Picture Cave: Protected & Preserved in Perpetuity

On Tuesday, September 14th, in just 3 minutes and 58 seconds, the Missouri archaeological and ecological wonder known as Picture Cave was sold by Selkirk Auctioneers & Appraisers for $2.2 million USD (including Buyers' Premium). The intimate event sat fewer than 10 bidders among the 25+ total attendees, but the auction was able to shine a bright light on the wider importance of conservation of the dark zone of the aptly named cave system.

Nestled within 43+ acres of family hunting land in Warren County, Missouri, Picture Cave sparked a national debate among scholars and conservationists over ownership and monetization of historically important artifacts and sites. Described by scholars as one of the most important prehistoric sites in North America - a subterranean gallery of nearly 300 petroglyphs dating to 800-1100 CE, Picture Cave is also home to an endangered species of Indiana bats and drew interest from a wide variety of individuals and organizations, including representatives from several First Nation tribes, educational institutions, and private preservationists.

For nearly a year, the owners of Picture Cave worked with Selkirk's Executive Director Bryan Laughlin to develop a selling strategy that would require potential bidders to be vetted, ensuring that only those with a vested interest in protecting and preserving the site would be allowed to bid. Laughlin explained, "It was of utmost importance to the current owners that the study of Picture Cave continues, and that it be protected from unnecessary traffic which could damage the ecosystem or artwork."

Guest auctioneer Amelia Jeffers opened the auction with a detailed explanation of the terms of sale and restrictions to the future use of the property, reading portions of applicable federal and state statutes. Bidding began at $600,000 with Jeffers moving deftly in $50,000 increments up to $1 million when she jumped to $100,000 increments. Bidding remained brisk up to a final hammer price of $2 million when the underbidder reluctantly dropped out.  The identity of the high bidder remains a mystery to the public, as a proxy was sent to bid in their stead, but Jeffers assured attendees that the individual "is dedicated to the preservation and conservation of the site."

Jeffers commented after the auction, "I have sold real estate. I have sold art. I have sold history. But, never had I sold all three in one remarkable lot." The $2,000,000 hammer price is believed to be a Missouri auction record for an item relating to art or history.

Selkirk and Jeffers have more collaborations on the fall auction docket: the 480+ lot Dollhouse Miniatures Collection of Joyce Schoedinger will be sold October 7th during Petite Exposition: Bespoke and Dollhouse Miniatures auction.

For more information about Selkirk Auctioneers and Appraisers, visit selkirkauctions.com or call 314.696.9041.