Fossils better than Picasso
Saturday, 12th November 2011
Dinosaur bones are the new luxury goods, with buyers paying top dollar for them.
Paris – The Standard & Poor’s Global Luxury Index fails to reflect the escalating demand for dinosaurs.
“Investability is a key criterion for index selection,” says Standard & Poor’s Financial Services public relations manager Dave Guarino. “While luxury dealers exist in dinosaur skin and bones, they’re not typically the large and liquid companies we look for.”
Mr Hal Prandi, one of the two guys at Two Guys Fossils, shrugs off S&P’s evaluation of his trade.
“Market value comes down to what a person is willing to shell out for a dinosaur,” says the 60-year-old dinosaur dealer, who has been in the business since 1985, selling Jurassic ribs for US$350 (S$453) each, Cretaceous toes at US $295 a digit and a 5m-long Camarasurus tail for US$20,000.
Wall Street recognition will be fast and furious once he can supply the market with dinosaur genitalia, he says.
“There’s never been a fossilised penis or vagina found on a dinosaur,” he says. “The first person who finds one is going to make bundles of cash, but who knows how much,” he says.
“This isn’t like the used car business. We don’t have a Blue Book, though T-Rex teeth go for US$1,000 for every 2.5mm.”
From the Two Guys Fossils headquarters near Johnny Macaroni’s restaurant in East Bridgewater, Massachusetts, to the stylish auction houses along Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore in Paris, French art promoter Sylvie Lajotte-Robaglia says affluent trendsetters are on the prowl for trophy dinosaurs.
Indeedn, Hollywood stars Nicolas Cage and Leonardo DiCaprio in 2007 entered into a spirited bidding war at I.M. Chait auctioneers in Beverly Hills over who would go home with a 67-million-year-old T-Rex skull. Cage’s US$276,000 bid won the day.
“That’s the fancy market,” Mr Prandi says. “With me, it’s first come, first served, and you can find good business in selling dinosaurs to emerging countries. The first thing those guys want to do is build a museum and put a dinosaur in it.”
Ms Lajotte-Robaglia, director of Art & Communication SA, caters to a more discreet and established clientele.
She has helped Christie’s International sell a mammoth for €312,000 (S4548,000) and played a role in auctioning off a complete Triceratops skeleton for €592,000.
Over at Sotheby’s Paris, France’s first lady of dinosaurs last year facilitated the sale of a €280,000 Triceratops skull to an anonymous bidder and is currently involved in moving a Prosaurolophus Maximus with mummified skin for €1.5 million, a giant 483-million-year-old French lobster from the Silurian Period at €12,000 and a 3.7m-long Xiphactinus Audax fish for €150,000.
“We once sold a mammoth to a French winemaker for €150,000,” Ms Lajotte-Robaglia says. “He put it in the reception room of his chateau. Whether a Brontosaurus looks good in your salon is matter of taste but these customers are young wealthy people who grew up mesmerised by Spielberg’s Jurassic Park and find the aesthetics of a dinosaur more interesting than a Picasso.”
Mr Prandi says confirming a dinosaur’s provenance is just a tricky as verifying the authenticity of a work by the Spanish master.
“A lot of people call me from all over the country and say, ‘I found a dinosaur in my backyard,’ but it turns out to be a rock that looks like a dinosaur,” he says. Even so, the United States remain the world leader in mining luxury dinosaurs.
“It’s one of the few things we’re still No. 1 in, ” says Mr Prandi. ” Countries rich in dinosaurs, places such as China and Morocco, have slapped moratoriums on fossil sales, but not America. So long as the dinosaur is found on private property, Washington gives you an export licence.”
Still, Ms Lajotte-Robaglia says Sotheby’s was the first to offer dinosaur market elegance.
“Our first dinosaur auction was in 1997,” she says, leafing through Sotheby’s 112-page October natural-history sale catalogue. Lot 38 is an 85-million-year-old flying Pteranodon Longiceps that comes from what is now Kansas.
Translated roughly from Latin, the “creature with no teeth able to steal and who bears an outstretched head” had a 9m wingspan and now has a €250,000 price tag. “Given its age, this is not a very expensive dinosaur,” she says.
Back in East Bridgewater, Mr Prandi says he has no plans to turn Two Guys Fossils into an upmarket auction house and get i on the luxury-dinosaur action.
“Most of my clients are average run-of-the-mill guys,” he says. “For now, my most unique sale was a fossilised organic dinosaur brain. Sold for US$2,000.”
He says that will change if he can beat the competition in finding a T-Rex penis, which, according to paleontologists at the Discovery Channel, should measure 3.7, long and 30cm wide.
“Only guys on Wall Street can afford something like that,” he says.