The San Diego Natural History Museum has made a decision to withdraw the 12 fossils listed for sale in the Bonhams public auction scheduled for November 19, 2013. The fossils in question include seven large vertebrate fossils collected and sold to the Museum by Charles Sternberg in the 1920s, and represent a fraction of the Sternberg specimens currently housed in our research collection. The remaining five auction specimens are Green River Formation fish fossils added to the Museum’s collection in the 1970s.
By withdrawing the specimens from the auction, and in light of the recent interest shown by numerous institutions in these fossils, we will be reevaluating how to proceed. This will allow us to revisit alternative strategies that would allow the fossils to remain in the public trust.
It was not our intent to sell the fossils for financial gain nor to minimize the historical importance of these specimens. Rather, our intent was to deaccession specimens unrelated to our mission (which interprets the region of southern California and Baja California) in order to acquire scientifically important fossils, gems, and minerals that more closely support that regional mission. While our hope was that the specimens would have been purchased by other museums as part of the auction, we realize that there was no guarantee this would occur.
The San Diego Natural History Museum has served as a regional center for scientific excellence and has a long history of collections-based research that dates to 1874. We appreciate the passion the scientific community has shown for these specimens and will be working with professional organizations in the coming weeks to ensure the fossils continue to be available for scientific research and/or public display.