Your Very Own T. Rex: Big Spender

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- If you have an extra $6 million in the bank and a very high ceiling in your home, here's something to surpass the Joneses: a dinosaur.

Standing at 40-feet tall, a 66-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton was the centerpiece of an auction held this month at The Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. Despite auction house Bonhams & Butterfields' hopes that the prehistoric marvel would net several million dollars, the lesson was that dinosaurs aren't recession-proof.

This 40-foot, 66-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus Rex is looking for a home to call its own.

Promotional materials boasted of the uniqueness of the skeleton. It was billed as the third-most complete T. rex ever found, with the most pristine skull. Its 170 fossilized bones, comprising more than 55% of the total, belonged to a creature believed to have weighed nearly eight tons.

Excavated from a private ranch near Buffalo, S.D., over 15 years ago, Samson, which is actually a "she," has been well-traveled, with visits to NASA for CAT scans of its skull, the Carnegie Museum for the preparation of the skull and eventually to a New Jersey laboratory where the remains were mounted.

"Her massive skull and powerful serrated teeth could have bitten through the leg bone of any contemporary dinosaur," the Bonhams & Butterfields' description reads. "Most likely a very skilled hunter with binocular color vision and an extremely sensitive sense of smell, this colossus, like other adults of her species, lived as an apex predator of the Late Cretaceous period."

Samson, the auctioneer says, was equal in weight to "Sue," a T. rex skeleton currently displayed at the Field Museum in Chicago. That find, sold for $8.3 million in 1997, holds the record for most complete T. rex skeleton with 200 preserved bones.

The lack of qualified buyers for Samson was blamed on the fact that the skeleton was put on the market rather hastily by its seller, leaving many interested parties unable to pull together financing.

"If I'd have had this T. rex two years ago, we would have set world records," Thomas Lindgren, co-director of natural history for Bonhams & Butterfields, told the Los Angeles Times.

Samson may not have netted a caretaker this month, but many other fossils are finding homes with offerings for sale to the public through even mainstream retailers like Amazon ( AMZN) and eBay ( EBAY).

But such novelties, even ones of a scientific value, are hardly flying off the shelves in tough economic times.

"If we are lucky, we get one or two orders a day, but they aren't big ones," says Carol Prandi, who, with her husband Al, runs Two Guys Fossils, a Massachusetts seller.

The couple started the business 25 years ago, typically offering items such as preserved dinosaur tracks at flea markets. As time went on, they built a network of providers and grew increasingly successful. In 1995, they began selling online.

Prandi says the business has had its peaks and valleys. Recently, however, there have been challenges even beyond the economy.

For example, fossilized dinosaur eggs have always been in demand. But getting them shipped to the U.S. from China, where many are discovered, is difficult, the result of increased government regulations in that country.

Whereas Prandi's customers would once plunk down up to $1,500 in one sale, many have scaled back spending. Replicas and educational toys have proven popular substitutes for the budget-conscious.

Prandi is hopeful that, eventually, business will pick up and perhaps something will come along to jolt interest the way the "Jurassic Park" movies did.

"That was our boom time," Prandi says. "Thank you, Steven Spielberg"

-- Reported by Joe Mont in Boston.

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