Paper No. 1
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-6:00 PM


CONDLIFFE, Simon, Department of Economics and Finance, West Chester University, 323D Anderson Hall, West Chester, PA 19383 and HIPPENSTEEL, Scott, Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, Univ of North Carolina at Charlotte, 9201 University City Boulevard, Charlotte, NC 28223-0001,

Commercial fossil dealers and online investment guides have long claimed that fossils are an excellent investment opportunity. To test this claim we collected the selling prices of four fossils during this twenty-year study: a ~6-inch Eocene fish fossil, a large Moroccan trilobite, and a ~4- and ~6-inch fossil shark tooth. The ‘assemblage’ value was calculated as the mean value of each fossil in a given year. Each fossil was selected for study because it met the following criteria: 1) the fossil was commercially abundant during each ten-year time period and the fossils were numerous enough to permit comparison with fossils of similar size and condition. Furthermore, with a sufficient number of fossils, the influence of taphonomy on the value could be nearly eliminated; 2) the fossils were, and continue to be, in demand by collectors but not necessarily by universities and museums (establishing, let alone tracking, the value of such rare fossils is impossible); and 3) the fossil was commonly purported to be “investment grade” by commercial dealers. This group of fossils was compared with an equal initial (1991) investment in either a certificate of deposit or the SNP 500 to determine the relative profitability after 20 years.

Our findings indicate that fossil investments yield inferior returns relative to the investment alternatives studied. The value of the four fossils in this study decreased by 7% over the 20 year sampling interval. In contrast, the SNP 500 grew 237% over the twenty years to 2011 and a CD offering 2% annual return for twenty years would return 49%. Our results contradict claims by fossil dealers that diminishing fossil supply, coupled with increasing demand, are driving fossil values higher and making them a sound investment. Increased supply and availability, especially via the Internet, are primarily responsible for this decline in value. Although the highly publicized sale of unique fossils such as the rare Tyrannosaurus “Sue” or Tyrannosaurus bataar skeletons leads the public to believe fossils are increasing in value, our findings suggest that the fossils most in demand by collectors have decreased in value over the past 20 years.