The first-ever mounted skeleton of Tyrannosaurus rex went on display at the American Museum of Natural History in 1915, and for nearly 30 years, the New York museum was the only place in the world where one could see the world’s most famous dinosaur in person. The situation today could not be more different. More than 50 individual Tyrannosaurus specimens of varying degrees of completeness are now known, and thanks to casting technology the number of Tyrannosaurus skeletons on display may well exceed one hundred.
A significant fraction of those displays are casts of BHI 3033, the T. rex specimen more commonly known as Stan. Excavated in South Dakota in 1992 by the Black Hills Institute (a for-profit outfit specializing in excavating, preparing and mounting fossils), Stan is significant for being over two-thirds complete and for including the best preserved Tyrannosaurus skull yet found. Since 1996, BHI has sold dozens of casts of the complete Stan skeleton (missing bones are filled in with casts from the original AMNH T. rex, among others) to museums and other venues around the world. At a relatively affordable $100,000 plus shipping, even small local museums and the occasional wealthy individual can now own a Tyrannosaurus mount. Stan is, by a wide margin, the most duplicated and most exhibited dinosaur in the world today. As of 2008, BHI had sold more than 30 Stan casts, and that number has grown substantially since then, particularly with the increased interest in dinosaur displays in Asia.
One might argue that this extreme amount of replication lessens the cultural value of museum displays. What allure do museums have when the specimens on display are fiberglass replicas, of which identical versions can be seen at dozens of other venues, including corporate offices and amusement parks? I would counter that this is a small price to pay when we consider the immense educational benefits of this unprecedented availability of dinosaur skeletons. Children and adults around the world now have the opportunity to see a T. rex in person, an experience that was until recently limited to citizens of a handful of large cities. What’s more, the huge body of research on Tyrannosaurus makes it a veritable model organism for vertebrate paleontology, so increasing access to T. rex fossils for international scientists is definitely helpful.
Besides, a fossil mount is far more than the fossil bones it is composed of. Mounts are in equal measures natural specimens and man-made objects, works of installation art designed to communicate a story through pose, posture and a carefully arranged mise-en-scene. Below are 14 examples of Stan on display, highlighting the great range attainable with a single dinosaur.