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.

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