My selections are those of a collector seeking beauty, perfection, and awe. I prefer pieces with character, such as the patina of surface-collected pieces or remnants of a branch. The form must be pleasing. It must have no bad side – no negatives issues whatsoever. Obviously, weather-battered pieces have less distinct surface detail, yet the added character can be glorious. Beauty has always been my polestar for selecting fossil wood specimens. If one is also rare, all the better. A scientist examining fossil woods would likely have different needs and goals.
I am not claiming these are the best specimens I have owned, yet many are. These are the ones I’ve kept, for one reason or another. Most are specimens I could never bring myself to sell, such as the Stormy Cruciform Dawn limb from Argentina. Life has many twists and turns. Otherwise, how boring and unchallenging it would be. There were three times as I was raising my four daughters that I needed more money than I had, requiring me to sell many of my most valuable wood specimens. I still dream of them. I wrote this before the following occurred.
Petrified Wood Collection Miracle: UPDATE from the summer of 2023. A petrified wood collection miracle occurred this summer. Out of the blue in June, I was contacted by an overseas collector who had purchased a large number of petrified wood specimens from me in 2006 and 2007. At that time, I had two daughters in college with another to go, and I had just spent six figures to print my new book, Ancient Forests. I felt impoverished and family comes first in my book. The collector had a copy of Petrified Wood and wanted to purchase world class specimens. Consequently, I sold him many of the best pieces I had ever owned, including many that I thought I would never sell. I’d had no communication with him since 2007. In his email of June 2023, he asked if I would be interested in buying his collection. He was retired, his family had no interest in the collection, and his wife was very much interested in getting rid of it. He told me that the majority of the collection comprised specimens purchased from me, and that he had also bought some pieces from another dealer. We reached a deal. When I returned from my summer in Oregon, in my garage was a pile of twenty-seven large FedEx boxes that was the size of my car. The collector and his assistant did an excellent job packing, and nothing was damaged in transit. FedEx was a pain to deal with. The packages came two to five at a time in eight deliveries over about a month. Most of the deliveries were held up at customs as no one seemed to know if a duty was required. I spent hours trying to communicate with the FedEx customs “experts”. The ones I spoke with got it right – there is no duty owed for a rock collection. However, some of them never contacted me and decided that I was importing building stone which is taxed by the value. They thought I was paying up to thousands of dollars a pound for building stone. I attempted to protest, only to learn that it is impossible, and I mean literally impossible due to FedEx rules. On top of the $7200 I spent for the postage, I paid about $800 in customs fees that I did not owe. The total number of specimens was 148. The collector had purchased some lower level specimens from my website as well as the top pieces I offered. He also included every piece he acquired elsewhere. After careful inspection, I added 81 of the specimens to my final collection. All but a few the collector got from me. My guess is that the collector quit collecting petrified wood because after what he got from me, he never got another great piece. Instead, he paid a high price for a lot of glue. The 81 pieces include some of the best pieces I have ever owned or even seen and greatly improved my final collection.
This collection is different from the average petrified wood collection for a number of reasons, most uniquely the perfection of the specimens and the lack of glue or filler. Very nearly every specimen has had nothing added. Most have a facet that has been polished but never glued, making it polished gemstone. Members of the silica family quality as semi-precious gemstones. I elevate top gem quality fossils woods to the precious gem category because they are not only gems, they are trees that became gems in a miraculous way. The specimens in this collection are also different from most petrified wood pieces due to superior polishing on each one. I personally prepared many of the specimens from their original, as found, state. The process of becoming expert at cutting and polishing took me about a decade. It’s one of those 10,000 hour things. I also found it necessary to repolish the majority of the prepared pieces I acquired from others and to remove traces of polishing compounds.
Although mineral collectors in general eschew polishing along with other forms of alteration, my position is that this fossil wood collection is more on a par with a collection of high end fine minerals, pristine antique glass, or top grade gold and silver antique coins than it is with practically every other petrified wood collection on planet earth.
I respect collectors with interests other than mine. Fossils wood collecting is a great hobby for inquisitive minds with myriad interests and from all backgrounds. Some collect wood from as many locations as they can; some collect only huge full rounds so they can hang them on their walls to boost their egos; some collect by species or by country and state. I once had a customer who lived in a tiny apartment in New York City who had a collection of tiny, petrified wood specimens. All of these are perfectly valid as collections. With my personality and collector instincts, honed and variously informed over many decades, three-dimensional specimens such as limbs and logs with perfection and beauty are my quarry. If it happens to be an extra-rare species, all the better. But I have no interest in rare species specimens that are not perfect and beautiful. Perfection is an impossible standard. Consider a collector of antique plates. Would he or she want a display case filled with plates with cracks that are obviously or even unnoticeably glued? Would a coin collector be happy with a coin that was glued or filled or so worn or scratched that you can barely read the date? I would not. I prefer unglued perfection. Top grade fossil wood is rare … very rare, absolutely rarer than gold.
It’s perfectly normal for people to have disparate tastes. I don’t rate full rounds above specimen rounds. [see below for definitions] Specimen rounds can be far more interesting. Most specimens are much improved when prepared with adhesives or sealants like Opticon and cyanoacrylate. In my opinion, the collections that will retain and increase in value and desirability through the years will be those with mostly three-dimensional specimens without glues or fillers – pieces that could sit amidst the finest mineral specimens, even though they are polished, as long as it’s fossil wood that is polished and not glue. That said, the best fossil wood collections will include some specimens that have a tiny degree of fortification, because only a fool would exclude a killer specimen simply because it needed a little help, so long as it’s not obvious. A top tier three-dimensional specimen is one you can pick up and turn and examine and see only natural fossil wood all around, preferably with an element of character—a knot, wind-polish, included agate fortification, lovely patina, borer holes, and such—plus a face that has been professionally polished to reveal its inner amazement. As I age (now well into my eight decade) and feel compelled to sell my collection as a favor to my four daughters, my final display cases are predominately populated with all-natural, three-dimensional, unglued specimens, many of which I personally prepared, predominately cut and polished only. These are fossils that are gems. Gem quality petrified wood is unique. Although a fossil, it’s also a gem, and vice versa.
I am grateful to have discovered such a fulfilling field for collecting. These days I still rock hunt about fifty days a year, mostly by picking up tiny agates on the beaches of Oregon. Occasionally I find a killer.
SPECIMEN ROUND: A specimen round is a piece that is cut and polished, generally across the transverse aspect, with a perimeter that is the natural rock as found; the polished face reveals color and detail, although the rock as found was not a complete trunk or branch, sometimes having broken and been tumbled for millennia.
FULL ROUND: A full round will be a specimen cut across the transverse aspect [cross-section] that seems to pretty much encompass a complete set of annual rings, or if a cast, will have most of the full circumference.
UTAH FULL ROUND: This is a piece that I was taught as a novice Utah wood collector to be a full round. It has the exterior characteristics of a full round piece of wood, but the interior structures reveal it to be a piece of a larger tree. I personally do not discriminate against this type of full round, but since some do, I sometimes use this term as a compromise.
No glue/No filler: It means what is says, however I’ll add a proviso: the piece has no glue or filler of which I am aware or such a tiny amount as to be insignificant, so if there is some glue, it’s imperceptible and unobtrusive.
FACE: The face is the polished portion.