Published: April 15, 2008
I.M. Chait’s second annual Natural History Auction, simulcast to Beverly Hills, Calif., on March 21, broke the record for the sale of the flashiest fossil known. Called an ammolite ammonite, the 31½-inch wide specimen from a remote corner of Alberta, Canada, shimmers with paint-box hues of brilliant reds, greens, golds, blues and purples. A similar but smaller ammonite in New York’s Museum of Natural History is often referred to as “priceless,” so it was no surprise that two private collectors entered into competition for the unusually large beauty at Chait’s. The surprise came when the determined parties, each bidding on the phone, held the other at bay, well past the expected high of $95,000, relentlessly pursuing the object of their desire into the stratosphere at $264,000. The ammonite officially set an auction record and became known as “the best in the world.”
The sale’s second highest price went to a “unicorn” dinosaur skull, family Einiosaurus procurvircornis. The monumental specimen, measuring 6 feet long from its beak to the end of its frill spikes and standing on its mount, more than 5 feet tall, is also called a “Buffalo Lizard”; the rare find commanded $90,000.
While mammoth tusks from the Ice Age have long been popular collectibles, rarely has one as big as the 10-foot-long and 177½-pound one been offered. The double curved tusk was from an older male, and when auctioneer Isadore Chait opened the bidding to the floor, the left bids had already driven the price up to $55,000. Six telephone bidders quickly drove the final price to $79,000.
The tusk of another animal, the narwhal whale, is bathed in myth. In actuality, the spear-like “horn” is the left tooth of the Arctic roving Narwhal whale, and whether for lore, science or sheer beauty, the 74-inch-long example inspired competition and soared to $31,200. This, too, set an I.M. Chait auction record.
Also from the sea was a moonfish fossil, a carnivorous ancestor of today’s parrot fish. Remarkably well preserved, Gyrodus circularis, of the Jurassic period, had dark gray teeth in vivid contrast to the delicate orange and yellow of the body. The 39½-inch specimen commanded $66,000.
In 2003 a meteorite estimated to have been the size of a VW bug thundered through the Midwestern sky; exploding in a fireball approximately 20 miles above earth’s surface. The meteorite spewed fragments and one smashed through the roof of a two story home, ploughed through an air-conditioning duct, bore a hole in the dining room ceiling and came to rest on the floor. The fine specimen, with fusion crust almost complete, parts of its stony interior revealed and gently scintillating points, is estimated to be more than 4 billion years old. Weighing 878.84 grams, and measuring 4½ by 33/8 inches, the meteorite, along with a DVD and photographs of local media coverage, and a piece of the air conditioning duct, created a quiet riot at $60,000.
All prices quoted include the buyer’s premium.
I.M. Chait’s next Natural History auction is set for October. For information, www.chait.com .
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm