Great Auk Eggs

"Two eggs of the extinct great auk were sold at Mr. J.C. Stevens's Auction Rooms, Covent Garden, on June 20th last. One was an unrecorded egg from France, and attained a record price of £330 15s. It is said to be the finest example yet sold in the Stevens Rooms. 

Its length is 5 1/16 inches, though the usual length for these eggs is from 3 3/4 inches to 4 1/2 inches. It is a perfect specimen and of good colour.

The second egg passed through the same rooms in  1894, as recorded in Science-Gossip (vol. i., N.S., p. 75), when it sold for 175 guineas. At the sale of June 20th it reached a price of 180 guineas.

Science-Gossip, vol. VII, 1900-1901.

An illustration of a Great Auk egg by Adolphe Millot, now on Wikimedia Commons.

FF Notes:
This is a sorry example of the sad behaviour of human beings. Great Auks (as you can read about on the NHM website) used to gather in huge numbers off Scotland. Unfortunately they couldn't fly, so people used to find it very easy to catch and kill them when they were on land. They were killed for their flesh, their feathers, their eggs and their greasy auk oil.

So by the early 1800s, they were getting pretty rare. Museums and egg collectors got in on the act too. By the 1850s the species went extinct. It all seems rather unnecessary in retrospect. And we're still doing similar things today.

So when the eggs were sold at the auction house above, the bird had been gone for about 50 years. Yet people still wanted the eggs - for prestige? According to this website, £330 in 1900 would be worth over £36,000 today. For an egg... So this story isn't fortean as such. But the strange human behaviour makes it weirdly interesting.

Today it's a criminal offence to take eggs from the wild, and has been since 1954. But it's also illegal even to possess an egg of a British wild bird. Some years ago at work, we were bequeathed an old egg collection. It was impossible to say how old the eggs were. But although they were probably old enough not to get me sent to prison, I couldn't actually have proved how old they were or where they came from. So I eventually decided to crush them and throw them in the bin.

It was dreadful because they were beautiful and fascinating things. But I couldn't get over how they'd been taken by someone from under the bum of a bird that was trying to breed. Most of them weren't even labelled and it's possible they came from rare species. They had to go.