Bear with me. Hear me out. I believe in the end you will have a better understanding of something I am asked repeatedly; What makes one Megalodon shark tooth more valuable than another?
For about a decade I was an avid poker player. Being the super-anal person that I am, I felt the need to consume everything ever written on the subject. After a steady diet of book learning I concluded that the answer to any question I might have about poker is “it depends”. It depends on how many chips you have. And it depends on how many your opponent has. It depends on what position you are in; who’s on your left and who’s on your immediate right. What is your table image? How many people are in the hand and how do your opponents size up? Are you the first or the last to bet? The list of determining factors to be assessed before answering even the most simplistic question about poker is endless. The most experienced players can analyze all this data in a matter of minutes to compute a very strategic answer and play or fold accordingly. Still, it depends.
The same must be said for determining what makes one Megalodon shark’s tooth more valuable than another. It just depends. But it actually depends on three main factors:
All things being equal, (and they never are) quality is the primary determinant when it comes to the worth of a shark’s tooth. This can usually be easily evaluated in a matter of seconds by just looking at some very clear pictures online. As long as the pictures are distinct and of good size, there’s no need to have the actual tooth in hand to make a determination. Quality can always be assessed regardless of size or locale of the Megalodon shark’s tooth.
This is the easiest price-determining factor. A larger tooth is always going to be worth more than a smaller tooth, but…and here is the big but… you must compare apples to apples. This is exactly where “it depends” comes into play. A three-inch Bone Valley or Peruvian tooth can be worth far more than a six-inch tooth from South Carolina. A four-inch Megalodon tooth from South Carolina can yield far greater value than a six-inch tooth from South Carolina if the quality is much higher. Now it gets even more complicated and you must factor in more than quality and size.
Location of Find. Why does it matter so much where the tooth was found? It’s not that a particular spot on earth or section of a river or place in the ocean makes it more valuable than another part of the world. It’s the circumstances around that specific location that cause the Megalodon teeth to command a higher price. Let me give you a real life example as pertains to Megalodon teeth. At one time; maybe fifteen years ago, Chile was considered the armpit of Megalodon shark’s teeth collecting, not because the shark’s teeth were less attractive but simply due to the high volume of Megalodon teeth coming out of this area. Chile had become one of the most common locations on earth to find a Megalodon shark’s tooth. You could pick up a nice six-incher any day of the week for a few hundred dollars. Overnight, the Chilean government put a stop to all this, passing laws that made it illegal to export fossils from their country. Within a year, all the Chilean Megalodon teeth had dried up and there were none to be found. Fast forward to the present day and that same six-inch Chilean Megalodon shark’s tooth that you could pick up for a few hundred dollars is now one of the most highly sought after shark’s teeth in the world of Megalodon collecting, worth thousands of dollars. What changed? The teeth were the same and the location was the same. What changed was the collector’s ability to obtain the Megalodon teeth. Peru has some of the prettiest shark’s teeth on earth, but the government has stopped the exportation of fossils there as well. Other locations are rare for a variety of reasons. Along your shark-teeth-collecting journey you will hear the words “Lee Creek” and “Bone Valley” many times. Although both are referred to as locations, Lee Creek is actually a phosphate mine in Aurora, North Carolina. The mine used to allow collectors in on the weekends to hunt for shark’s teeth. This mine produced some of the highest quality Megalodon teeth in the world. Bone Valley, while actually the name of a fossil formation in the ground, is also a catchall term referring to shark’s teeth coming from the phosphate mine in Polk County, Florida. Both mines are still active today but have closed their doors to fossil collectors for reasons too various and lengthy to get into in this writing. The point here is that these last two locations are not rare due to governmental restrictions, but rather due to regulations put in place by private businesses. Then there are those locations considered rare simply because they are known to produce so few shark’s teeth. One such example is the Meherrin River in North Carolina. This river produces some of the finest red Megalodon teeth, but unfortunately, so few that almost no one wants to waste his or her time, energy or money on diving for such low return of shark’s teeth. Although each of these locations might be considered rare, the reasons for that conclusion are as varied as the locations themselves.
If Megalodon shark’s teeth were coming off a conveyer belt in a factory, these three factors would be more straight- forward when determining price. Mother Nature is never so simple. No two teeth are ever the same, not even when they are the same size and from the same location. One will sustain bourlette peel while the other will have light feeding damage. One will have erosion to one of the root lobes and another will have a missing tip. The list of possible scenarios is endless. Now factor in size and location and the possibilities for comparison are infinite.
Let’s look at another analogy to the difficulty inherent in grading Megalodon shark’s teeth. Consider coins. A 1931 dime is only going to be assessed against a 1931 dime. The color can be expected to be the same, as well as the size. Therefore, quality appears to be the only grading factor, although admittedly, I’m not a coin collector so this is not my area of expertise. But I think you still get my point. I might add, since this coin was minted by a machine we have a perfect prototype to grade against. Not so for Megalodon shark’s teeth collectors or fossil collectors of any kind, for that matter. So how is a final price determined? It’s based on experience, the current market and seller reasoning. Let’s just be honest and say that all divers, diggers, and dealers want to get as much money as they can for each and every Megalodon tooth. Let’s agree that each collector wants to pay as little as possible. From my personal perspective, although I can put an astronomical price tag on every Megalodon tooth, that makes no practical sense. That being said, I realize the shark’s teeth and other fossils need to be priced to sell and not just sit on the website looking pretty. If you just want to have a pretty website, Instagram can be used for that. As important as the sale is to the dealer, these teeth need to be sold at a price that is market fair. By that I mean I expect the buyer to feel that he or she got a fair shake. Many buyers are new to collecting. If they feel, down the road, after becoming more knowledgeable about grading and pricing, that they were taken advantage of while still in the learning stage, they will never come back to purchase from an unscrupulous seller again, nor should they. At the time of this writing, I’m seeing two fossils I sold another dealer for $800 and $750 sitting on his website for $3500 and $4500. While I see nothing wrong with trying to get top dollar, if these teeth do sell at their current prices, they can only go to the novice collector who has yet to learn about Megalodon teeth. There’s simply no way that an experienced collector would ever pay that kind of money for those Megalodon teeth. This seller and I clearly have very different business strategies. He is looking for a one-time sale to a novice buyer and I am pricing for repeat business. This too, must be considered when you look at a tooth. The quality, size, location of find and unfortunately, the objective behind the price, must all be assessed.
There is no way to make a graph, pie chart, or spread sheet on what determines price that would be anywhere near accurate, but I hope the above information gave you more insight into what goes into pricing a specific Megalodon shark’s tooth or other related fossil.
And now you are sitting in middle position with pocket jacks and the pot has been raised and then reraised to you. What do you do? You already know the answer to this question…. “It depends.” Best of luck!