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Buying Fossil Dinosaur Teeth- What You Should Know

paleoworld-101
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Buying Fossil Dinosaur Teeth- What You Should Know
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Fossil dinosaur teeth are one of the most popular and sought after fossils to collect. Their appeal lies in the fact that everyone loves dinosaurs, and having a genuine tooth from a million year old monster is a real privelige. This guide will inform you of what you should know to have the best possible experience. Even if you already have been collecting dinosaur teeth for some time, this guide will still be very useful to you. It will show you where to buy dinosaur teeth from, the types of teeth generally available on the market, the approximate value depending on size and quality (so you don't pay more than it's really worth), and also tips on how to avoid some pretty nasty fakes.

Okay, the first thing you need to know is where to buy dinosaur teeth from. There are many places that they are available- gem/mineral/fossil shows, museum gift shops, and sometimes even weekend markets (every now and then there is someone with a mineral/fossil stall). However these places will usually only sell the small and very common teeth types (read on), one exception to this however is the huge Tuscon show held annually in Arizona. If you want the really good stuff, you will have to look online. There are many websites dedicated to selling fossils, and the website/owner is known as a dealer. Prices vary from dealer to dealer, although some certainly give better deals. It is likely that many buy their specimens from others, and then add a mark-up on the price to re-sell and make some kind of profit. The percentage mark-up that is added onto a specimen is entirely up to the seller and this determines who is affordable and who is down right expensive, even if the quality of specimens between such sellers is comparable. Watch out as some sellers re-sell their fossils for literally more than double what they paid for it! The best way to get cheaper specimens is to buy from the source, so you won't be paying a 'middle man' some kind of profit. Locating that source is up to you, but here are some well known places to buy dinosaur teeth from for your consideration:

* Ebay- Has a huge variety of dinosaur teeth for sale, some of the cheapest prices on the net, but is also the most likely place to find fake fossils. Dinosaur teeth on Ebay are often just sold by private collectors, some of which know what they are talking about, some of which don't. Look at their feedback history, if you see negative feedback (that has to do with authenticity) you should avoid that seller or at least be more cautious. Despite many people selling obvious fakes, there are also some very reputable and well respected sellers who have been selling quality, authentic fossils for years. These are the people on Ebay you want to buy from, people who actually care about their feedback rating and genuinely do their best to provide 100% authenticity with every sale. Feel free to send me a message regarding who is trustworthy to buy from and i will point you in the right direction. Also, don't be afraid to question the seller about a particular specimen or inquire about authenticity. You have a right to know. If they don't reply, well then there is your answer. Also note that so called "Certificates Of Authenticity" merely printed by the seller mean absolutely nothing at all. Anyone could do that. It is only meaningful if it is signed by a professional Paleontologist or other scientist. Also, auctions are where the real bargains can be found. 'Buy It Now' prices are generally not much cheaper than prices from some of the website dealers listed below, so your best bet at snatching a bargain is by finding 'no reserve' auctions and bidding your maximum price at the very last second (called Sniping). Be warned though that there can be more competition for dinosaur teeth on Ebay than you would think!

* Paleodirect- One of the largest dealers on the net, with great high quality specimens, but also some of the highest prices too (for pretty much anything). Be prepared to spend in the hundreds if not thousands. They do pretty much all restoration and repair work on their items for sale themselves. This is important, BUT they also give the impression that they are the only knowledgeable and trustworthy dealer on the net, which is not true. Their are lots of honest people in the fossil business. As a general statement, most of their fossils are quite overpriced, but for someone who simply wants the best and doesn't care how much it costs, i say go for it. For people with smaller budgets, give them a miss!

* Buried Treasure Fossils- They have some decent quality specimens, and all are fairly reasonably priced. Only Moroccan dinosaur teeth are available on their site (they mainly sell shark teeth). But these Moroccan dinosaur teeth are of a considerable standard, and in the past they have had many fantastic Carcharodontosaurus, Spinosaurus, Rebbachisaurus and Dromaeosaur teeth for sale at good prices. However they do mistakingly sell 'Moroccan Raptor' teeth as being Deltadromeus teeth (which is common amongst dealers, although not correct. Read on for more information).

