$76,000 for 100-million-year-old dinosaur eggs? U.S. man saw the price as right

September 16, 1993|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,London Bureau

LONDON — *TC LONDON -- When a nest of 10 100-million-year-old petrified dinosaur eggs fetches $76,000, it seems only right to praise the common hen, whose eggs are fresher, cheaper and no doubt taste better soft-boiled.

At the Bonham's gallery auction yesterday, the eggs from a sauropod, a long-necked plant-eater of the Jurassic period, looked like very, very old blue-gray cupcakes set in mud. But an anonymous and tenacious American buyer bought them, sight unseen, with a telephone bid.

He outbid French and German collectors, also on the phone, 1,000-pound bid by 1,000-pound bid. The heated contest ended with applause from the audience as auctioneer Nicholas Bonham banged his gavel on the final bid of 46,000 pounds -- plus a 10 percent "buyer's premium."

The same U.S. collector also bought a nest of five sauropod eggs with a bid of 12,500 pounds ($18,750), which goes to show that you don't always get a discount for quantity.

But he didn't bid on 23 pieces of fossilized dinosaur droppings from Hanksville, Utah.

Those went to an English phone buyer for $4,500, about 10 times the estimated price.

Petrified dinosaur droppings resemble dog droppings cast in stone.

A British art dealer who stopped bidding about midway through the sale said he thought they would make great gifts for his friends.

Bonham officials attributed the interest in dinosaur droppings to the influence of the summer movie blockbuster "Jurassic Park."

But Kevin Conru, Bonham's tribal art expert, said he did not think the movie had affected the sales of the eggs, which measure 5 1/2 inches in diameter.

"They're in very good shape," he said, "and there is an arresting quality to them. These are quite exceptional."

The eggs were part of a private collection of fossils, minerals and gemstones owned by Jan Stobbe, an amateur geologist from the Netherlands. He said he did not have enough room to display them properly.

The 10-egg nest is believed to be the only one of its size in the Western world.

It was dug up about three years ago China, where more dinosaur eggs seem to have been found than anywhere else on earth.

A sauropod, as every 10-year-old knows, is a big herbivore like the brontosaur.

Such dinosaurs laid their eggs in the late Jurassic and early Cretaceous period, 70 million to 100 million years ago.

So what do you do with a nest of dinosaur eggs?

"You set them down next to your clock," Mr. Conru said, "and tell your friends, 'I have just bought the most wonderful rare thing in the world for 46,000 pounds.' "

That was certainly the reaction of Oliver Hare, a dealer in Islamic art.

He bought one sauropod egg for 1,400 pounds ($2,100), urged on by his daughter, Olivia, 12, who saw "Jurassic Park" and loved it.

Why did you buy it? he was asked by reporters and photographers surrounding him and his daughter.

"For the same principle you buy anything," Mr. Hare said. "To make you dream.

"I think everybody should have one," he said. "There's something very appealing about a dinosaur."

His daughter agreed. But Olivia said she wasn't going to take their dinosaur egg to school to show her friends.

"They're going to have to come to my house," she said.

Her mother wasn't enthusiastic. "She was cross about it," Olivia said.

Mr. Bonham, a dapper auctioneer who sells with a kind of genial civility, said the auction was "a fun sort of thing."

"You don't see eggs like that sold every day for that kind of money," he said.

He had good reason to feel he was having fun. The 300 or so lots of "natural history and ethnographic specimens" -- everything from a human skeleton in a box to a mastodon mandible from Polk County, Fla. -- often brought two, three, four and more times the house estimates.

The total was about $179,000, and that's not chicken feed for about 2 1/2 hours' work in any geologic era.

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