The Dec. 3 “Sale of Natural History” at Bonhams & Butterfields in Los Angeles will highlight hundreds of loose, mounted, and strung polished gems, Idar-Oberstein gem carvings, mineral specimens—some from the now infamous Levi Smith collection—as well as collection of very large gold nuggets.
The gems and minerals on sale range from small faceted stones valued at only a few hundred dollars, to jewelry like an Akiva Gil red African spinel butterfly pin, estimated at $35,000-45,000, to a mounted 5.86 ct. Kashmir sapphire ring, estimated at $80,000-100,000. Gem carvings from noted artists such as Thomas Harth Ames, Manfred Wild at Emil Becker, and Otto Jerusalem are highlighted as well. There’s even a nice collection of ambers, including a rare red amber nodule.
As for minerals, the Levi Smith mineral collection is accompanied by dozens of additional museum quality minerals for sale. The Levi Smith collection has a particularly interesting saga. On loan to Penn State University up until only a few months ago, the boxed on-loan collection was regarded as simply taking up needed university space. It was summarily shipped back to its donor. It is called “one of the most significant institutional de-accession of a mineral collection” but in fact was a mineral collection without a permanent home. Smith, who made his fortune in the oil business in the late 19th century, donated the collection to the Warren County, Pennsylvania High School as a memorial, which then loaned the collection to Penn State. Upon receiving the 60+ year-old collection, the school district, still having no space or use for such a delicate and important collection, decided to send it to auction. The collection is estimated to bring between $250,000-350,000.
Iridescent fossil ammonites, large tabletop labradorites and petrified wood, amber carvings, gemstone eggs, jet, moonstone, turquoise, spinels, rhodocrosites, peridots, amethysts… the auction list is very impressive.
Gold Nuggets: As you have read online here, this auction also highlights a famous Las Vegas gold nugget collection. The collection, also known as that of Alaskan businessman Arthur Sexauer, contains 32 huge nuggets that were on display at the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino.
According to Bonhams & Butterfields specialists, gold nuggets are valued as gemstones rather than gold. Their value has much more to do with their rarity and the general character of the nugget. The most recognizable nugget, weighing over 12 ozt, is called the “Eagle’s Head.”
And finally, there is a small collection of meteorites, and fossils up for sale. One gemstone meteorite, valued at $6-8,000, has a fine sampling of transparent olivine crystals – gems from space. The fossil specimens have estimates of value from $30,000 to $220,000, with the highlight being a dinosaur egg nest, containing a large number of Raptor eggs with intact embryos.