* Two Guys Fossils- A business with a wide range of dinosaur teeth for sale from all over the world. The quality of the specimens is not the best, but the prices are good. Definitely worth checking out if you are a beginner or advanced collector.

* Fossil Grove- Specialising in museum grade dinosaur and reptile teeth, they have some absolutely fantastic specimens and arguably the best large investment grade Carcharodontosaurus teeth on the net. The prices seem a bit expensive at first, until you realise everything is priced in EUROS and therefore it is actually very expensive. For example, a 795 euro Carcharodontosaurus tooth is actually about $1000 (but of coarse this fluctuates). Another one of those "if you can afford it, go for it" type dealers. People with smaller budgets will be disappointed however.

* Crystal Encounters- An Australian fossil business that i have been associated with through almost all of my years of collecting (over 7 years). They have a very nice range of specimens, and are (in my opinion) among the best fossil dealers in Australia. The dinosaur teeth they have are mostly commercial grade, but the Deltadromeus teeth they sell are thankfully not small Moroccan Raptor teeth (although yet again still not 100% guaranteed to be Deltadromeus teeth). Their prices are decent too.

* Arizona Skies Meteorites- A great source for large high quality dinosaur teeth. The specimens are all very nice, but like Paleodirect and Fossil Grove, everything is priced far too high. The range of teeth for sale is great, although they do buy fossils from private collectors and then resell them. This raises authenticity issues, but i am sure they are professional enough to recognize fakes/undisclosed restoration or repair and not sell them to unsuspecting buyers.

* C and J Fossils- They specialize in "Quality Dinosaur And Mammal Teeth". Indeed they do have some nice (but mostly small) teeth for sale, at good prices, but pretty much all of them are marked as "SOLD". The site isn't updated very often, probably best to send them an email instead.

* Indiana9fossils- A dealer that has a huge range of fossil dinosaur teeth for sale, some of the best prices around, and some great quality specimens to boot. They are sure to have something interesting in stock, and seem to be the main source of buying fossils for many collectors. The variety is huge, and the site is updated relatively frequently. Beginner, advanced and serious collectors will all find something of interest in their price range here. Repair or restoration is usually pointed out in the item description which is good.

Their are many other dealers not listed here, these are just some of the larger and more well known ones. A bit of googling will show you heaps more websites to buy fossils from, the variety is endless! Now that you know where to buy dinosaur teeth from, we can look at some of the types of teeth available on the commercial fossil market (with a rough price estimate depending on size and quality). Some types are far rarer than others (please note only 10 pictures can be in an Ebay guide, so the last two dinosaur genuses do not have pictures)-

  • Spinosaurus- The most common and affordable type of dinosaur tooth available. Perfect for beginners. Sizes usually range from 1cm or so to just over 5 inches (however if the root is fully fossilized, they can be up and over 12 inches!). Because of their availability, these teeth are very nicely priced, giving you more tooth for your dollar than in any other dinosaur tooth. 1 inch and under teeth sell for around $10, 1-2 inch teeth for around $25-$80. 2-3 inch teeth sell for anything between $50 and $300 depending on quality. 3-4 inch teeth can sell for anything up to $600, again depending on quality. Nice teeth over 4 inches (with no repair or restoration) are quite rare and will likely fetch high prices of $400 and over. It should be noted that the VAST majority of Spinosaurus teeth for sale are under 2.5 inches, poor quality, worn, pitted, sandy and have blunt tips. Many collectors have affectionately dubbed these cheap, commercial grade teeth as "junkers". Museum quality large teeth with maximum enamel coverage, no repair or restoration and intact tips are starting to rise rapidly in value, especially as the Kem Kem Beds (locality in Morocco where these teeth are found) are revealing less and less large fine quality specimens each year. The supply is running out. Why else would sellers be boasting their junk 2 inch teeth as 'LARGE'? Gimme a break! Pictured below: my best Spinosaurus tooth, a museum quality 4 and 1/8 inch whopper! Now that's large.

