Dinosaur eggs at Dave's

This Christmas, my family all gathered in Chicago, where my brother is a professor (at UC, in the business school). We went to a number of the obligatory Chicago sites... saw the Art Institute, gawked at folks flicking fingers at each other at the Mercantile Exchange, visited the Picasso baboon sculpture, and checked out Sue, the T. rex now being cleaned and assembled at the Field Museum. I've never been really thrilled with the Field. Having grown up in Connecticut, I've been spoiled by the American Museum of Natural History and the smaller, but still excellent fossil displays at the Peabody Museums at Yale and Harvard. The Field had a couple big dinosaurs, like an allosaurus and an apatosaurus (with the obligatory diagram showing how a brontosaurus is really an apatosaurus with the wrong head - from a camarasaurus - on it). Yawn. I suppose if you can't get to New York, it'll have to do.

But the real treat for the paleontologist in me on this visit was a return to Dave (Douglass)'s Down to Earth Rock Shop, which I haven't been to since 1994 or so. I've been to dozens of rock shops and geology museums all around the U.S., plus a shop in Sydney, Australia, and a natural history museum in Beijing, (so I know what I'm talkin' 'bout) and Dave's is by far my favorite rock shop. The excellent thing about Dave's is a museum in the basement which, among other treasures, has a complete cave bear skeleton, dinosaur footprints, and a dozen (count 'em!) dinosaur eggs - and eggs from all over, from China, Argentina, and France, and I didn't even know they had dinosaur eggs in France. And if that's not enough for you, the museum is chock full of insects in amber (and insects big enough to see without a mag lens, mind you), really nice crab fossils from Italy, and three dozen fossilized mammalian skulls. Still not satisfied? How about an apatosaurus femur (with a sign that says "Don't touch" - right!), plant fossils, Tully monster fossils, eurypterids, jellyfish, worms... I could go on... (Dave told me he collected about a third of this stuff himself.)

Insects in amber at Dave's

The fossils Dave had on sale were also amazing. A couple just to whet your appetite:

-An 80-million year-old dinosaur (sauropod) egg from China, $750.

-An excellent lobster fossil from Solnhofen, Germany, where limestone slabs are peeled away like the leaves of a book, to reveal the most spectacularly well preserved fossils, 160 million years old, $1650.

-A Comura trilobite from Morocco, from where some of the nicest trilobites come, an excellent specimen with spines 1.5 inches long (almost as long as its body) sticking out the sides of its head, $550.

-A Dicranurus trilobite, also from Morocco, with a ridiculous number of spines (quite a mouthful for a predator!), $1250. The trilobites at Dave's were more impressive than the ones at the Field Museum.

To see more fossils and amber from Dave's museum, click here.

Dave's Down to Earth Rock Shop, 704 Main St. Evanston, IL, (847) 866-7374. Their website is here.  Oh, and I should add that, yes, Dave does sell crystals and other typical rock shop stuff, but it's the fossils that won my heart.

Site last visited 12/98.





Just to prove I'm not Dave's lackey, how his shop stacks up against others...

Dave's Down to Earth Rock Shop. Best for invertebrate fossils. Best fossil museum.

Maxilla and Mandible, 451-5 Columbus Ave. between 81st and 82nd, New York, NY 10024, (212) 724-6173, open Monday through Saturday from 11 AM to 7 PM and Sundays from12 PM to 6 PM. Just a block from the American Museum of Natural History. The AMNH has a policy that it won't sell anything natural in its gift shop, including fossils. M&M more than picks up the slack. If you've been in New York, you may remember their storefront as the one with huge snake skeleton in it. The store's showroom is tiny, but jammed full of an amazing variety of skulls. Over the years I've acquired several from them, including an American alligator, gray fox, coyote, lion, springbok, bobcat, badger, and, most spectacular of all, a warthog. Prices range widely: the low end for common animals like beaver and rat ($17, $60), with more for big animals like horse ($395) or bison ($760), and a whole lot for exotic animals like giraffes ($1800) or elephants ($7500). (These prices are from their 1988 catalog, which was the most recent I had around, and undoubtably more now; prices also vary with skull condition.) The store also does a brisk business renting skulls (to artists, filmmakers, etc.) Of course, not everything is always in stock (when I just called, 1/9/98, they said they'd been "cleaned out" over Christmas) - part of the fun is calling or visiting to see what they got. In case you're wondering where they get these skulls from: M&M gets its skulls from legal and ethical sources (like animals dying in zoos or dead ones found in the wild) - no animals had been killed to obtain their skulls. If you're interested in human skulls, though, you might be out of luck. M&M insists they sell them, but every time I've checked, they've been out, but see The Bone Room (below). Oh, I should also add that M&M also has excellent insects (including butterflies), shells, and various invertebrate fossils in stock - I bought a most pleasing shrimp fossil from Lebanon there. Their website is here. Best for mammalian skulls and insects.

The Bone Room, 1569 Solano, Berkeley, CA, 94707, (510) 526-5252. Like Maxilla and Mandible, but with a more spacious and airy display area. While M&M, in all the years I've been going there, has NEVER had any human skulls, The Bone Room has always had a few, three or four, for sale, generally $300 - $800. They also have some insects, a few trilobites (tho' not as rare as Dave's), and their homepage is here. While you're in the area, be sure to visit Kimono My House, an excellent Japanese Science fiction/anime toystore in Emeryville. Second best for mammalian skulls; best for human skulls.

For more Bone Room Fotos, click here.

Chapman's Gem and Mineral Shop, 4 mi south of Fortuna (a little south of Eureka) on Highway 101, 725-4732, CA. A total surprise. We stumbled upon it when we were driving south from an (unsettling) trip to the Trees of Mystery, drive-through trees, and similar points in Northern California. A huge rock shop basically in the middle of nowhere in northern California. It has the biggest commercial collection of petrified wood I've ever seen and a huge selection of crystals, with a large museum attached to it. (I'm not really into crystals - and I carefully avoid the folks who talk to them in rock shops - but I couldn't help but be amazed by Chapman's selection and museum.) When I was there in August, 1998, they had (most of) a whale skull and several vertebrae out front. Best for petrified wood; excellent for crystals.

Whale bones at Chapman's.


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