Published: January 30, 2007
Collectors expressed tremendous interest in the December 3 Natural History sale at Bonhams & Butterfields, breaking auction records and setting a precedent for sales in this category. The auction brought $1,991,587 for fine fossils, minerals, gold nuggets, lapidary works of art, meteorites, amber, jewelry, gemstones and archeological artifacts.
The standing-room-only gallery was filled with bidders and buyers from around the globe. “We were pleased to offer such a strong selection of unique and rare items,” said Tom Lindgren, Bonhams & Butterfields’ consulting director of natural history. He added, “The sale featured rare and unusual examples of the newest and the oldest collecting categories on Earth — stemming from noted institutional and private collections.”
“International interest was sparked by the eclectic and spectacular array of items along with one-of-a-kind collections including a famous group of gold nuggets — dubbed ‘The Gold Nugget Collection’ — from the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nev., and the Levi Smith Mineral Collection, which featured rare 1880s azurite and malachite specimens from Bisbee and Morenci, Ariz.,” said consulting gemologist Claudia Florian, G.J.G.
The sale opened with lots from the Levi Smith Mineral Collection — one of the most significant institutional deaccessions of a mineral collection to be offered at auction for many decades. The collection, which sold for more than $256,000, had been donated to a Pennsylvania school district by Smith, a major player in the oil business in the late Nineteenth Century. Bidding exceeded estimates on many lots cataloged by the auctioneers as “superb” examples of their type. A large Bisbee, Ariz., malachite specimen covered in a rich layer of minute crystals sold for $14,340 while a pair of malachite specimens sprinkled with azurite crystals nearly doubled its estimate to bring $11,353.
News stories across the globe inspired interest in a 65-million year old Raptorid dinosaur egg nest ($180/220,000) displaying the greatest number of extent raptor egg embryos ever offered at auction. The nest sold for $419,750, setting an at-auction world record price for a dino nest.
Other fossils brought strong prices, including a lower Jurassic sea lily, found in Germany, that features three distinct intertwined individuals appearing to be a plant, but are animal — a distant relative of today’s starfish and sea urchin. It sold for $44,813. Highlights included a Jurassic fish fossil, Lepidotus elvensis, 38 inches long, that displays preserved scales and skull bones, selling for $26,888, and an ancient fossil turtle from Wyoming’s Green River formation forever trapped in limestone with two other fish fossils at $56,763.
One of the most famous and recognizable collections of gold in the United States, dubbed the “Golden Nugget Collection,” brought $227,250. The 32-piece collection included several nuggets with quartz inclusions and several “named nuggets” acquired from prospectors who had worked the creeks and rivers of Alaska during the mid-Twentieth Century. A collector paid $117,250 for an 84 ozt gold nugget from Western Australia and several other gold nuggets sold after competitive bidding. Unmounted stones and jewelry were offered late in the sale with multiple lots selling to strong bidding. A suite of emerald nugget jewelry brought $32,863, comprising a necklace, bracelet and ear pendants — altogether 850 carats of emeralds mined from Columbia.
A butterfly brooch crafted of 18K yellow gold and featuring 49 carats of gem-quality spinels and 1.5 carats of brilliant-cut white diamonds and natural yellow diamonds sold for $31,668.
Lapidary works of art included carvings from masters of their craft such as an Oregon contra luz opal carving, “Aurora Borealis Over Mt Ranier,” by Thomas Harth Ames that brought $20,315 and a Gerd Dreher carving in Morganite and green Beryl of a toad, which sold above estimate for $12,548.
The Natural History department at Bonhams & Butterfields will hold its next sale in May. For more information, www.Bonhams.com or 323-436-5437.
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