11:02:50 pm on
Monday 06 Dec 2021

Big John Sold
David Simmonds

It’s a lot of money to pay, $9.5 million, especially considering it’s a skeleton. Not just any skeleton, of courses. Big John is the largest Triceratops ever documented; he’s officially recognized as such by the Guinness World Records organisation. 

A ferocious three-horned dinosaur.

Triceratops were ferocious three-horned dinosaurs that roamed the earth 66 million years ago. Big John comes from the muddy Hell Creek formation in South Dakota. His bones were excavated over a two-year period and reconstructed over much of the next year, at a conservation lab in Italy.

Big John was sold by a Paris Auction house to an anonymous American buyer. The sale price was a record for his species. It blew past the pre-auction estimate of $1 million-plus.

No wonder. His skull, running one third the length of his body, is 75 per cent complete. The rest of his body 60 per cent complete. Big John is over seven metres long and almost three metres high; two of his horns are each over a metre long.

Says one paleontologist, “The overall quality of Big John really deserved this price.” A spokesperson for the buyer said his client is “absolutely thrilled with the idea of being able to bring a piece like this to his personal use.” This raises many questions.

Where will he keep it? Will it be on display in his living room? Will it go in his garage along with his lawnmower and recreational vehicles; for obvious reasons, he wouldn’t want to stick it in a closet. I hope that wherever he keeps it, his wife makes him dust it himself. 

How will he in fact use the Triceratops? Will it be his pleasure to take it apart and put it back together again as if it were a jigsaw puzzle? Will it be his muse for literary inspiration? Will he put it out on his front porch at Halloween to scare away trick or treaters? Will he hand out individual bones as party favours for his dinner guests? 

Will he, as a Victorian gentleman botanist, conduct scientific analyses of the dinosaur himself? Will he allow scientists access to the skeleton? That there is any market in dinosaur fossils is due to US law that permits a private property owner to keep what he finds on his land. 

Scientists have argued, quite rightly, that the private ownership of dinosaur bones means they will be lost to science. Will the public ever be able to see it? Will it eventually be given or sold to a museum? 

Big John is not the priciest dinosaur skeleton to have hit the market. Last year, a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, known as Stan, sold in New York for $32 million. That astronomical price it makes you wonder whether dinosaur skeletons are the new Van Goghs and Da Vincis, products that get their value from a combination of their name familiarity, quality and scarcity.

The auction house that sold Big John is a fine art auction house. It will soon be common to go to an auction to bid on a Degas and end up coming home with a Stegosaurus instead. Let’s just hope that dinosaur bones don’t go the way of many of high value fine art and find themselves locked away in secure Swiss warehouses, never to see the light of day until the market dictates the time is right to sell.

Will owning dinosaur bones lead to wealth?

I hope the purchaser has more luck with the value of his dinosaur bones collection than I have had with my collection of pencil erasers from all over the world. Let’s just say it won’t fund any of my retirement. The only sure things these days are Mickey Mantle rookie-cards and Elvis Presley concert posters as well as Rembrandts and Picassos. Now, thanks to Big John and Stan, dinosaur bones.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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