May 8, 2012 in City

Eye-catching skull replica up for sale

Michael Guilfoil Correspondent
 
Kathy Plonka photoBuy this photo

Silver Pine Mercantile owners Barbara Jo “BJ” Jones and Scott Lasley discuss their decision to sell their museum-quality skull casting of “Sue” the T. rex at the store in Wallace.
(Full-size photo)

T. rex named “Sue”

Official name: FMNH PR 2081

Nickname: “Sue,” for paleontologist Sue Hendrickson, who discovered the fossilized Tyrannosaurus rex in western South Dakota in 1990.

Claim to fame: World’s largest, most extensive, best preserved T. rex specimen. “Sue,” 28 years old when it died, measures 42 feet long, 13 feet tall at the hips, and is 90 percent complete.

Price: Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History paid a record $8.36 million in 1997.

If you’re looking for an unusual centerpiece, and don’t mind staring into a 4-foot maw lined with 58 massive teeth – well, then, the Silver Pine Mercantile in Wallace may have the perfect curio: the skull of “Sue,” the world’s most celebrated dinosaur.

OK, not the actual skull – a museum-quality replica, just like the one that crowns the 42-foot-long “Sue” skeleton at Chicago’s Field Museum. (The actual skull, which weighs 600 pounds, resides in a display case on the museum’s balcony level to afford visitors a close-up view.)

Scott Lasley and Barbara Jo “BJ” Jones are selling their 3,000-square-foot mercantile so they can join Jones’ family in California this fall. But the sale doesn’t include “Sue,” which is why they’re advertising it on Craigslist.

“Our skull mimics each detail of the original,” the couple’s ad reads, including pockmarks believed to have been caused by bacteria when “Sue” was alive, and a gash behind the right eye socket that scientists attribute to a lethal blow delivered by another Tyrannosaurus rex.

The replica measures roughly 4 feet long, 4 feet high and 2 feet wide, and disassembles into two pieces for transport.

The price: $5,000, which is what Lasley says he paid (including shipping) when he purchased the skull from a West Virginia manufacturer four years ago.

Since then, “Sue” has perched in the Silver Pine Mercantile’s front window, doing its job: attracting customers who can’t resist a photo op with a 65-million-year-old celebrity. (Experts don’t know whether “Sue” was male or female. The fossil is nicknamed for the paleontologist who found it.)

Lasley said he and his wife launched the business in 2008 with the goal of offering items from all over the world “that aren’t available in big-box stores and very few mom-and-pop stores.”

Silver Pine Mercantile’s inventory includes fossils, minerals, fair-trade baskets from Africa, Mexican outdoor furniture and Polish pottery, as well as reproduction tin toys and paper dolls.

And “Sue.”

“I was always fascinated with fossils,” Lasley explained, “and when we were planning the store, we wanted something that both would attract people and educate them.”

Next to the skull is information about Tyrannosaurus rex, such as how much flesh it typically devoured in one bite (200 pounds).

Lasley said “Sue” was always for sale – “everything’s for sale in Wallace” – but he never put a price tag on the skull until now.

“Most people don’t realize that when they go to museums, what they’re seeing is not actual dinosaur bones, but reproductions,” Lasley said. “There are so few dinosaur bones that there aren’t enough for all the museums.”

Which may explain why response to the Craigslist ad has come mainly from museums in Montana. “But I think it’s a bit out of their price range,” he said.

Lasley predicts the eventual buyer will be either a museum or school, “or someone like me. My wife says I’m in my second childhood. I like to stock the store with things like (reproduction) pedal cars and Roman helmets.”

If “Sue” doesn’t sell by September, “I’ll take it with me,” said Lasley, sounding like that prospect appeals to his inner child.

Spokane freelance writer Michael Guilfoil can be reached at mguilfoil@comcast.net.

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