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Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

BusinessJuly 29, 2023

‘Wow, this is from ages ago’: The woman who bought a dinosaur egg on a whim

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

An exclusive interview with the woman who bought an 80-million year-old fossilised dinosaur egg at auction – and doesn’t want anyone to know about it.

It was a busy Friday night. Sophia* was rushing to get out the door to see the Warriors game – that epic golden point encounter with the Canberra Raiders at Mt Smart. Then she caught the 6pm news report. Something was glowing. It was spherical, smooth and heavy. It looked old. It was.

“It was rare to see,” she says. “It grabbed my attention, knowing it was a fossilised dinosaur egg.”

It was also for sale. Hundreds of ancient artefacts were being sold through by auction house Webb’s as part of a rare Peter Downey collection going under the hammer. Along with pottery, crystals, weapons and a Megalodon shark tooth, the “rare cretaceous period” egg  sourced from the Mongolian Desert was believed to be 80 million years old. According to estimates, it’s worth between $2,000 and $3,000.

Sophia still isn’t quite sure what came over her, but she couldn’t stop thinking about that egg. “It’s like, ‘Wow, this is from ages ago,’” she says. She had to have it. So, in an Uber on the way to the Warriors game, she loaded the Webb’s auction page on her phone and registered her interest. Once she settled into the stands at Mt Smart, she typed in a pre-auction bid just before kick off. Then she turned her attention to the game.

The following day, Shaun Johnson’s winning drop goal left her mind and her attention returned to an oval of a different kind. It was Saturday, and she was at work as the online auction got underway. That’s where The Spinoff first encountered Sophia. Her tinny computer speakers blared with the sound of fast-talking auctioneers. She was a bundle of nervous energy. She spoke fast and switched her weight from one leg to the other.

Her eyes kept flicking back to her monitor. Would her bid be enough? There had been news reports and plenty of social media attention. The egg was the auction’s main attraction, but there were dozens more to get through before hers went under the hammer. “I thought, ‘OK, there might be some interest’,” she says. “It’s one of those unknown things. You don’t really know who else might be interested.’

For hours she watched, and waited, as ancient swords, animal teeth and jewels were auctioned off. Finally, Lot 230 – the only lot she was interested in – was called. Sophia dialled in and prepared for a last-minute bidding frenzy. She’d promised her partner she “wouldn’t go crazy”. Her maximum was $3000, the top range of estimates.

She was cautious about getting caught up in the thrill of the chase. “I don’t want to look back and go, ‘Oh my gosh – what have I done?’” she told me at the time. But she wanted that egg. It called to her. As the auction went live, a customer came through the door and demanded her attention. “I was like, ‘This is such bad timing’,” says Sophia.

But there was no last-minute bidding war. Sophia didn’t miss out. Despite all the coverage, there was just one offer made on the egg – the bid Sophia had made on her way to the Warriors game. Just 24 hours after she’d registered her bid, the egg was hers. All it cost her was $2,868 – a figure that includes two of her “lucky” numbers.

She believes it was fate. To celebrate, she sent her partner a simple text. It said: “I won.”

‘A Rare Cretaceous Period Fossilised Dinosaur Egg, Mongolian Desert’ (Photo: Webb’s)

Sophia doesn’t want anyone else to know about this. She hasn’t told her closest friends or any of her colleagues. “I haven’t actually told my immediate family,” she says, “because they’ll just think I’m crazy.” The only reason she’s talking to The Spinoff is because of that chance encounter in her office on the day of the auction. “I didn’t realise who you were,” she says. She didn’t mean to overshare at the time, but her passion was infectious, and she agreed, via email, to an interview.

So we spent three days negotiating a time to chat. She didn’t want to talk around her workmates in case they overheard her discussing her new purchase. She doesn’t want any identifying details mentioned. So we’ve changed her name, and we’re not saying where Sophia works, lives, or what she does for a living. “Just call me an Auckland woman,” she says when we finally connect, early on Wednesday morning.

But she’s happy to discuss her egg. She picked it up on Monday from Webb’s and, standing in the auction warehouse, unwrapped it and held it for the first time. “It felt pretty cool,” she says. “It was pretty much what I expected … very weighty.” She struggles for the right words to describe something so old it’s almost impossible to comprehend. She cracks a joke – “It would make a good doorstopper” – before pausing, and settling on this: “It feels like … it’s a kosher thing.”

The egg in her hands (Image: Supplied)

To transport it, she put it in a Graze nut box wrapped in bubble wrap. She’s only taken it out to show the children of a friend. Unimpressed, one asked her, “How do you know it’s a dinosaur egg?” That question raised suspicions in her too. After a sleepless night, she asked Webb’s for clarification on where the egg is from, how it was verified, and how the previous owner knows it’s real and not just a random rock. Webb’s said that Downey had bought it from a collector 20 years ago who had sourced it from China. There was no further information available.

For now, Sophia is keeping her egg under wraps. She isn’t sure what she’ll do with it, suggesting she may get a platform made for it and put it on display in a glass box. In one breath, she calls it her quirky spin on a “nest egg” investment; in another, she says she may sell it to raise funds for charity. She believes it’s already delivered good luck: she managed to secure hard-to-find tickets for The Late Show With Matty Johns, a rugby league talk show she and her partner were hoping to be in the audience for on an upcoming trip to Sydney.

“Good things keep coming,” she says, “apart from the football last night.” She means the Football Ferns’ 1-0 loss to the Philippines in the Fifa World Cup.

Finally, she reveals the real reason she’s keeping quiet. She feels like she’s a custodian for the egg. She wants to make sure they bond like Daenerys and Drogon in Game of Thrones, that they’re destined to be together. That could take time, possibly more than the seven years the HBO show ran for, hopefully less than the 80 million years the egg is estimated to have existed. “It’s not just a normal ornament,” she says. “You don’t want a blood diamond in your hands.”

She suggests she could return it to its country of origin if the two don’t hit it off. “In the years to come, I might think, ‘Actually, it’s time to return that.’”

Sophia has to get back to her job. Her workmates are about to arrive to start the day, and she doesn’t want them to hear her talking to a journalist. Then she has a thought. Could she get her egg X-rayed to see what’s inside? “Maybe it doesn’t penetrate enough?” she ponders. There’s a pause while Sophia thinks about her egg, sitting at home, smothered in bubble wrap, squirrelled away in a nut box. She has one final thought: “I don’t think a dinosaur’s going to come hatching out of it.”

* Name has been changed to protect identity.

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