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The Art of the Natural World. Natural History Specimens at Auction.

JUL 28 2017

By Robbie Bright

Many weird and wonderful items come up for sale at auction, and Mother Nature often provides the most fascinating and beautiful objects of all. Since the dawn of the Age of Enlightenment at the end of the 17th century, to the great Victorian explorers who created grand cabinets of curiosities, we have been adorning our homes with decorative and sculptural fossils, skeletons, minerals, and shells.

Today, interior designers and private buyers are increasingly seeking out unusual and sculptural items of natural history at auction to place in modern interior settings, into which they fit surprisingly well. A curving, spiralling ammonite fossil works as well placed on a sleek contemporary table as it did in a Victorian gentleman’s library, and a case of brilliantly coloured butterflies collected in the 19th century provide a jewel-like splash of colour in a neutral decorative scheme. A one-off piece of antique natural history can bring that key individuality so desired in modern homes.

One of the appeals of buying natural history specimens at auction is that there is sure to be a piece to suit every pocket – from a pair of red deer antlers that can be picked up for a few pounds to rare and unique fossils which can stretch to thousands. With such a variety of items on offer, let’s look at three very different examples that have sold recently:


This large rock specimen contains two trilobite fossils, which lived in the Ordovician period 495-480 million years ago. It was collected from Alnif in the south of Morocco; trilobite fossils are not uncommon, so despite its extraordinary age these fossils were sold for £150.


This beautiful, bowl-like shell is half of a giant clam that was collected in the 1930s and measured 86cm across. It sold for £480, but specimens with both halves can sell for £1,000 or more. 


This fine example of a late 19th century walrus skull created quite a stir in the saleroom when it came up for auction. Collected in Alaska, and with a deep patina, this rare object sold for £3,200.


To enquire about buying or selling Natural History at auction, please contact us on 01969 623780 or enquiry@tennants-ltd.co.uk
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