On October 5, Sotheby's will stage their first Paris sale devoted to Natural History, comprising 86 lots selected for their quality and rarity consigned from private collections in Europe and the United States.
Sotheby's were one of the first firms to stage auctions in this field and, in 1997, obtained an as-yet unsurpassed record price of $8.4m for Sue, a complete Tyrannosaurus Rex, 13ft tall and 42ft long, with all her teeth and vertebrae. Sue is now in The Field Museum, Chicago.
These quasi-mythical creatures have fascinated mankind since the 16th century, with connoisseurs of curiosities and collectors of prehistoric bones, fossils and minerals vying to add them to their collections.
A rare, complete skeleton, 33ft long, of the carnivorous dinosaur Allosaurus
(Click photo to view the whole skeleton)
They also earned a keen following among 20th century artists, who saw in them new sources of inspiration and experimentation. Over the last decade, several auctions of these vanished giants have been held in France, giving collectors the chance to make their childhood dreams come true by adding to their cabinet of curiosities, or collecting them as works of art.
This inaugural sale coincides with Sotheby's second participation in the Paris Nuit Blanche on Saturday October 2, with viewing continuing until midnight.
In the words of Eric Mickeler, the sale's consultant expert: "Whether you look at them as artistic masterpieces or wonders of Nature, dinosaur skeletons, fossils and minerals retrace the saga of evolution - especially that of mighty terrestrial and marine mammals who are now extinct (only whales remain, and they are under threat).
"Interest in these prehistoric remains has undergone a striking resurgence in France over the last few years, and offers a new approach to our paleontological heritage."
Dinosaurs & Skeletons
The sale's most spectacular offering is a rare, complete skeleton, 33ft long, of the carnivorous dinosaur Allosaurus, discovered in Wyoming, United States. The skeleton is 70% complete, and its dimensions suggest it was a female (estimate on request).
The Allosaurus ('different lizard'), sometimes referred to as the 'T-Rex of the Jurassic Period,' belonged to the Theropod sub-species that lived 155-145 million years ago and weighed up to 3 tonnes.
It was a ferocious carnivore, whose enormous articulated jaws, with their 70 curved teeth, could open extraordinarily wide to enable it to swallow large prey. Its short upper limbs ended in three deadly claws, used to immobilise its victims and tear off their flesh.
Giant skeletons of carnivorous dinosaurs rarely appear on the market. This one has been scientifically prepared according to UNESCO guidelines by a team of European palaeontologists.
Another of the sale's most sought-after items will doubtless be a Dorygnathus Banthesis, a flying reptile with 35-inch wingspan found in its black matrix in Holzmaden (Germany) in 1932. With its oval skull and curved teeth, this pterosaur is one of the few specimens of Dorygnathus to have survived in an excellent state of conservation (estimated at €160,000-250,000).
Another star of the sale should be a complete skeleton of a plesiosaurus, Cryptocleidus, one of the few specimens still in private hands. It was found in a limestone outcrop in Blockley, Gloucestershire (U.K.) in the early 1990s. The 6ft 7in x 9ft 10in skeleton was situated in the Davoei Zone of the Lower Lias, and is some 190 million years old (estimated at €320,000-370,000).
This exceptional plesiosaurus is the best-preserved specimen discovered to date, with thorax, tail, neck, limbs and skull all fully preserved. The form of this aquatic reptile, which was an extremely rapid predator, inspired the legendary Loch Ness Monster. Its five digits each contain more bones than those of land-bound reptiles.
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