Collect fossils

Never before have there been so many fossil collectors as today. Leisure and mobility, but also broad-based education have made it possible. While in former times the collectors belonged to the rural intelligence of priests, lawyers, teachers, doctors and pharmacists, today the hobby has reached all classes. Fossil collecting is closely connected with paleontology. Thus, many paleontologists of the 18th and early 19th centuries were themselves accomplished collectors who privatized or had completely different professions. Georg Graf zu Münster, who built up the most important collection of his time in the German-speaking world, worked as an administrative officer in the government of Upper Franconia in Bayreuth and the vertebrate palaeontologist and founder of the "Paläontographica", Hermann von Meyer, as treasurer in the first German Bundestag in Frankfurt. An academic subject palaeontology was only established after the middle of the 19th century.

So how does one become a fossil collector today? What drives him? Why does he invest time and money in a hobby that most contemporaries rather shake their heads and lack understanding than admiration and recognition? First and foremost it is certainly an elementary interest in nature and its things, in its beauty and diversity. And the collector does not have to kill any butterflies or bugs. But there are also quite different motives, namely

  • The joy of finding and discovering, because even today, collectors can still come across something new even in well researched strata. And the moment from discovering to recognizing creates an absolute feeling of happiness.
  • The awareness that a collection of fossils will never be as complete as a collection of stamps or coins, especially since each find is unique as such.
  • The economic component, because an important fossil collection - unlike an art collection, for example - can be invested even with modest financial means, only with knowledge, skill and sustained patience.
  • The technical challenge of the often difficult preparation, which requires skill and patience.
  • The aesthetics of the collection presentation, whether in the living room showcase, as wall decoration or in carefully arranged drawers in the style of scientific magazines.
  • The professional contact with like-minded people and exchange partners, often from other countries, and often also the contact with scientists from museums and institutes It makes a collector particularly proud when he can contribute a small piece of the mosaic to the gain in knowledge with a special find.

Depending on the motif and talent, three groups stand out from the large number of collectors who can achieve remarkable achievements. These are on the one hand the taxidermists and on the other hand the specialists. They devote a lifetime to certain groups of organisms, certain stratigraphic units or their "domestic quarry", which they cultivate over decades with an intensity that would not be possible for any professional palaeontologist. And finally, there are the hardworking people who derive a business idea from their hobby and become self-employed as taxidermists or fossil dealers. However, these are not to be spoken of any further, even if they play a considerable role as service providers in the fossil world - also for science and museums.

Some collectors have set up a professional taxidermy workshop at home in the basement and have achieved mastery in the use of pneumatic gravers and fine blasting equipment and are in no way inferior to professional taxidermists. With patience and a sure hand, these precision engineers free trilobites with stem eyes and adventurous spines or fish with fragile fusion scales from hard concretions. Collectors have developed the transfer technology that made the preparation, sustainable conservation and museum presentation of fossils from the Messel Pit possible in the first place. Others have dedicated themselves to fossil photography and have done technical pioneering work, says Dr. h.c. Helmut Tischlinger, a specialist in the visualization of fossil structures under ultraviolet light, is invited by institutes and museums and asked for advice.

Among the specialists there are some who know their field no less well than the professional palaeontologist. Such people become especially important when they have dedicated themselves to such organismic groups that have been scientifically orphaned. However, most collectors always attract the same favourites: ammonites, trilobites, snails, sea urchins and sea lilies, which are also the focus of palaeontology. If a collector then publishes his findings according to the rules of science, he can blur the difference to the professional palaeontologist. However, such specialists also run the risk of getting carried away, isolating themselves with their views and finally adopting almost sectarian positions. A few autodidacts like the echinoderma specialist Dr. Dr. h.c. Hans Hess from Basel have become world-renowned authorities in their field, as can be seen from their extensive publication lists.

Tensions between collectors and scientific palaeontology at museums or the state conservation of archaeological monuments, which arose in the 1980s from legal regulations on fossil protection in individual federal states, have apparently eased. Most collectors have accepted that a specimen of a publication must also be deposited in a public collection and be available for further research. Anyone who does not agree with this remains anonymous with his find in the locked drawer - but this does not correspond to the usual collector's mentality, because most people want to go public with their special find. If a special piece is to be published, the collector must part with it. As compensation, he then deserves the honour of having served science. If his find becomes the type of a new species or even genus, the author can name it after the collector and thus "immortalize" him. But this kind of reverence the paleontologists first had to recognize as self-evident. Where there is mutual trust, the simple transfer of ownership is sufficient and the collector can keep his treasure with him as long as he likes.

The same applies to the whereabouts of entire collections. Apparently, the former opponents have come to the same conclusion that every important private collection is sooner or later absorbed by a public collection. Most collectors lack a successor in the family, who continues in their sense what they have started. Thus the responsible collector realizes that even his last shirt has no pockets, and acts in such a way that the collection, his "life's work", stays together and is not torn or even lost. For the museum palaeontologist, the motto in dealing with collectors is therefore openness and friendly cooperation - and patience until the collector has become mature enough to settle the long-term whereabouts of his objects.

