Fossils, The Ultimate Antiques

 But surely, these are for biology teachers and bearded scientists, not sensible types looking for an objet d'art to add flavour to their home! But fossils are for the 21st century what anaglypta was to the 1970*5. These days those intense interior design chappies who have colonized TV

think nothing of popping out for a few Jurassic ornaments and some 100 million year old shellfish to slap on the walls. Fossils combine a natural quality with an age that is simply mind boggling, and they have suddenly become art.      

 Paleontological retailer Gregory, Bottley and Lloyd have supplied three Turner Prize shortlisted artists and one Turner prize winner. Now that may not in itself strike you as a strong
recommendation. Turner prize shortlists have included works using elephant dung, rice, concrete and other unmentionable items! But it remains the case that the art establishment think that fossils are in.

All this fuss over fossils in the art and interior design world has ignited a market in impressive large scale fossils at auction. The London auction houses have taken to including the odd fossil in their scientific instruments sales, which may seem an odd place to see a fossil, but then again in what sale do you enter a fossil?

 They pop up in decorative arts sales, and can even make it into generalized furniture sales. Sotheby's Billingshurst have included a number in their architectural salvage and garden ornaments auctions. Bonhams have held a couple of sales devoted to fossils, but interest was not sufficient to make them worth repeating. However individual appearances by fossils at auction result in hefty prices.

An ammonite fetched $2500 at Sotheby's , A lot of money for a piece of rock you might think, but fossils are so much more than that. They are an all too obvious reminder of evolution, an assertion of the mortality of species, and cheap at twice the price!

The problem with the fossil market is one of bipolarity. At one end of the market we have the interior designers buying something as a conversation piece for a corporate headquarters. At the other we have the enthusiasts selling fossils as paleontological specimens and souvenirs, at rock-bottom (no pun intended) prices. At fossil fairs, and retail outlets they are being sold at prices that collectors can afford.

Just take the example of a Sauropod (a dinosaur) egg. Gregory, Bottley and Lloyd had one for sale for $1000  Bonhams sold a group of sauropod eggs for $60,000 back in 1990s. Admittedly at Bonhams you came away with a whole clutch of eggs for your wedge, and a nest of eggs is a rarer paleontological find than just one. But not that much rarer, not sixty grand rarer.


You might ask why the auction houses are getting such high prices for fossils. The answer is ignorance. Not on the part of the auctioneer- they know the prices. No it's ignorance on the part of the interior designers. These are people that may be able to knock you up a Modernist shower cubicle but in matters of fossils their knowledge is thin on the ground. And anyway they are selling on to clients. Imagine taking a two foot wide ammonite into a plush office block in the City and telling them it adds $100 to the design bill. They would think it was a fake. Tell them it cost $8000 and they will look at you in admiration and awe and think it money well spent. The art market is prepared to pay a lot for fossils because they think they must be expensive.

Not all fossils are cheap. Great rarities can fetch huge sums. A complete T Rex skeleton sold at Sotheby's New York in 1990s to the Field Museum Chicago for $8.2 million. This particular T Rex nicknamed Sue (the well known sense of humour of paleontologists coming once again to the fore!), was paid for in part by corporate sponsors.

The skeleton once purchased went to the scarily named McDonald's Fossil Preparatory Laboratory at the Field Museum. Even Disney got in on the act, stumping up some of the cash for the dinosaur. But fossil shops are not bursting at the seams with T Rexes. A complete skeleton coming on the market is virtually unheard of. Even some way down the market, prices for individual fossils can easily stretch into the thousands, but only for items of great scientific value. A single tiny bone from one species may be worth hundreds, but an interior designer cannot place it on a mantelpiece and expect his client to be agog.

The art market likes to buy fossils by the yard. The bigger the better. These fossils are primarily visual objects in their hands, and the individual species of fossil is of less importance.
We all know how faddish interior designers can be though. What may be in this year, may be out the next. The vogue for fossils is by no means universal.


They will sit well in a uncluttered modernist interior, and draw the eye to their snapshot of prehistoric life. Put them in a rococo foyer, in the style of those grand Hong Kong hotels, and they would be swamped by the gilding and the columns. The market for fossils for interiors is restricted, and tracking down large cheap fossils is no easy task. But if you want to recreate the designer interior, complete with fossil decor, then your best bet may be to contact a local group of fossil hunters, who may be able to supply you with items. Or you could journey to one of the fossil retailers.


If you are in the market for fossils for your own living room, and they are certainly value for money. When you think of the amount of time expended in finding them and cleaning them, prices look even cheaper. Fortunately there are enough amateurs out there willing to sell off finds surplus to requirements, to keep prices for fossils through the normal retail outlets cheap. Naturally enthusiasts tend to sell off the common finds and keep the rarities themselves, but if you are simply looking for an interesting piece to grace your new shelving unit, and aren't too concerned with scientific values, this could be the buy for you.


My personal favourite however is not a fossil at all. Why stop at a paltry few million years old, why not go for something from closer to the beginning of time itself? For $500 you could be the proud owner otf  a  second-hand meteorite. Due to high mileage and the obvious dangers of entry into the Earth's atmosphere, meteorites arrive somewhat travel-stained. If there is a previous owner he is light years away. The chances are it has been circling the Solar System long before we were even so much as primordial soup. $550 for several billion years! In pounds per year, that's what I call value for money.

 Collectibles Coach

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