Hi Hunter @hunter-thurmond –
You’ve asked a good question. You’ll get a wide variety of answers, most with common points.
Generally, when you get more experienced, you’ll know what you want to keep. Until then, here are some of my thoughts.
First a disclaimer, I’m a bit different than most collectors. I don’t have a room to display fossils, so I don’t keep fossils for that purpose. No fossil is wasted for me. I help run the classroom fossil kit distribution and sales for the Dry Dredgers. So I screen for museum-worthy fossils and bring those to the attention of the Cincinnati Geier Collections and Research Center. I’m also aware of what research our local professionals are conducting and keep an eye open for what they need. So I collaborate and donate fossils for educational purposes.
Given that, here are my thoughts. The greatest value of fossils to you at this stage in your collecting is what you learn from them. If a fossil looks interesting to you, pick it up and examine it. If you are still interested in it, bag it and make note of where you found it. Without info on where it was found, the fossil is useless to you and everyone else.
When you get home, examine your finds while you are still excited about them. Look up the fossil online and learn about the fossil. When you revisit the site or similar sites, you may find better specimens of the same fossil. Take them home, compare to what you found previously and perhaps even act as a scientist in your approach. If you just want to have the best fossils for an exhibit and nothing else, then consider giving the lesser specimens to others who want to learn or give them to educational institutions. NEVER put the lesser fossil back on the site or on other sites. It will corrupt the stratigraphic information.
I do much of my fossil selection while I’m still on the site. I surface collect and the surface is just as important to me and Paleontology as the fossils on it. Put on your thinking cap while out there. Study photos of fossils in books so when you see a fossil like what you read about, you can know to pick it up and compare to the photos.
I strongly urge you to join your local fossil club or volunteer at your local museum. This will help you get the greatest knowledge the fastest and make your time in the field much more enriching.
After a few years, you’ll understand better what is common and what is rare and sought-after. Fragments of fossils can be just as interesting and important as whole body fossils. Trace fossils also show the behavior of the ancient animal and are at least as important as the body fossil.
I could go on forever. Thanks for the great question, Hunter. I’ll be interested in how other people respond to this question as well.
Fossil Kit Chair and Webmaster