“Dueling Dinosaurs” fossil fails to sell

The fossil of two large dinosaurs frozen in what appears to be a combat posture failed to sell at a Bonhams’ auction Tuesday. This will doubtless gladden the heart of the scientific community which was dismayed that this unique specimen was being sold to the highest bidder instead of to a museum or institution of learning. The sellers, the owners of the Montana ranch where the fossil was unearthed in 2006, had offered it to museums but for ungodly sums (they asked the Smithsonian for $15 million) so they turned to the open market. The pre-sale estimate was $7 million to $9 million, but the expectation was this piece would blow past those figures to eclipse the standing record for a fossil sale (T-Rex Sue, sold in 1997 to the Field Museum of Chicago for $8.36 million).

Instead, the bidding stopped at 5.5 million which wasn’t even enough to meet the undisclosed reserve price. I’m sure the Smithsonian is discreetly hiding a little smirk behind its fan right now, especially since the next step is private negotiations with, you guessed it, museums.

“The story isn’t over,” said Thomas Lindgren, co-consulting director of the natural history department at Bonhams in Los Angeles, who put together today’s natural history auction in New York, which drew a crowd prospective buyers, curious onlookers and reporters.

“Behind the scenes, before the sale occurred today, I’ve had museums mention that they have difficulty coming up with funds this quickly, but should the lot not sell — which of course occurred — they want us to be in negotiations immediately,” Lindgren said during a press conference after the sale. “I’m very confident we’re going to find a scientific home for these dinosaurs.”

If the prices hadn’t been so ludicrously exorbitant, I’m very confident these dinosaurs would already have a scientific home. Apparently Mr. Lindgren had some concerns, unstated in the publicity rush leading up to the sale, of course, that this rare discovery of a herbivore (Triceratops relative Chasmosaurine ceratopsian) and a carnivore (one of only two examples of Nanotyrannus lancensis ever found) locked together would fall into the black hole of a private collection and be lost to science.

Lindgren said he had been guiding the sale toward the institutions and donors that would house the fossils in a public collection, adding that he wasn’t thrilled with the idea that they could “disappear to a private individual who would not make them available.”

There’s only so much guiding you can do when the sellers are looking to make $15 million, however, so its failure to get anywhere near the price tag they were hoping for will hopefully be the correction they need to make something happen with a museum or school.