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All About Appraisals — Dinosaurs!
By Meredith Meuwly

Recently Heritage appraised a dinosaur skeleton that is being donated to a Natural History Museum. The dinosaur was found on a family ranch after a heavy rainfall revealed an unusually large bone projecting from the ground. The family called the local museum to excavate and recover the skeleton and then graciously donated the skeleton to the museum. So, how do you put a price on a dinosaur?

There are several fundamental determinations that must be factored into the appraisal of a dinosaur. In the commercial world of fossils, the most valuable are those that possess high degrees of completeness, popularity, aesthetics, rarity, and marketability.

COMPLETENESS — how much of the skeleton is preserved overall? Condition is always a large factor in the value of any item, but it is often relative in regards to ancient works of art. A dinosaur that is 60% complete could very well command six figures, especially if the head and major bones are present, mostly intact, and not very distorted.

POPULARITY — is the dinosaur familiar? Thanks to Jurassic Park, a Velociraptor is much more recognizable to the masses than a Pawpawsaurus. Sales history has shown that recognition of the fossil to the viewer is directly linked to its popularity.

AESTHETICS — is it "pretty"? A dinosaur's impressive large size enhances the architectural design of the skeleton, thereby presenting a sophisticated looking specimen with aesthetic appeal. The best looking example almost always out sells similar examples of lesser quality.

RARITY — how rare is it? Although dinosaur fossils are not particularly rare, commercial availability may be limited, especially for particular specimens. Generally, high-quality skeletons of any specimen are so uncommon on the market place that these fossils can be categorized as commercially rare.

MARKETABILITY — is it desirable? A Tyrannosaurus Rex is a highly recognizable name in the world of dinosaur fossils, thus making it a highly desirable commercial fossil.

Given all of this information, appraising dinosaurs is not so different from evaluating any other artwork, artifact, or collectible. Just remember to bring your biggest ladder for taking measurements!

Heritage's Natural History department holds biannual auctions featuring extraordinary fossils, gems, minerals, meteorites, and zoology. The last auction, that took place on June 12th, included a selection of superb dinosaur skeletons, including a Triceratops, a Maiasaura, an Allosaurus, and a Stegosaurus.


After five years at Christie's in New York, Meredith Meuwly joined Heritage Auctions in 2007 as Senior Consignment Director in the Fine & Decorative Arts Department and currently manages the Appraisal Services department. In 2009, Meredith participated as an appraiser for the Antiques Roadshow on PBS. She is also a member of the Fine Art committee for the International Society of Appraisers and looks forward to assisting with any formal appraisal needs.