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Fossil Ownership



Paul Willis Said:

>While the some of the points raised by Steve Cole's recent post are valid,
>the concept that commercial collectors will help to boost museum
>collections does not hold up to scrutiny. An analysis of the origin of 1.8
>million specimens in museum collections across the US revealed that 96%
>were collected and deposited in the museum collection as a result of
>scientific research or directly by museum collecting activities. 3% were
>donations from the general public. Less than 1% were derived from
>commercial collectors.

This is not at all what I said, and the misinterpretation shows the
typical blind spot of proper scientists: if it's not in our museum, it
does not exist. I never said that commercial collectors would produce
more fossils for museums. Since museums rarely are willing to PAY for
fossils, it's no wonder that 96% of what they have they went and
got themselves. The point is that commercial collecting means MORE
fossils collected and saved from eroding away, even if they don't
end up in museums, but in private homes and collections. What' I
have fought for as long as I've been on this list is to register the
private collections, and get scientific support to help collectors
properly store and display them.

Lawrence Dunn: Your theory is interesting, but it will increase the cost
of a common collector-grade fossil by a factor of five or ten. You
expect us to pay not only the cost of the cleaning (and how is that
cost to be defined?) but make a generous donation to pay the overhead
of the museum. Gee thanks. I think I'd rather continue getting my
fossils from a commercial dealer who expects me to pay the overhead
of his fossil shop but not the overhead of his entire home. (He can pay
the upkeep on his home out of his salary as a preparator, just as the
grad student in the museum can pay his dorm rent from what the
collector pays for preparation. But don't require anything more than
a nominal donation to the museum fund out of this.) If we can
ensure that the preparation cost is not going to exceed the prep
costs we buyers pay commercial dealers now, I'm game. I'd even
pay a few dollars more for an identification card, a plastic box, and
a copy of a related scientific paper about the beast in question, since
those are things the commercial dealer doesn't provide now. But not
a huge surcharge set by the museum for the benefit of the museum
in a rigidly controlled and tightly restricted market without any kind
of market forces or competition to keep costs stable.

Caitlin Kiernan thinks that someone who has the only copy of a given
new creature (say, a new Mosasaur, for example) should
donate it. I agree, he should, but he won't. He paid for it, paid a bundle
for it. The guy who found it had a choice of selling it or giving it away.
This is a trick question, right? The broker who bought it has the choice
of giving it away or selling it to a Japanese millionaire. This is another
trick question, right? The Sumo Corporation now has your Mosasaur
in its reception area, and paid a million bucks for it. They might donate it,
and some will, but many won't. Seems like when you find someone who
has such an item and can't get him to donate it, you should  try to educate
him to properly store, maintain, and preserve his investment, and even
give you a consulting fee to prepare a proper scientific presentation,
rather than your current plan to declare him to be a scoundrel and
pretend that this putative Mosasaur does not exist because you don't
like the guy who has it, how he got it, or what he did with it. Or maybe
we could both be happy if you agreed to name it for their corporation
but ONLY if they agree to put it on permanent exhibition in your museum?
If you take it off display and put it in a drawer, they get it back and could
arrange to place it (and the associated corporate advertising plaque)
in another institution.
Fair Enough?