2002 Denver Annual Meeting (October 27-30, 2002)

Paper No. 24
Presentation Time: 1:30 PM-5:30 PM


HIPPENSTEEL, Scott P., Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, Univ of North Carolina at Charlotte, 9201 University City Boulevard, Charlotte, NC 28223-0001 and CONDLIFFE, Simon, Department of Economics, Univ of Delaware, 290 Graham Hall, Newark, DE 19716, shippens@email.uncc.edu

We collected over 800 selling prices in 1991, 1996, and 2001 from commercial dealers and private sellers to establish a mean commercial value for five fossils: 1) Diplomystus sp., an Eocene fish fossil; 2) “Phacops africanus”, a large Moroccan trilobite; 3) Spinosaurus sp. tooth, from a Moroccan dinosaur; and 4) two C. megalodon teeth, a 4- and 6-inch tooth from a Neogene shark. This variety of fossils, including specimens from different localities and ages, was selected to provide a reasonable cross-section of values across the commercial spectrum. Several commercial dealers advertise these particular fossils as being ideal for display and investment, making the selected fossils a representative portfolio of investment opportunities. We compared the change in value of these fossils to the performance of a certificate of deposit and the SNP 500.

An investment in any of the fossil groups would have had a negative return after 10 years. The total “assemblage” value of the fossils fell from $1052 in 1991 to $788 in 2001. In comparison, a stock investment of $1052 in 1991 (based on the SNP 500) would have returned $3333 in 2001. Had the initial investment been used to purchase a certificate of deposit at a 5% rate of return the $1052 would have yielded $1714 in 2001.

The largest misconception held by many private fossil collectors and potential investors is that the supply of fossils is perfectly inelastic and that this supply constraint will lead to rising values as demand increases. However, the number of fossils available in the marketplace is actually increasing. The supply of C. megaladon teeth has increased as commercial collectors have recovered vast quantities from the rivers around Charleston, South Carolina. Both supply and availability of the Moroccan fossils have also increased. Before 1991, the supply of such fossils was limited to a few large commercial dealers and sales were primarily through printed catalogs and trade shows. By 2001, however, the Internet made such fossils significantly easier to find and compare. This breaks any potential supply monopolies, and brings greater competition to the marketplace as sellers now compete with each other not just locally or regionally, but nationally and even internationally. The result is declining fossil values, which renders them inferior to other potential investments.