Christie’s to Sell $6 M. T. Rex Skeleton in October 20th Century Art Sale

Christie’s will offer a massive Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton this fall. Known as “Stan,” the specimen is 67 million years old. In an unexpected move, the fossil is set to hit the block during Christie’s evening sale of 20th Century art on October 6 and will be on public display at the house’s Rockefeller center location until October 21. It is expected to fetch between $6 million to $8 million.

Stan’s skeleton stands at 13 feet high and 40 feet long. Comprising 188 original bones, it is one of the few completely assembled skeletons of its kind. It was first unearthed in the late 1980s at Hell Creek Formation, located between South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. In 1992, commercial fossil dealers from the Black Hills Institute in Hill City, South Dakota, excavated the remaining bones. Evaluations from scientists reveal details from the animal’s life. It survived various wounds inflicted by members of its own species.

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The dinosaur comes to auction from the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, a private organization headed by commercial fossil dealer and collector Pete Larson. The institute displayed and studied the specimen for the last two decades. Larson, a controversial figure in the paleontology world, is associated with the record-setting dinosaur sale of “Sue,” the 67-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton at Sotheby’s in 1997. With help from private and corporate funding, the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago bought the skeleton for $8.4 million. It was expected to achieve $1 million.

As the case with Sue, the sale is likely to attract museum interest. Christie’s statement on the sale describes it as “a rare opportunity for a collector, institution, or museum benefactor to acquire the extraordinary fossil skeleton.”

Sue’s story was a dramatic one. The fossil was the subject of a custody battle between Larson with the Montana land-owner from which she was excavated. The skeleton was seized by the U.S. government from the Black Hills Institute during the lawsuit and the fossil eventually went to the land-owner, who brought it to auction. Though charges related to the Sue lawsuit were dropped, Larson was convicted separately for customs fraud and other offenses. Sue was sold at Sotheby’s New York headquarters shortly after Larson was released from prison.

Other high-profile public sales of dinosaur fossils have received significant attention at auction in the past. In June 2018, a dinosaur skeleton fetched €2.36 million ($2.8 million) at the Aguttes auction house in Paris in a controversial sale that drew criticism from scientists. The Society for Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) wrote to the French auction house calling for the sale to be canceled. The fossil ultimately went to a private French art collector. And in 2009, Samson, another nearly complete T. rex skeletons achieved at top price in a dramatic sale. It failed to meet its reserve at a Las Vegas auction, but later sold privately in-house for around $5 million (£3.8 million).


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