Good afternoon, everyone! The time has come (and kind of gone again) to celebrate another T.rex Tuesday. This week, we’re dabbling along the edge of some controversy in the fossil world. Juvenile T.rex “Tinker” gained fame as probably the first major fossil find to be caught up in the post-Sue craze that turned fossils into cash cows of epic proportions. The skeleton was discovered in Harding County, SD only a few months after the gavel fell on Sue’s sensational auction.
The rights to excavate Tinker were quickly sold to a private prospector from Texas, who then went to work negotiating the skeleton’s sale to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis for $8.5 million. Throughout it all, the fossils were embroiled in legal controversy (likely driven in part by the potential value of the fossil) over whether they had been collected from private land, or from county lands leased for grazing by the same individual. That court battle kept Tinker wrapped up for over a decade, with some of the disputed bones in storage, some still in the ground, and some at a Pennsylvania fossil preparator that ended up filing for bankruptcy during the proceedings.
There is a lot of controversy and history that I will skip over, but in the end, the courts found in favor of the Texas individual, and Tinker entered the private market. By that time, the CMI had contracted with BHI for another specimen, Bucky. Tinker was sold to a private German citizen, and eventually offered for sale for an even $10 million. As recently as mid-2015, it was displayed for sale at the Etihad Modern Art Gallery in Abu Dhabi, UAE. I am not clear as to whether or not it is still there.
Several casts of Tinker have been made by the preparator, including one that was gifted to Mercyhurst University in Erie, PA that has been displayed a few times over the past few years. Last summer, another cast was placed on display at Hanover College, a private liberal arts college in its namesake southern Indiana town. While Tinker is a lasting symbol of how lucrative Tyrannosaurus rex prospecting can be, Hanover has quietly become the only place in North America where he can be found on permanent display.