On 5 October 2010 Sothebys
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.
Sothebys 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, 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. 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 inugural sale coincides with Sothebys second participation in the Paris Nuit Blanche on Saturday 2 October, with viewing continuing until midnight.
In the words of Eric Mickeler, the sales 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 sales 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 immobilize its victims and tear off their flesh.
Giant skeletons of carnivorous dinosaurs rarely appear on the market. This one has been scientically prepared according to UNESCO guidelines by a team of European paleontologists.
Another of the sales 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 (est. 160,000-250,000).
Another star of the sale should be a complete skeleton of a plesiosaurus, Cryptocleidus sp., 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 (est. 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.
A superb pair of prehistoric crabs, Harpactocarcinus Punctulatus (Middle Eocene Period), freed from their original matrix after being buried near Vicenza (Italy) for 45 million years, form masterpieces in the eyes of paleontology collectors (est. 14,000-16,000).
The Vicenza region once witnessed intense volcanic activity and was regularly covered with lava, which smothered the surrounding fauna. These crabs, petrified in rare and complex circumstances, were buried intact following the phenomenon of orogenesis (mountain-building process).
A magnificent 8ft x 7ft 5in wall-plaque, with a fossilized palm-leaf (Sabalites sp. Cenozoic) of exceptional quality, was discovered in the Green River Formation and is highly representative of the flora that existed in South-West Wyoming during the Eocene Period, 50 million years ago.
The fragile nature of the monumental palm-leaf, the presence of fishes, and the quality of preservation make this an item of the utmost rarity (est. 80,000-100,000).
Minerals & Shells
The sale also includes a broad selection of minerals, starring a rare citrine with smoky quartz from Goiabeira (Minas Gerais), Brazil, dubbed The Magic Flower, and unquestionably the most spectacular ever found. Its giant, sparkling crystals are crowned with a ring of smoky, lemon-coloured crystals (est. 320,000-350,000).
Another highlight is a magnificent rubellite from the Jonas Mine in Brazil, 20in tall and weighing 22kg. The legendary discovery of this geological pocket in 1978 led to the excavation of the largest and most beautiful tourmaline crystals in the world, with a unique red fruit colour, reposing on quartz crystals and snow-white albite crystals. They soon found their way into the worlds leading Natural History museums and collections, and this is one of the first examples to appear on the market for 30 years (est. 320,000-350,000).
A complete Sphenodiscus Lenticularis ammonite (Late Cretaceous Period), from the Fox Hills Formation in South Dakotas White River Badlands, is covered with a magnificent iridescent, mother-of-pearl-like layer of ammolite on a fossilized shell, giving it the appearance of a precious stone similar to opal (est. 20,000-25,000).
With its shiny, glass-like exterior, a fascinating pale blue Aquamarine from Três Barras (Santa Catarina), Brazil, clearly comes from the Jequitinhonha River Valley (est. 18,000-20,000).
The sale ends with contemporary pictures/works of art by Pesnel, made from blocks of lapis lazuli (Point Infini du Cosmos, est. 55,000-65,000); a giant agate from Minas Gerais, Brazil (Grain de Sable, est. 45,000-55,000); and Greek cipolin marble (LIntrus, est. 25,000-35,000).
Sothebys expert consultant: Prof. Eric Mickeler
Eric Mickeler, an expert in natural history and assessor for the French customs authorities, was a botanist and orchid enthusiast before devoting himself to tropical ornithology, which he still teaches. Thanks to his numerous entomological field-trips to French Guyana, and to his learned ornithological observations, he is acknowledged as a leading specialist by collectors around the world. Over the last decade Prof. Mickeler has been involved in promoting Natural History as an independent consultant, making Paris a frontline venue for the speciality.
Friday 1Monday 4 October
Saturday 2 October Nuit Blanche until midnight