Published: February 13, 2001
Natural History Offerings Bring $475,000 in San Francisco and Online
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIF. – Million-year-old specimens were offered and sold January 21 during an auction of Natural History specimens at Butterfields.
The auction, which brought nearly $475,000 for 189 lots, comprised rdf_Descriptions relating to dinosaurs, fossils, gems and minerals, as well as space memorabilia from a NASA employee and meteorites from the Asteroid Belt. Many of the lots sold to aggressive Internet bidders who competed against those in the showroom and an international pool of telephone participants.
Sunday’s sale opened with gems and minerals and included examples of mined minerals. Two large transparent selenite crystals from Naica, Chihuahua, Mexico, originally from the collection of mineral collector Miguel Romero, were offered. A clear 28-inch tall crystal brought $4,025, while an 11-inch crystal with multiple enhydros (water inclusions) brought $2,070.
The top lot within this section was a jade boulder weighing approximately 375 pounds displaying a rich, consistent color on all sides. Mined in Yukon Territory, Canada, the boulder brought $25,875 (est $20/30,000). A sixty pound jade boulder featured an emerald color not often seen in Yukon jade. This lot sold within estimate, bringing $2,587.50.
A large polished turquoise nugget with a spider web pattern from the People’s Republic of China sold within estimate at $9,775. The “Brazilian Princess,” a 1,267.5-carat opal specimen, sold for $21,850, while nine carats of black open from Lightning Ridge, Australia, brought $6,900, over estimate.
Other gems sold included 18.5 carats of bright green peridot from Pakistan, bringing $3,162; a Brazilian golden yellow citrine, nearly 22 carats, bringing $747.50; and a 5.36 carat lemon yellow sapphire from Sri Lanka, selling for $2,587.50, just under its low estimate of $2,750. A red natural ruby, two carats and emerald-cut, sold for $7,475.
Amethyst clusters and geodes seemed popular with buyers, one of whom paid $11,500 for an amethyst geode in the form of a coffee table which features a nearly 400 pound geode filled with dark purple crystals, some as long as two inches (est $12/15,000).
Amber included million-year-old specimens holding trapped insects as well as an amber carving likely from Mexico. A mythical dragon figure carved in clear amber, seven inches tall, sold just over estimate at $8,050. Far less decorative was a rare amber specimen featuring a pair of mating 30-million-year-old flies, which brought $1,725. Mexican amber is known for its rich colors and clarity. A cherry red amber nugget brought nearly twice its estimate, selling for $3,737.50, while a pair of blue amber nuggets (the most desirable hue for amber) brought more than four times its estimate, selling for $7,475. Both lots were Miocene Period specimens from Chiapas, Mexico.
Early in the fossils section came an interesting lot, a large fossil dropping found in Washington State. Eighteen inches in length, the dropping sold for twice the estimate bringing $2,587.50. A rare Woolly Mammoth tusk, 106 inches along its curve, was preserved in frozen earth for tens of thousands of years. The fossilized ivory tusk was found in Siberia, Russia and sold for $31,625, above estimates. A rare Woolly Rhino horn, composed of matted hair rather than bone (fewer than ten such specimens are known), Pleistocene [era], 39-inches long, sold for $18,400 (est $10/15,000). A well-preserved woolly mammoth molar from Canada sold for $1,380.
A virtually complete Eocene fossil turtle found in the Green River Formation of Wyoming, more than 15 inches from head to tail and displaying a well-preserved carapace (top shell), sold within estimate at $18,400, while a rare fish-eating crocodile skull, 55 million years old and found in North Africa, sold for $6,900.
Two Jurassic-era fossils found near Solnhofen, Germany were sold, including a horseshoe crab on a matrix, which features tracks from the animal’s last steps. A buyer paid $4,600 for the 200-million year old horseshoe crab – offered with both the positive and negative impressions. The largest known species identified within this fossil-rich German site is the dragonfly. The offered lot was exceptional in its near-perfect wing position and it sold for $2,300 (est $2,500/3,000).
An American raptor claw from Utah, which sold for $1,600, was nearly three inches in length and of a coelurus, a newly described early raptor. A nest of 17 tube-shaped raptor eggs, one of the largest nests ever publicly offered, brought $16,100, while a nest of 15 dinosaur eggs discovered in China and likely hadrosaur, featuring round eggs with shells intact, each egg five inches in diameter, brought $9,200.
A buyer paid $11,500 for a display featuring four opalized fossil belemites from Coober Pedy, Australia and opalescent ammonites from Bear Paw Formation in Alberta, Canada. A huge ammonite measuring 26 inches in diameter, with a sheen of red, yellow and green, brought $14,850, while a smaller opalescent ammonite, 11 inches in diameter, sold for $8,050.
Trilobites offered included examples of the varied species which lived some 600 million years ago. A rare trilobite from St. Petersburgh, Russia, sold for $7,475, while a species from North Africa brought $3,450. This particular example, a crotocephalus barely three inches long, will be illustrated in multiple texts currently in production.
From the Machovich Collection, the largest privately held assemblage of aesthetic iron meteorites, came remnants from the Asteroid Belt found on each continent. Top price within this section was $10,925 paid for a Sikhote-Alin specimen. Recovered as recently as May 2000 from the edge of the Sikhote-Alin mountain range in Eastern Siberia, this 10.79 pound specimen is larger than similar meteorites within natural museum history.
An Esquel slice displaying facet-grade peridot sold above estimate for $6,900 and a buyer paid $3,737.50 for a slice of another rare pallastic meteorite (those containing gems and minerals within the iron-nickel crust). This latter specimen was found at Glorieta Mountain in New Mexico and other fragments of that specimen are currently undergoing testing to determine if they are part of Glorieta (recovered earlier) or a new American pallasite. The new owner will be apprised of the test results.
Examples of Gibeon meteorites from Great Nama Land, Namibia included a 14-pound sample bringing $4,025 and a Gibeon end piece nearly doubling its estimate, at $2,185. A 19-pound Gibeon, with gunmetal patina, from the Asteroid Belt, sold for $3,737.50.
Space memorabilia from the collection of former NASA Medical Operations Officer William Tomkins, on staff from 1965 to 1985 at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, was sold as natural history art – in the form of pencil on paper animal studies by Charles Robert Knight. Lapidary creations included a parrot carved of rose quartz, which sold for $1,610; a fluorite hummingbird group, which brought $1,265; and a carved pair of lapis hyacinth macaws, which sold for $3,162.50.
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