                                                                                                

  • Carcharodontosaurus- One of the fastest appreciating dinosaur tooth types on the market (value of museum grade specimens is rising every year) and it is also my personal favourite. Carcharodontosaurus teeth are found at the same site in Morocco as Spinosaurus teeth. While Spino teeth are thin and conical, Carch teeth are wider, flatter are more blade like with serrations. Sizes available to buy typically range from an inch to almost 5 inches. Carcharodontosaurus teeth are less common than Spinosaurus teeth and in higher demand, hence their value is higher. They are still fairly common teeth when compared with other types that you will read about later. Teeth about 1 inch in size are priced up to $80 or so. Teeth that are between 1 and 2 inches sell for anything up to $300, and teeth up to 3 inches can sell for up to $800 depending on quality. Carcharodontosaurus teeth that are 3 inches and over are very rare, the vast majority of teeth you will see for sale are under 2.5 inches. To put things into perspective for all you shark teeth lovers, a nice 3 inch Carch tooth is far rarer than a great quality 5 inch Megalodon tooth. 3-4 inch teeth usually sell for between $200 and $3000. It all depends on individual tooth quality- Is the tip worn down? Are all the serrations intact? Is there any missing or damaged enamel? Has any repair or restoration been done to the tooth? All of these things detract dramatically from tooth value. Museum quality teeth over 3 inches can sell for many thousands of dollars, one of the most expensive i've seen personally was a 6 inch tooth that sold for just over 20 000 dollars at the Tucson Gem and Fossil show! These large high grade teeth represent a very promising investment, as the site where they are found is fast becoming used up, and more and more collectors are beginning to demand them. Like Spinosaurus teeth, most Carch teeth are small, poor quality, sandy, rough and with worn down tips or enamel damage. Large museum quality teeth (with no repair or restoration) over the 3 inch mark are becoming very rare and valuable indeed, buy one now while you still can. When the supply totally runs out, the only time such a tooth will come up for sale is if a collector sells it off from his or her private collection. Which isn't very likely. Pictured below: the best dinosaur tooth in my collection, a museum quality 3.5 inch (along the curve) Carcharodontosaurus premax tooth! No repair or restoration.    

                                                                                                 

  • Tyrannosaurus- The most expensive type of dinosaur tooth available to buy, and also the most popular (not surprisingly... it's T.REX!). This popularity coupled with their rarity and the fact that T.rex is the "king of the dinosaurs" is what makes them so expensive. If T.rex was just another ordinary theropod no one really knew about, the teeth might not be much more expensive than Carcharodontosaurus teeth. Sizes usually range from 1 inch or under to about 3 and a 1/2 inches. Anything larger is extremely rare. 1 inch and under teeth can sell for 50-500 dollars or so, depending on condition. Unless the quality is superb, don't pay much more than this for a one inch tooth. There is currently a one inch tooth on Ebay right now for an absurd 4000 bucks! It is even labelled as being 'Jurassic' in age, we all know that is wrong! Teeth between 1 and 2 inches can sell for anything up to about $3000. 2-3 inch teeth are very expensive and you will probably be looking at close to $6000 for a nice 3 inch tooth. Teeth that are larger than 3 inches can be up and over $6000 quite easily if they are in great condition. One specimen that was 5 inches long sold for a world record price of 56 000 bucks at auction recently. The thing about T.rex teeth is that people are willing to pay high prices for them, even with considerable repair and restoration work. Ugly plastic filled teeth still fetch decent prices. Is it worth it in the end? For the hobbyist collector, probably not. For the same price as a small T.rex tooth you could probably get a fantastic Spinosaurus or Carcharodontosaurus tooth instead. Below you can see a 4.75 inch tooth that sold for $17 000 dollars, even with restoration to the tip! How can I tell if a tooth is actually from T.rex and not from Nanotyrannus, Albertosaurus or some other dinosaur? This is a very commonly asked question, so I will address it here for those who are interested. Tyrannosaurus teeth tend to have a 'D' shaped profile which makes them quite thick and chunky. Even small T.rex teeth are quite thick for their size, more so than similar sized Nanotyrannus or Albertosaurus teeth. This is because they are bone crushing teeth, and need this thickness for added strength to prevent the teeth from breaking. Other theropods that eat only the flesh have thinner knife-like teeth that are no good for bone crushing. But that's getting off topic- back to identifying T.rex teeth. One other method of identification is counting the serrations. Let me explain- the serrations of Tyrannosaurus teeth are quite large, meaning there are less of them per cm. T.rex teeth tend to have about 20 or less serrations per cm. Anything more than that and it could potentially be a tooth from Nanotyrannus or Albertosaurus. When buying a T.rex tooth, ask for a photo of the serrations next to a ruler and count them yourself!