This attitude has been advocated and consistently implemented by the Paläontologische Gesellschaft for years.

  • The Paläontologische Gesellschaft is as open to collectors as it is to the professional palaeontologist. Among the currently more than 1000 members are numerous collectors and private palaeontologists.
  • The Paläontologische Gesellschaft has had an information stand at the "Petrefakta" in Leinfelden for years.
  • The flow of information between collectors and scientists is facilitated by the bimonthly magazine "Fossilien. Zeitschrift für Hobbypaläontologen", where on the page "Paläontologie aktuell" first-hand reports about scientific projects of members of the Paläontologische Gesellschaft. Both collectors and palaeontologists have been both authors and readers of this journal for many years.
  • Already in 1984 the Paläontologische Gesellschaft, at the instigation of its member Dr. h.c. Rudolf Mundlos, who was himself a journalist and marketing manager, donated the Zittel Medal, which it awards to private palaeontologists for outstanding achievements.
  • Since 1998, the Alberti Foundation of the Hohenloher Muschelkalk Works has honoured professional and private palaeontologists for their extraordinary achievements with the Alberti Prize, which is endowed with € 10,000. This appreciation has led to the fact that many collectors have already decided to donate their objects to the Alberti Foundation and thus bring them into the Muschelkalk Museum in Ingelfingen, which, specialising in Triassic fossils, is becoming more and more clearly a "museum of collectors for collectors" with each additional donation. In 2011, Werner Kugler from Crailsheim bequeathed his extremely valuable collection of vertebrates from Lettenkeuper in Württemberg to the Alberti Foundation. Full of pride he can now show his finds to the visitors of the Muschelkalk Museum in a museum presentation, because they remain "his" finds, even if he has placed the ownership of them in public hands.

With these developments, the reputation of fossil collectors among scientists has grown steadily in recent years, and it has become a matter of course that collectors who provide important material are duly acknowledged in the relevant publications, often even as co-authors.

In short, fossil collecting is a hobby for the intellectual explorer, as well as for the fiddly craftsman and the lover of beautiful and rare things. It is just a hobby for the whole person, because it satisfies the hunting fever when a new find is successful, it requires care and manual dexterity in preparation, it serves the sense of order and aesthetics in the creation of the collection, and it can lead to the intellectual playground if as a private palaeontologist you get a little bit involved in science, not to mention human contacts. The importance of communication at eye level and consensual cooperation between palaeontologists and collectors has long been recognized by the Paläontologische Gesellschaft and has always been promoted with lasting effect. After all, collectors and professional palaeontologists pursue the same motive, namely to reserve a little piece of eternity for themselves, some with their collections, others with their writings.

Fossil collecting has even left literary traces, and not only in Eduard Mörike's sensitive poem "Der Petrefaktensammler" (The Petrefact Collector), from which the motto in the title of this essay is derived. Dr. h.c. Otto Linck, forester, man of letters, art historian, conservationist, and even private paleontologist has aptly characterized the collector and collecting. In his witty poem "Praise of the Collectors" he writes

... and pre-worldly animals sleep deep in the stone; the giant kingdom of the ammonite wheels, one can be very happy in it! Oceans rush out of them on long sunken continents, flying lizards move like aeroplanes to the collector through the morning dream...

by Hans Hagdorn

Ask a Scientist - Questions to the science

Scientists of the Paläontologische Gesellschaft are available for questions and contacts for hobby palaeontologists.

For questions on specific topics, groups of animals or plants, on special sites or geological periods of time, you can contact the persons listed here directly:

Subject / Fossil groupContact personContact

Palaeobotany

Tertiary foliage flora

Prof. Dr. Johanna Eder Director State Museum of Natural History Stuttgart Rosenstein 1 D-70191 Stuttgartemail
Keuperfloren Southern GermanyKlaus-Peter Kelber Fröbelstr. 31 D-97074 Würzburgemail
Paleozoic and Mesozoic florasProf. Dr. Hans Kerp Research Centre for Palaeobotany Geological-Paleontological Institute Westphalian Wilhelm University of Münster Hindenburgplatz 57 D-48143 Münsteremail
Paleozoic floras and petrified forestsPD Dr Ronny Rößler Director Museum of Natural History Moritzstraße 20 D-09111 Chemnitzemail

Devonian and Palynoflorene of the Tertiary & Quaternary

Dr. Georg Heumann Steinmann Institute Bonn Rheinische Friedrichs Wilhelms University Bonn Nußallee 8 D-53115 Bonn

email

Invertebrates

Cold water coral reefs, climate change, deep sea biotic communitiesProf. Dr. Andre Freiwald Institute for Paleontology, University of Erlangen Loewenichstr. 28 D-91054 Erlangenemail
Ammonites, beadload fossils, Geology & Palaeontology of Northwest Germany

