TEXT OF STORY
Bob Moon: If you’re looking for the ultimate conversation piece, there’s nothing like an ancient carcass to really pull your living room together. Over the weekend, an auction of enormous proportions took place at the Venetian Casino in Las Vegas. The natural history auction offered an assortment of dinosaur skeletons all for sale to the highest bidder. As Marketplace’s Stacey Vanek-Smith reports, millions of years of evolution were no match for one year of economic meltdown.
STACEY VANEK-SMITH: This was not your typical auction.
AUCTION: At $80,000 now for the woolly mammoth, go $85. $80,000, no home should be without one. $80,000.
Yeah, that’s right. A woolly mammoth could be yours for the price of a BMW.
AUCTION: Sold! Thank you, sir!
The Bonhams and Butterfields’ auction, held right off the casino floor at the Venetian hotel, included a 65-ish-million-year-old duck-billed dinosaur, the largest prehistoric shark jaw in the world, fossilized dinosaur eggs and a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Named Samson. Thomas Lindgren, headed up the dino-auction. He says the T-Rex’s owner, who asked to remain anonymous, called about three months ago, wanting to sell.
THOMAS LINDGREN: Having a Tyrannosaurus Rex as our star, and three other dinosaur skeletons, along with world-class, museum-type specimens, financially, it’s huge.
Not nearly as huge as it might have been before the recession. A T-Rex named “Sue” sold for $8.3 million in 1997. Samson was only expected to fetch around $6 million.
MARION MANEKER: You’ve heard some very big, longtime collectors describe the sales as 60 percent off sales.
Marion Maneker is publisher of Art Market Monitor. He says the recession has pushed a lot of extraordinary finds onto the market because their owners need the money. And that means deals.
MANEKER: The people who have bought tend to be serious art collectors who suddenly feel that something has come on the market that they couldn’t afford two, three years ago.
AUCTION: So lot number 23, this wonderful, exceptional, 66-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, known as Samson. We’ll start the bidding here at $2.5 million — $2.6, $2.7…
The bidding hit $3.6 million. But that wasn’t enough to meet the minimum bid the seller was asking. So even on super-sale, Samson didn’t sell. Neither did a lot of things. Most of the items that did sell, went for a lot less than the auction house was expecting. William Barker, is a fossil excavator and dealer. He helped assemble Samson at the Venetian.
WILLIAM BARKER: I’m still just awestruck. I had it in my hands. But I still can’t get over how wonderful this is.
Barker says he thinks Samson is the finest T-Rex in the world. Still, he wasn’t shocked that it didn’t sell.
BARKER: It’s pricey. When you start dealing in millions in a depression, you can’t expect to really hammer it home.
But the auction did pay off for some. Larry Lawson is an oncologist in Big Lake Alaska.
LARRY LAWSON: I came here to sell something. Believe it or not. I have two mammoths, I was trying to sell one of them. Don’t ask.
Instead, Lawson walked away with a duck-billed dinosaur and mother and baby Einosaurus. Don’t ask. All for less than $750,000.
LAWSON: If this were two years ago, I’m sure I couldn’t have touched these. They’re going to be in my living room in Alaska, everybody’s got a moose or a caribou or a bear that they shot. I don’t care how big the moose is. This is cooler.
In Las Vegas, I’m Stacey Vanek-Smith for Marketplace.
There’s a lot happening in the world. Through it all, Marketplace is here for you.
You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible.
Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.