                                                                                                           

  • Deltadromeus- These teeth belong to an African Ceratosaur about 25 feet in length, and are found at the same site as those of Carch and Spino... the Kem Kem Beds! But what needs to be understood about this dinosaur is that no official skull material of Deltadromeus has ever been found. This means that no one really knows what Delta teeth actually look like! Therefore, how can their be teeth for sale from this dinosaur? Well, various unidentified theropod teeth have been found at the Kem Kem for years, and people often assumed they were from Deltadromeus. They may indeed belong to this dinosaur, but no one can know for sure until some official skull material is found. Many "Delta" teeth for sale are actually just small unidentified Moroccan Dromaeosaur teeth (see below). For the ones that might actually be from Deltadromeus, they measure between about an inch to maybe 3 inches. Prices vary, with smaller 1-2 inch teeth costing around $100-$200 and teeth over 2 inches costing anything up to $500. But why spend lots of money on a tooth that can never be 100% accurate as coming from Deltadromeus?

                                                                                                  

  • Unidentified Moroccan Dromaeosaur- Often called just "Raptor" teeth and sometimes misrepresented as Deltadromeus teeth, these fossils measure up to 1.25 inches in length at the very maximum and come from the dinosaur tooth capital of the world, the Kem Kem Beds. They belong to an unidentified species of African Dromaeosaur. This kind of fossil dinosaur tooth is fairly cheap, with high quality teeth under an inch in length selling for up to $80. Teeth an inch or over are rare (the vast majority are under .75 inches), but still affordable at up to $150 or so.

                                                                                            

  • Troodon- The most expensive type of small theropod tooth available for it's size. These weird looking teeth are popular among collectors, as they are quite rare and have huge jagged serrations. Troodon's name infact means "wounding teeth". Teeth from this dinosaur are in short supply. Combine this low availability with their popularity, and you get a fairly expensive dinosaur tooth- especially since they all measure less than an inch in length! Most teeth are about the same size, maybe half an inch or slightly more at the very most. They typically fetch prices of up to $500 depending upon serration, tip and enamel quality. Certainly a nice tooth for any dinosaur collection.

                                                                                                  

  • Albertosaurus- An earlier member of the Tyrannosaur family, with similar (but smaller) teeth to T.rex. Albertosaurus teeth tend to be more curved then T.rex teeth which helps tell the two apart. The serrations are also smaller and as a result more numerous (per cm). See the above T.rex section for more info in telling them apart. They are sometimes just labelled as "Tyrannosaur" teeth to draw in more customers (which is true, but unnecessary if you ask me!). These teeth range in size from an inch or so to up to 3 inches. They are fairly rare as well and quite expensive. A good tooth about an inch in length will fetch anything up to $200, with teeth between 1 and 2 inches selling for up to $600. Teeth over 2 inches can sell even for up to $3000.