Prof. Dr. Jens Lehmann Geosciences Collection of the University of Bremen University of Bremen - Faculty 5 (Geosciences) Klagenfurter Strasse D-28359 Bremen

email
Invertebrates of the Jurassic, ammonites, crabsDr. Günter Schweigert State Museum of Natural History Rosenstein 1 D-70191 Stuttgartemail
Echinoderms, octocorals, bed load fossilsDr. Mike Reich Geoscience Centre of the University of Göttingen, Museum, Collections & Geopark Goldschmidt-Str. 3, D-37077 Göttingenemail
Muschelkalk fossils, echinoderms of the TriassicDr. Hans Hagdorn Muschelkalk Museum Ingelfingen Schlossstr. 11 D-74653 Ingelfingenemail

Paleozoic Insects & Arachnids

Prof. Dr. Carsten Brauckmann Institute for Geology and Palaeontology, Technical University Clausthal Leibnitzstr. 10, D-38678 Clausthal-Zellerfeldemail

Vertebrates

Tertiary fish, Molasse, Mainz BasinProf. Dr. Bettina Reichenbacher Department of Geo- and Environmental Sciences (Palaeontology Section) Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München Richard-Wagner-Str. 10 D-80333 Münchenemail
DinosaurProf. Dr. Oliver Rauhut Bavarian State Collection for Palaeontology and Geology Richard-Wagner-Str. 10, D-80333 Munichemail
Mesozoic vertebratesDr. Oliver Wings Institute for Earth Sciences Sigwartstr. 10 D-72076 Tuebingenemail

Upper Pleistocene Mammals

Dr. Alexander Gehler Geoscience Centre of the University of Göttingen Goldschmidt-Str. 3, D-37077 Göttingenemail
Fossil Mammals

Prof. Wighart von Koenigswald Steinmann Institute Bonn Rheinische Friedrichs Wilhelms University Bonn Nußallee 8 D-53115 Bonn

email

Regional Geology / Palaeontology

Southern Teutoburg Forest, Central WeserberglandProf. Dr. Rainer Springhorn Lippisches Landesmuseum Ameide 4 D-32756 Detmoldemail

Evolutionary Research

Evolution, Histology, Anatomy

PD Dr. Michael Gudo Morphisto, Evolution Research and Application GmbH Weismüllerstr. 45 D-60314 Frankfurt am Main

 

email

Networks

Collect, identify and exchange fossils and gain scientific knowledge from them: Networks are indispensable for this. The Paläontologische Gesellschaft sees its task in particular in scientific cooperation, in assistance, advice and support in the case of finds that are difficult to recover, in regulations or scientific interpretation. Fossil collectors are already very well organized among themselves through various networks. On this page we present the fossil collector networks with which the Paläontologische Gesellschaft cooperates.

NetworkwebsiteKey aspects
Steinkern.dewww.steinkern.deVery well organized and networked collector community with its own magazine as publication organ ("Steinkern").
Naturpark Altmühltalwww.fossiliensammeln.dePortal of the Altmühltal Nature Park with many interesting tips for hobby palaeontologists and fossil collectors who want to go hunting for fossils in the Altmühltal.
Freunde der Geowissenschaftlichen Sammlung der Universität Bremen e.V.www.fgsub.deSupport Association of the Geosciences Collection of the University of Bremen.
Rosenheimer Mineralien- und Fossiliensammler e.V.www.mineralienverein-rosenheim.deAbout 130 members of the association whose purpose is to impart and exchange knowledge of mineralogy, geology and palaeontology.
Arbeitsgruppe Palaeo-Geo e.V.www.palaeo-geo-ev.deAssociation of hobby palaeontologists and mineral collectors from the Rhine-Main area with currently about 100 members.
fossilien.dewww.fossilien.de

Sales portal for fossils, minerals, amber and dinosaur models.

Mineralien- und Fossilienfreunde Bayer Leverkusen e.V.

www.minfoss-lev.de

Collectors' association with about 90 members from the Cologne area with contacts to universities, museums and government offices. Member of the PalGes.

Gesellschaft für Geschiebekundewww.geschiebekunde.deAssociation for the promotion of bedload science.

Kontakt

Paläontologische Gesellschaft
Geschäftsstelle
Weismüllerstr. 45
60314 Frankfurt am Main
Tel.: 069 / 400 3019 71
Fax: 069 / 400 3019 74
Email: geschaeftsstelle(at)palges.de
Internet: www.palges.de

Newsletter bestellen
Mitglied werden
Unsere Datenschutzerklärung

Donations

Latest news

Article of the presentation on 09.01.2020 in the reopened Jura Museum Eichstätt.

Read more

Ein Kommentar zur Stellungnahme der Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) zu den Standards für eingereichte Manuskripte vom 21. April 2020.

Read more

Participation of the Paläontologischen Gesellschaft in the GeoUtrecht 2020 withdrawn.

Read more