on their favored information, they might speculate in Bitcoin or other ephemera, but more tangible indicators and opportunities await. If one really wants to predict where the economy is going, the fluctuating prices for Tyrannosaurus rex fossilized skeletons may be the best indicator to watch. Presently there are only 20 relatively intact sets of T rex fossils, and owners seem attached to them. but more fossils will be unearthed. How sensitive will they be to market pressures? When should the astute investor jump in?

I blogged about the T rex marketplace several years ago and recounted the discovery and eventual auction of Sue for roughly $8 million in 1997 (more like $13 million in today’s dollars). In 2019, I also alerted potential buyers to the availability of a baby T rex fossilized skeleton on eBay for a “buy it now” $2.95 million. It did not sell, and I do not know its present whereabouts.

What’s happened more recently?

  • In 2020, an anonymous bidder purchased another remarkably intact T rex, Stan, for a staggering $32 million, the highest price ever paid for a fossil. Bull market!
  • In November 2022, Christie’s in Hong Kong canceled the auction of Shen at the last minute. Market crash! The auction house stated that the specimen would “benefit from further study.” Shen, which means gold-like in Chinese, had been expected to sell for between $15 million and $25 million before an astute observer noted that parts of Shen may be replicas of Stan’s bones.
  • In December 2022, Sotheby’s brought the gavel down on a T rex skull, Maximus, for $6.1 million, far less than the expected $15 million to $20 million. Bear market!
  • Then in April 2023, Trinity, an assemblage of parts from three different T rexs brought in a mere $4.8 million, less than the Zurich auctioneer’s estimated range of $5.6 to $9 million. Recession? Depression?

Bull or bear, the whole idea of auctioning privately acquired fossils severely sickens academic paleontologists. Amateur and professional fossil hunters yearn to discover a pot of gold and may not excavate, record, and preserve their finds as carefully as would academically inclined paleontologists. Also mega-wealthy private investors can outbid museums for any discovered bounty, potentially removing these world treasures from scientific scrutiny and public appreciation.

Such was the worry when Stan fell into the hands of an anonymous bidder. But a year and a half later, by sleuthing American trade records, National Geographic magazine tracked this nearly 6-ton shipment from New York to Abu Dhabi. Officials there owned up the the purchase. When their new natural history museum opens in 2025, Stan will be the featured attraction.

Decide for yourself about bidding on the next T rex that comes on the market. Just remember that your budget should include plans for a display area that is accessible to the public and that is suitable for featuring your 40-foot-long, 12-foot-high, stone-bone investment, far more solid than Bitcoins or tweets regardless of market fluctuations.

If you are pinched for funds at the moment but still would like a T rex for your living room, polyurethane casts of Stan are available for a down-to-earth $120,000.


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