                                                                                                  

  • Coelophysis- A small dinosaur from the upper Triassic of North America. This creature was one of the earliest dinosaurs to have evolved. The teeth are not in great supply, but can often be seen for sale on Ebay. Because of the small size of the dinosaur, the teeth are all virtually under an inch in length. They are similar in appearance to Moroccan Dromaeosaur teeth. They are also fairly cheap fossils, with the absolute largest and highest quality specimens fetching roughly 100-200 dollars. This makes more average quality specimens very affordable indeed.

                                                                                                   

  • Edmontosaurus/Hadrosaur- A herbivorous dinosaur from the upper Cretaceous of Montana USA, and a favorite dinner of T.rex. This is a very common dinosaur to find fossils from, even complete bones are fairly easy to locate (as well as cheap). The teeth for sale are usually shed/spit teeth, about an inch in size or smaller. They can be purchased for anything up to $80 depending on quality. Complete teeth including the root are much rarer, and can fetch prices of up to $250 or more.

                                                                                                                      

  • Triceratops- Another herbivorous dinosaur from Cretaceous Montana, and one of the most famous dinosaurs of all. Like Edmontosaurus, their teeth are fairly common and cheap (which is surprising for such a famous dinosaur). Shed teeth are about an inch in size, and fetch prices of up to $80 depending on quality. Complete teeth with the root can also be found for sale, although they are much rarer. Museum quality examples of these teeth can fetch up to $700.

                                                                                                        

  • Rebbachisaurus- The most common type of sauropod dinosaur tooth available on the market. They belong to an African sauropod from the Kem Kem Beds in Morocco. The teeth are peg shaped, usually with wear facets on the tip (from when the animal chewed up vegetation). They are less common than Spinosaurus or even Carcharodontosaurus teeth. Sizes range from about an inch to just over 2 inches. The prices of these teeth vary, with high quality specimens up to 2 inches in length pricing anything up to $300.            
  • Ankylosaurus- Another fairly famous dinosaur from Montana, USA.  The teeth are adapted for chewing vegetation, and are somewhat leafy in shape. They are also fairly small, anything an inch in length (without the root) is considered very large. They are somewhat common, but still not as numerous as Edmontosaurus and Triceratops teeth. Since the teeth are all roughly the same size (about 1/2 an inch) the prices are fairly similar. A decent quality tooth of this size can fetch up to $70. Larger teeth can sell for up to $200.                           

Now that you have read about some of the major kinds of dinosaur teeth available to buy on the fossil market, we can move on to the dark and gloomy topic of fake fossils. It happens to all of us (me included), we buy a specimen that is not as fully authenticated as we thought it was, or maybe some restoration work wasn't disclosed. This is where knowledge pays off, you need to know exactly what you are buying and what kind of restoration/repair work has been done to it (if any) just by looking at it.

Here's the bottom line- repair is better than restoration. Repair means that perhaps a crack was stabilized or a piece that broke off was glued back on. It still leaves the whole tooth material being real/natural (except for some glue). Restoration is when perhaps a part was missing and then fabricated with non natural materials to complete it, leaving the tooth not completely real. Other forms of restoration on dinosaur teeth are color enhancement of the enamel (using dyes), shiny glaze coatings, fake tips, patches of fake enamel, fake roots even faked serrations! So wouldn't you rather a tooth with repair as opposed to restoration? I sure would. If a well done repair or two has been made to a tooth, i still consider it. If any restoration has been done, i immediately walk away.

The ways people can fake dinosaur teeth is remarkably disturbing. Large dinosaur teeth are more likely to be faked, as they are worth far more and are far less common. There isn't much point in faking a small Raptor tooth under an inch in length, it's not worth the effort. Large Carcharodontosaurus, Spinosaurus and Tyrannosaurus teeth are most at risk. Many of these large teeth are made up of plastic or putty, have too good to be true prices, and are sold by fraudulent or uninformed dealers. An uninformed dealer who doesn't know what he or she is doing is the worst kind. Root's from one tooth have even been attached onto the crown of another, to make a larger and "better" tooth that can be sold for a higher price. It's not just roots either, all sorts of tooth parts can be combined to create a single specimen that appears complete. These 'composites' as they are called, are made up of numerous partial teeth that combine to create a single complete tooth. Look for significant colour changes across cracks in the tooth that indicate it is a composite, also watch out for patches of dark and bubbly 'sediment' on some Moroccan teeth as this is not natural. The dark sediment is actually a cheap glue used in the field by the diggers to hide flaws or repairs. It is usually used on the roots of the teeth.

