Fossil Collecting tips & tricks
October 6, 2011 7:32 AM   Subscribe

Help me jump-start my fossil collection without getting scammed.

I've got (literally) a nest egg to start off fossil collecting, and I suddenly find myself with a bit of disposable income. I've started my hunt on ebay and a couple random websites, but can't find any personal accounts of collecting and how best to do so.

Does anyone have any experience buying or selling fossils?
Know any reputable sites for doing so? Preferably with extensive collections (tired of sifting through shark teeth)

Do museums/scientific repositories ever sell off their damaged/examined-to-death bones?

Where would someone go to buy stands / glass enclosures / engraved plates to display the trophies?

Side question: Is this 'hobby' something most people would see as weird, or interesting?
posted by MangyCarface to Science & Nature (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Well, the egg I found myself, and I have various tiny teeth and stuff, and of course ideally I'd like to dig them up by hand but I don't have the resources nor the permissions to seek out anything impressive... do you have tips for manual collection, then, because that'd be equally useful.
posted by MangyCarface at 8:06 AM on October 6, 2011

Go to the Tuscon Gem and Mineral show in Feb. I know it is called gem and mineral, but there are a lot of fossils there as well, and some really great preservationists. My dad writes about paleontology and he goes every year to see what stuff shows up there.

Buying online is not something I'd recommend. You need to see the specimens and turn them over and look with a magnifying glass to really see what you are getting. Plus when you buy in person, you often get the cool stories of discovery that go along with it and add a lot of context.

There is also a variety of casts out there. Some are so complete and well-made, that in my opinion they are more valuable to look at than a real fossil. If you want expensive, well-made full dinosaur skeleton casts that are made for museums, mefimail me and I can put you in touch with the company.
posted by rmless at 8:23 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

can't find any personal accounts of collecting and how best to do so.

If you're still in State College, and it's the one in PA, you're not *that* far from the fossils up here in WNY. Some of the fossil grounds are publicly accessible, at least sometimes, like Penn Dixie fossil quarry. Never been, but apparently it's just lousy with trilobites. Dunno that they'd be impressive -- mostly like 1cm -- but dug up by your own hand.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:36 AM on October 6, 2011

Lang's Fossils. I don't know Lang, but I knew Zarko Ljuboja (lew-boy-a) when he was a geology undergrad. Even then, Z was a meticulous fossil preparer. You could probably also go straight to the source; I think Zarko trades at these shows himself as Benthos Projects, on perhaps a smaller scale than Lang.

"Just a limestone cowboy. . . "
posted by Herodios at 10:21 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is this 'hobby' something most people would see as weird, or interesting?

What's "weird"? Thirty years ago Zarko (see above) used to spend hours in the basement blasting the rock off of trilos and brachs with a jet of baking powder propelled by an air compressor. Hours. It cleaned the fossils, but filled the house with dirty baking power and powdered rock. He found the little buggers himself on digs, prepared them himself, learned an usual skill, enjoyed the results -- all for free (ish). Now he sells them.

What's "weird"?

Coprolites happen, man.
posted by Herodios at 10:40 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: rmless is right about going to gem and mineral shows - but they have these shows all over the country. Start by going to one near you.

Here is a list of these shows coming up soon all over the country.
Scanning the list, I see there is one in BrookHaven, PA (just outside Philly) in early November. (Your profile says you live in Philly).

These shows will be a great help to you if you are serious about collecting fossils. You will find local dealers and other fossil enthusiasts. When you go to the show, you are not just there to buy - you are there to network and learn.
posted by Flood at 12:19 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Weird? Pfft, I'm going to a gem and mineral show tomorrow here in Orlando. Not only are there cool things to buy, but the folks are generally quite nice and quite knowledgeable. You may also learn about some of the local mine sites and swap meets.

Using Florida as another example, there is a quarry down south where you pay a day rate and can haul home a few buckets of whatever you manage to dig up (usually shark teeth and calcified clams). While it isn't excavating mammoth femurs, there are still cool collectibles to find. My friends and I had so much fun, we had to be deliberately mindful of the sun and take breaks, otherwise we'd have gotten heat stroke from digging all day.
posted by Wossname at 4:18 PM on October 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

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