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On Fri, 3 Nov 1995 steve.cole@genie.com wrote:

> COMPETING COLLECTORS: I'm more than a little curious about this whole
> idea of private collections taking fossils out of circulation.
> The dino teeth and bones I have I bought from various dealers. The
> most I ever paid for one was an Allosaurus tooth for $150. I have a
> real problem believing that the average museum that does not have an
> Allosaurus tooth and wants one could not afford $150 to buy one on the
> open market. I have even more trouble believing that such small and
> common fossils as this one are in any real shortage of supply.
> If you're talking about really big things (vertebrae and such)
> you're still talking a few hundred. Meat-eating leg bones are going for
> more (a couple of thousand) but they are on the market (I know where
> three or four are for sale now) and relatively few people could buy
> them for that price. I also know that these particular bones would
> never have been picked up if they had not been destined for a
> commercial market, so the fact that museums even have a chance to
> buy them would seem to depend on commercial collection being possible.
> If your museum really needs a few bones, why spent thousands to
> send a search party looking for them with a roll-of-the-dice determining
> what you actually find, when the same money will produce a specific
> result predictable in advance? Museums have to mount an expedition
> (even if just to the next state) while commercial collectors live
> next to the bone beds and can go out every day looking for stuff
> for far less cost. If they find something BIG, they can (and it's in
> the interest of their pocketbooks for them to) get a real scientist
> to come out and fill out the paperwork on the find.
> Just what unique fossils are being kept off the market? Sue? Ok,
> she's a big gal, but there ARE a dozen other T-rexes around to study.
> I'm just having difficulty figuring out how the existence of
> commercial finders-of-bones is causing there to be fewer such bones
> in museums. Looks to me like there are actually more available.
> And I can tell you, from a phone call to the local one, that more
> people have seen MY Albertosaurus tooth than have seen the one that
> they have in a drawer which isn't on display for lack of space.

Museums have two main purposes:  to archive information for professional
researchers, and to educate/entertain the more casual observer.  Your text
reveals ignorance of the former.  Concentrating on the latter is what P.T.
Barnum did so successfully.  This is of value; however, he contributed 
little to true understanding of the phenomena from which he profited.

Just picking up bones loses most of the information available with them.
Their ultimate value thus is reduced greatly.  This practice, which not
all commercial collectors stoop to, sacrifices knowledge for ephemeral
financial gain.  Not a good trade in the long run.