Other ways that people can fake dinosaur teeth is to glue on sand and matrix onto the end of the tooth in a convincing manner, trying to extend and exaggerate the size of the tooth and therefore sell it for a higher price. Some large teeth are actually just the tips (or a small section of real tooth) with the rest of the tooth fabricated to appear complete. Small junk teeth are regularly combined to make larger high quality teeth that can sell for ridiculous prices.

How can you tell if a tooth is restored you ask? There are a few different methods you can use. Shine a UV light on it, sometimes the restored section will flouresce a different colour. The colour it flouresces has got to do with the mineral composition (or lack of) in the specimen. Hence if it's colours are inconsistant under UV light, parts of it could be fake or perhaps other specimens have been added on (assuming their mineral composition is different), resulting in a composite. You can also use solvents (like acetone) or a hot needle to test suspicious areas. If it's fake/painted, it's colour may rub off or it could melt from the needle (hence it is plastic). Common sense would tell you that rock doesn't melt! Another way to check for restoration is to examine the enamel texture up close. If the texture of the tooth changes or is inconsistant, it may be restored. Generally restored sections, from my experience, appear somewhat smoother and less detailed than the real fossil parts. As mentioned earlier, this goes for colour as well. Considerable change in enamel colour in different sections of the tooth (usually either side of a crack) isn't a good sign! CT scans can also be very useful in revealing restored or faked fossils, though chances are most of us don't exactly have access to expensive technology like this. Acids, such as Hydrochloric Acid, can also be placed on suspicious sections (not too much though). If the acid 'sizzles' a tiny bit and small bubbles form on the tooth surface, then it is likely real fossil/rock material (doesn't rule out composites though). If nothing happens it could be fake, as most glues, waxes, putties or other artificial substances do not react to such acids. This technique works best on fossil bones, but may have the same result on tooth roots. Tooth enamel however may not react so be aware of that if you try this method. Probably best not to try on expensive specimens either! Your last line of defense is to take your specimen to the experts- that may be your local museum, university or scientific institute. 

If you see a large high quality tooth at a fairly cheap price, you should be highly suspect! Question the seller/dealer, ask them where they got it from and if there is any restoration/repair work (if it is not already written in the description). If they say they got it from their "sources", you should just forget about buying it, because there is no way of knowing how trustworthy these people really are. If they don't respond at all, well then that answers your question. The best dealers to buy from are the ones that do all the repair, restoration and preparation work themselves, without the need for a "middle man". If they find the specimens themselves as well, then that's even better. There is actually nothing wrong with repair or restoration IF it is clearly stated in the description and the buyer doesn't mind. It is intact a good way of getting things at a much cheaper price!

With fossil fraud on the rise in today's market, it is incredibly handy to know what you are looking for and how to spot fakes. The knowledge you will gain through experience (that is, years of buying dinosaur teeth) will be priceless, especially as we are now entering the dark days of fossil buying. Many fossil sites around the globe (including the mighty Kem Kem Beds) are running out of supply, having been searched for so many years. It's not as if fossils are still being made, the number of them on our planet right now is all that there is. This is partly why so many fakes are being made these days, we are running out of real stuff and can't keep up with the high demand from collectors. That is the sad truth about the fossil business today.

I hope this guide has been helpful and of interest to all you fossil collectors out there, and if anyone has any questions about dinosaur teeth or fossils in general, feel free to send me a message. Best of luck to you all!

-Paleoworld-101

                        

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