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T-Rex Asian Cousin Beats Facebook IPO for Some at Auction

Tyrannosaurus Bataar
The skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus bataar. A judge in Texas ordered a halt to its sale the day before it was auctioned in New York for $1.05 million. Source: Heritage Auctions via Bloomberg

Never mind the Facebook IPO. Some people believe that a dinosaur makes a good investment. Next week you can get in on the ground floor for maybe $1 million.

The beast in question is a Tyrannosaurus bataar, an Asian cousin of the North American T-rex. It measures 24 feet long and just 8 feet high -- suitable for the typical Greenwich, Connecticut, entrance hall.

Excavated in the Gobi Desert within the past decade, the dino’s body is 75 percent complete, the skull 80 percent, according to the auction house.

No assembly required: T-bataar is already mounted. It will be on the block at Heritage Auctions’ Natural History & Fine Minerals Signature sale in New York tomorrow, May 20, with a presale estimate between $950,000 and $1.5 million. There are many reasons that’s good value.

“This is the first time a Tyrannosaurus that is fully prepared and mounted is being sold at auction,” said David Herskowitz, director of natural history at Heritage Auctions. “It takes about two years and costs a couple hundred thousand dollars to prepare and mount it.”

The rarity of the material also makes it desirable to several natural-history museums opening in Asia, Europe and the Middle East, Herskowitz said.

“Five years from now, the demand for dinosaurs is going to be huge,” he said. “They aren’t making them anymore.”

Sotheby’s Sells ‘Sue’

A T-rex known as “Sue” sold for $8.4 million at Sotheby’s in 1997, a record price for a dinosaur fossil at auction. Named after its discoverer, Susan Hendrickson, “Sue” was purchased by Chicago’s Field Museum, which mounted the 42-foot-long carnivore’s bones.

A shadow may hang over T-bataar, however. The Mongolian government has ordered an investigation into the origin of the fossil, according to China’s Xinhua news agency, which also said the auction may be illegal if the fossil originated in Mongolia.

Herskowitz said the T-bataar entered the U.S. legally, adding that “no one knows where exactly it was dug up. They’d have to find the hole and match up the matrix.”

The fossil was initially exported to Japan, then to England, Herskowitz said. It entered the U.S. legally and was prepared and mounted in the country.

Tooth and Skull

The auction also includes a 10-inch T-bataar tooth estimated at $18,000 to $24,000, and an ankylosaurid skull with protruding knobs that suggest a dragon, estimated at $60,000 to $80,000. The huge reconstructed jaw of a mega-shark, measuring about 5 feet by 6 and bristling with 138 teeth could bring as much as $80,000.

And who can resist a Dodo, extinct yet ever-present in its many human counterparts? A skeleton cast from a specimen in the Royal Ontario Museum seems like a bargain at $3,500 to $4,500.

The sale also features stuff from a place far away rather than a time long ago. A glossy, black rock from Mars that landed during a meteorite shower last July is expected to bring $32,500 to $40,000. A dazzling pallasite meteorite is estimated to sell for $8,000 to $10,000.

“Meteorites are the most collectible items,” Herskowitz said. “They are rarer than gold: Each is unique and comes from outer space.”

Bids can be placed on where the auction will also be broadcast live on Sunday.

Muse highlights include Lewis Lapham on history and Zinta Lundborg on weekend entertainment.

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