The Cabinet of Natural Curiosities: Bonhams introduces an original Natural History auction

NEW YORK — Bonhams is pleased to announce the June 4 auction The Cabinet of Natural Curiosities. Popular during the Renaissance, cabinets of curiosity, also known as Kunstkammer ("art-room") or Wunderkammer ("wonder-room"), were the personal and often idiosyncratic collections of individual with the main function being to provoke a sense of curiosity and wonder in the viewer.

Tom Lindgren, Bonhams Natural History Co-Consulting Director, states about the sale, ""This is the first time Bonhams has presented an auction of this kind. Natural curiosities such as fossils, meteorites, petrified wood and mineral specimens are now collected not only for their scientific interest but also for their stunning decorative qualities. They represent contemporary equivalents to the contents of the Victorian library, providing prestige to the contemporary home or office."

Fossil highlights include an historic marine reptile (Ichthyosaurus communis) of the Jurassic discovered in the 1930's, from an English public school collection (pre sale est. $50,000 – 60,000.) Complete and without restoration, its dolphin-like bodyline and beautiful articulation were enhanced by re-preparation by a former chief preparator from the British Natural History Museum. The specimen is 195 million years old.

A petrified wood slab, suitable for use as a tabletop, is estimated to sell for $50,000-60,000. Measuring 90 x 64 inches, it displays the brilliant swirling red colours for which the finest specimens from the Chinle Formation of Arizona is known. A separate lot in the sale offers a table base which may be used with this petrified wood lot.

A magnificent 51-milion-year-old fossil palm frond, found embedded in limestone matrix of unusual rust-apricot coloration, is estimated at $40,000 – 50,000. Framed in exotic wenge wood and fitted with a cleat, it can easily be displayed on a wall of standard construction. From the famed Green River Formation in Wyoming, palm fronds are considered rare finds. A rare predatory fish (Amia) from the same geologic formation, accompanied by several other fish species, is offered as a wall mural framed in wenge wood and fitted for wall display. Superb in its quality and preparation, its estimate is $15,000 – 20,000.

Particularly novel items include a crescent knife blade with a fossil fish inclusion (pre sale est. $30,000 – 40,000), an historic piece of glass from an observation window in the facility that produced the atomic bomb which was dropped on Nagasaki (pre sale est. $10,000 – 12,500) and an agate specimen shaped like a child's foot (pre sale est. $1,000 – 1,250.)

A dramatic fossilised "sea lily," a marine Jurassic animal which looks like a plant with a long stem and large flower, from the famous shales of Holzmaden, Germany, is offered for $18,000 – 24,000. It is naturally embedded in richly coloured gray-black shale; the fossil glimmers with the subtle mineral replacement of pyrite. Also, an exceptional fossilised woolly mammoth tusk, displaying covetable blue-green coloration, is offered at $8,000 – 10,000. Displaying a graceful curve, its rich colours were produced by burial in the permafrost in which it lay entombed since the last Ice Age.

Dinosauria lots include a spectacular Triceratops brow horn (estimate: $15,000-20,000) which represents a feature most definitive of the famous dinosaur genus. Other lots include a mounted Psittacosaurus skeleton (a ceratopsian related to Triceratops), estimated at $12,000-15000 and a Triceratops horn (pre-sale est. $2,500-3,500).

A highly varied selection of over 25 meteorites will also be offered with estimates ranging from under $1,000 to $13,000.

More than ten lots of amber and copal – fossilised tree resin from prehistoric rainforests - will be offered; estimates range from $500 – 2,500. Many of these specimens feature fascinating insect inclusions such as an assassin bug, mammal hair, a tadpole and an ant wrapped in spider web.

Julie Saunders Guinta
(917) 206-1681


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to

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