Because I sell only medical human osteology, I have encountered many different preparations of skulls. In my time working with bones, I have become fascinated with the understudied history of these pieces. With variation in everything from color and size, to cuts made to the piece, to the labeling of the skull, I have come to learn the wide variety of types of skulls available on the market. This carries over to how they are valued in the modern market, as well as how valuable they were considered at the beginning of their time as marketable objects.
Skulls that are painted to depict different bone structures and skulls that have wax nerve endings both were prepared to demonstrate to students the way the skull interacts with other parts of the anatomy. These can feature some of the same cuts that an otherwise undecorated skull would have, that allow for the inner structure of the skull to be observed. These differ still from uncut skulls, which are considered most valuable because of their closeness to a skull’s natural state. All of these preparations add or detract from the value of a skull. But these are not the only factors that play a role in the historical price of a skull. Among institutions and collectors, perfect dentition is and was highly prized.
Teeth and nasal cavities are the most easily damaged part of a skull. Because they protrude the most from the base of the skull and are made of more delicate structures, they are more liable to be broken when being shipped or handled. When I first entered the industry, I would encounter skulls with chipped or missing teeth, and immediately assume that they were damaged by medical students, or in the process of shipping. But when I began to delve more into back catalogs of osteological supply companies, I began to encounter items labeled “Discount Skulls” which were photographed as already missing teeth. This changed my entire perception of the issue.
When I receive a skull and it is missing teeth, I can no longer assume that some medical student was careless with it, or that it was improperly handled by someone in the past. It may very well have come from before the skeleton even entered the market, either during the preparation of the skeleton or during the life of its owner. It is interesting to me that perfect dentition has always been a consideration in pricing. Not everyone possesses all of their teeth. We cannot expect all skulls to possess all of theirs, but when we encounter a piece with all of the teeth present, our perception of its value skyrockets.