What's a Passenger Pigeon worth?
One might think if you own a specimen of an extinct bird, it might be worth tens of thousands of dollars. Think again! If you currently own a Passenger Pigeon, don't think even for a minute that you have a fortune in feathers! You are not going to put your kids through college nor retire on the sale of a Passenger Pigeon. During the past 3 years I have met several individuals who also have a Passenger Pigeon specimen, who asked what I thought a Passenger Pigeon was worth. Most of them believed that their specimen could bring in tens of thousands of dollars. A couple of them said they would sell theirs for $100,000. Get real people! Granted such a specimen is rare but the are not that rare and even something rare has to have a following of enthusiast who would ultimately determine the selling price.
Since I created these pages about my acquisition of a Passenger Pigeon, many have written me privately asking if I would tell them how much I had to pay for George. I always answered their question. Some have even asked how would one locate another specimen. Now that's a difficult question to answer. I'll tell you what I know.
In my youth, I practiced the art of taxidermy, and was especially attracted to bird taxidermy. I subscribed to various taxidermy publications, one that I particularly enjoyed was the Modern Taxidermist Magazine out of Greenfield Center, New York. I maintained my subscription until the magazine folded in the mid 1980's. It was always a thrill to read the classified ads and clearly remember one ad which appeared in the late 1960's, offered a Passenger Pigeon for sale for $750. I was only a high school student at that time but even then, I wrote to the seller asking about the specimen, only to receive a reply that it had been sold. I never saw another one offered for sale until 1999.
With the advent of Ebay Auctions, several Passenger Pigeon have been offered for sale. The very first I, the seller wanted $1,400,000 for it. Yes, that right, one million four hundred thousand for the mounted bird in a glass case. It....was a very nice specimen but obviously the owner expected perhaps a tad to much for such a bird. Later same Passenger Pigeon was offered for $450,000, and then again about 6 months afterwards it was offered a third time for $180,000. To my knowledge the owner still has it to this day, and I have never seen it offered again. [UPDATE: I have been informed by a friend of mine who contacted the owner of this Passenger Pigeon, that the owner said his specimen had been appraised at $85,000 (I'd like to know who his appraiser was and how they arrived at that price). However he wanted would not sell it separately, and wanted $200,000 for the entire collection of mounted specimens which includes some 15 additional mounted birds in glass cases.] Hmmm, I wouldn't hold my breath?
The second Passenger Pigeon I saw offered for sale was from a resident of Maine. The only information the seller provided was: "Passenger Pigeon and egg, only known specimen from the state of Maine, owned by school teacher who wants to sell, $250,000." I watched the auction and this pigeon didn't sell either. I've never seen it offered again and I did not make any effort to learn who the owner was.
Then I found "George" and now you can find out exactly what I paid for this Passenger Pigeon. Click the link if you really want to know.
I felt it was a decent price. It was still a lot of money but I came to the conclusion that I would probably never again have an another opportunity to own such an important piece of North American natural history, and at the time I was able to afford it. I was lucky that no one else was bidding against me as I would have lost out quickly.
After I acquired the specimen, several people who witnessed the auction but did not bid, wrote to me. Some asked was it really a Passenger Pigeon, as they seemed to doubt the seller. Others wrote in and said that they thought it went for a very low price and felt it was worth much more.
- A fellow from Boston wrote and said the he had been offered one in 1980 by a Boston antique dealer for $1000. but he did not purchase it.
- Another guy said he saw one for sale at an antique taxidermy auction in NYC and it sold for about $6000. but he said, that it was a poor quality specimen.
- A fellow Louisiana resident contacted me and said that a friend of his had purchase one at an estate sale up north and had given it to him (lucky guy).
Naturally, I was very curious as to the actual value of such an extinct bird. I knew that the prices of the other pigeon specimens I had recently seen offered were way out of line. Really now, who could afford $100,000 for a stuffed bird? The average person might save that much money in a life time, but would not spend it on an extinct bird. Even museums would never pay such high prices.
So what is a Passenger Pigeon worth?
In an effort to answer the question, I contacted a natural history auction house in San Fransico, and asked for an appraisal. Many months passed and I heard nothing, but then about two months ago, I received a phone call from someone at their firm, inquiring about my Passenger Pigeon. We had a great, long conversation. He was disappointed that I was not interested in selling the bird but he was able to provide me with some factual data. As an auctioneer, he had only seen one other Passenger Pigeon come before him during the last 10 years. He sold it at auction for $5000 to $6000, he could not recall which it was. He felt that such a specimen today would probably bring at auction about $8,000 maybe as much as $10,000 but he doubted it. As he put it, "a Passenger Pigeon is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it".
UPDATE: In the past 2 months (as of May 1st, 2002) I have seen five Passenger Pigeon specimens up for sale, 2 sold for $10000 each (US) , one was offered for $7500 (in Canada) but did not sell, and the 3rd in the UK sold for about $9000. Another one recently at auction did not receive bids beyond $4000. and was not sold.
So I guess I've learned the dollar value of a passenger pigeon. I didn't acquire the bird with the idea that it would be profitable to me. I'm not certain that I could bring myself to part with it. The real value of a Passenger Pigeon is not one of money, but one of history and heritage. To have this treasure is both a privilege and a responsibility. Take it for what its worth.
Legality of owning an Extinct Passenger Pigeon
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