Dinosaur Market Thrives on Jurassic Ribs, Luxury T-Rex Molars

The complete skeleton of a 33-foot Allosaurus. Sotheby's sold it in October at a world record price for a dinosaur at auction. Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg

The Standard & Poor’s Global Luxury Index fails to reflect the escalating demand for dinosaurs.

“Investability is a key criterion for index selection,” says Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC public-relations manager Dave Guarino. “While luxury dealers exist in dinosaur skin and bones, they’re not typically the large and liquid companies we look for.”

Hal Prandi, one of the two guys at Two Guys Fossils Inc., shrugs off S&P’s evaluation of his trade. “Market value comes down to what a person is willing to shell out for a dinosaur,” says the 60-year-old dino dealer, who has been in the business since 1985, selling Jurassic ribs for $350 each, Cretaceous toes at $295 a digit and a 16-foot-long Camarasurus tail for $20,000.

Wall Street recognition will be fast and furious once he can supply the market with dinosaur genitalia, says Prandi.

“There’s never been a fossilized penis or vagina found on a dinosaur,” he says. “The first person who finds one is going to make bundles of cash, but who knows how much,” says Prandi. “This isn’t like the used-car business. We don’t have a Blue Book, though T-Rex teeth go for $1,000 an inch.”

From Two Guys headquarters near Johnny Macaroni’s restaurant in East Bridgewater, Massachusetts, to the stylish auction houses along Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore in Paris, French art promoter Sylvie Lajotte-Robaglia says affluent trendsetters are on the prowl for trophy dinosaurs. Indeed, Hollywood stars Nicolas Cage and Leonardo DiCaprio in 2007 entered into a spirited bidding war at I.M. Chait auctioneers in Beverly Hills over who would go home with a 67-million-year-old T-Rex skull. Cage’s $276,000 bid won the day.

Emerging Buyers

“That’s the fancy market,” Prandi says. “With me it’s first come, first serve, and you can find good business in selling dinosaurs to emerging countries. The first thing those guys want to do is build a museum and put a dinosaur in it.”

Lajotte-Robaglia, director of Art & Communication SA, caters to a more discreet and established clientele. She has helped Christie’s International sell a mammoth for 312,000 euros ($440,000) and played a role in auctioning off a complete Triceratops skeleton for 592,000 euros.

Over at Sotheby’s Paris, France’s first lady of dinosaurs last year facilitated the sale of a 280,000 euro Triceratops skull to an anonymous bidder and is currently involved in moving a Prosaurolophus Maximus with mummified skin for 1.5 million euros, a giant 483-million-year-old French lobster from the Silurian Period at 12,000 euros and a 12-foot-long Xiphactinus Audax fish for 150,000 euros.

Dinosaur Aesthetics

“We once sold a mammoth to a French winemaker for 150,000 euros,” Lajotte-Robaglia says. “He put it in the reception room of his chateau. Whether a Brontosaurus looks good in your salon is a matter of taste, but these customers are young wealthy people who grew up mesmerized by Spielberg’s ‘Jurassic Park’ and find the aesthetics of a dinosaur more interesting than a Picasso.”

Prandi says confirming a dinosaur’s provenance is just as tricky as verifying the authenticity of a work by the Spanish master. “A lot of people call me up from all over the country and say, ‘I found a dinosaur in my backyard,’ but it turns out to be a rock that looks like a dinosaur,” Prandi says.

Even so, the U.S. remains the world leader in mining luxury dinosaurs.

“It’s one of the few things we’re still No. 1 in,” says Prandi. “Countries rich in dinosaurs, places like China and Morocco, have slapped moratoriums on fossil sales, but not America. So long as the dinosaur is found on private property, Washington gives you an export license.”

Bargain Pteranodon

Still, Lajotte-Robaglia says Sotheby’s was the first to offer dinosaur-market elegance.

“Our first dinosaur auction was in 1997,” she says, leafing through Sotheby’s 112-page October natural-history sale catalog. Lot 38 is an 85-million-year-old flying Pteranodon Longiceps that comes from what’s now Kansas.

Translated roughly from Latin, the “creature with no teeth able to steal and who bears an outstretched head” had a 30-foot wingspan and now has a 250,000 euro price tag. “Given its age, this is not a very expensive dinosaur,” Lajotte-Robaglia says.

Back in East Bridgewater, Prandi says he has no plans to turn Two Guys into an upmarket auction house and get in on the luxury-dinosaur action. “Most of my clients are average run-of-the-mill guys,” he says. “For now, my most unique sale was a fossilized organic dinosaur brain. Sold it for $2,000.”

Prandi says that will change if he can beat the competition in finding a T-Rex penis, which according to paleontologists at the Discovery Channel should measure 12 feet long and 1 foot wide. “Only guys on Wall Street can afford something like that,” he says.

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