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The story behind - why fossils are not for free?

We all love free fossils! But you might have heard the saying, that the real value of fossils is in the work invested in finding them and good quality preparation?

In other words work and time invested is what helps to preserve fossils from erosion and what brings the fossil out of the rock... But if you collect in the field or prep yourself, it can be difficult to understand why that work doesn't actually give fossils it's value.

I assume most people do not realize how much work and time it takes to find or prep some fossils… But in anycase, the real value of fossils imho is actually not in the work invested, but in the scientific data - which only a few people can value. And it often seems even in the commercial world, that work invested has no value. In theory: work, time invested, preservation or aesthetic value, scarcity, scientific value (which is often negligible in case of common already well studied fossils), and educational value all together form commercial value of fossils.

In reality however, it’s not that simple, perhaps due to lack of knowledge and low ethics standards. Most commercial fossils are not rare by any standard and preparation work done is usually terrible or easy and quick... Like in any commerce, it seems, that it's all down to marketing and there’s a thin line between marketing and scamming for profit… I was actually looking at some fakes before starting to write this and realized, that maybe it's time to start making and selling fakes, takes too much time and costs to find and prep real fossils, when 2 or 3 fakes sell just as well or better as authentic trilobites, but perhaps this will shed some light on the high prices of authentic good preped fossils.

Anyway! However… For majority of collectors this hobby is all abut the passion, a work of love! It’s not about the money, but even if you are not involved in the commerce of fossils, it’s easy to understand, that if you put your personal finds up for sale, in most cases you are actually making a huge loss after you calculate your time, and effort invested to find or prep them.

And that’s just a part of the “hidden costs and expenses" invested, there's also the depreciation expense of the vehicles or boats to get you to the fossils, fuel costs, expense of scuba gear or certificate, or time to make good pictures. And there are other fossil-hunting related expenses, clothes, hammers etc. And expenses to store, display and organise your collections. And if you are a commercial dealer, shipping costs to fossil trade-shows, travel expenses, fees… And in case your fossils require preparation, the list of expenses goes on:

Electricity costs, costs of preparation…

Setting up and outfitting a good new fossil preparation lab can be expensive. It can cost $10000-30000 to set up a lab suitable for detailed delicate preparation work, but expenses will vary widely depending on the location, materials, tools and equipment (new vs second hand etc). Costs of a basic prep lab are variable, it all depends on what you want to prep and luck if buying second hand.

There are some really elaborate DIY prep labs in the basements of hobby collectors (and some amazing hobby collections) out there. However, for amateur collectors it’s difficult to imagine all the costs and decisions of forming our own labs. Then there are costs to maintain all the tools, costs to repair…

And probably even more difficult to imagine how much time a good preparation of (not easy-to-prep) fossils can take…

What you need for start, is a compressor, a water filter and a pair of air-scribes, but if you want to prepare delicate fossils (i.e. trilobites), such setup is only useful to prep easy-to-prep fossils, like some ammonites or echinoids or Wyoming fish from the split layer. But if you want to prep more detailed or delicate fossils such a lab has a tendency to keep growing.

I suspect you can never actually get your prep lab to the completed state, but every good prep lab consists of at least one:

- experienced prep-lab technician like Karie Whitman (in photo)

- stereo zoom microscope with boom arm

- flexible arm cold light for stereo zoom scope or led rings

- blast box and air abrasion unit with one, two or more tanks

- different abrasives

- geological sieves

- compressor

- lines, connectors, regulators, air filters…

- air dryer

- dust extraction unit with HEPA filtration

- different air-scribes

- diamond bladed rock saw

- dremel tools

- dental picks

- dental burrs

- acetone, consolidants, glues and resins…

- photography equipment and lenses

- eye and respiratory protection

- storage cabinets

- an adjustable comfortable chair

and LOTS of time!

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