I rescued this rather charming, but apparently unwanted work (copyright 1965) from a second hand bookshop for the princely sum of 40 pence (about 65 cents USD). Much nerdy glee ensued, as it contains almost every pre-Dino Renaissance cliché you'd care to mention, from swamp-bound blobby sauropods to man-in-a-suit theropods shuffling menacingly about, looking for their zimmer frames. Oh, and all the dinosaurs look spectacularly, crushingly bored – as well they might, as apparently the Earth was just one giant savannah grassland throughout the Mesozoic, which must have got monotonous. Onwards then with Dinosaurs of the Earth (a Nugget Nature book from Collins), illustrated by one Sol Korby, online searches for whom turn up an awful lot of portraiture. Obviously he was just jobbing with the dinosaur thing, and the rip-offs of classic palaeoart are plain to see.
The cover sets the precedent. It's better quality than the material inside, but then it wasn't painted by Sol – apparently it's borrowed from the archives of the American Museum of Natural History. The upright, tail-dragging allosaurs aren't so bad for 1965, although bizarrely they are missing their first toe on each foot. Never mind, nobody'll notice.
The inside cover features this absolute doughball of a Styracosaurus – clearly, all that anachronistic grass hasn't been good for him - alongside a couple of wallowing generic sauropods. Yeah, it's going to be one of those types of books. The title page, meanwhile, features a bizarrely-angled flying tyrannosaur with the label “ALLOSAURUS” – and still no first toe!
Like so many dinosaur books aimed at kids, there's a bit of a preamble through the Palaeozoic before you get to the Mesozoic good stuff. Naturally, any populist dinosaur book/movie/attraction/toy range worth its salt will bafflingly feature Dimetrodon for no really good reason other than it looks cool, and so it pops up here, cheerily greeting a rather sullen-looking Eryops. Of course, this jocular state of affairs can't last long, and on the next page Dimetrodon has turned mean and, uh, mounted Eryops in a savage act of predation out on the pleasant rolling grassy meadow. Weird, for sure, but there's far stranger to follow.
The book is written as a 'journey' through prehistory (in a suitably matter-of-fact 1960s fashion). Arriving in the Triassic, we come upon some Plateosaurus – that aren't dragging their tails! - and a bizarre rat-like creature with long hind legs. Oh wait, that's Coelophysis.
Happily we revert to 19th Century-level palaeontology when we arrive in the Jurassic and find a chimeratastic “Brontosaurus” lurking in a pond of convenient depth. It's very obviously 'inspired' by a certain painting by one Charles R. Knight. Over the next few pages we are also introduced to Diplodocus and Brachiosaurus (which is using its trademark uphill body plan to, er, pluck reeds from the riverbank), animals we are assured “were so heavy that they had to stay in water most of the time...to support the weight of their bodies” as well as to keep well away from “the more intelligent carnivores on land”. The screaming you hear is coming from SV-POW.
Alas, poor old phylotarded Bronto is no match for Allosaurus, who casually strolls up and takes a bite out of its gamy neck.
Stegosaurus next, united at last on a double-page spread with Ankylosaurus, which lived a mere 85 million years in the future. The Stegosaurus is the standard hump-backed Burian-style affair, but the Ankylosaurus is a truly strange, squat, neckless armadillo-like beast. Admittedly it was still quite common to portray the animal in that fashion at the time, but that doesn't make it any less freakin' weird.
Moving on to the Cretaceous, and it's time for the hadrosaur “swimming party”. Oh yes. Not a lot to add to this wacky image of a toad-like Parasaurolophus and mutant Corythosaurus gaily going for a dip. Enjoy.
(And hey, “Trachodon” too!)
Finally, it's time to bring in the big guns, by which of course I mean Tyrannosaurus, here in full-on Godzilla mode. It's pretty hard to picture this fat old tyrant wheezing along after its hadrosaur prey, but here it is waddling into the horn of an anachronistic Monoclonius. You'd have thought that ripping off Chaz Knight's infamous T. rex vs. Triceratops painting would've been easier, but never mind – here's the once-popular centrosaurine instead, here described rather unkindly as an “ugly beast” and even “the most dull-witted animal of them all”. With wording like that, you just know it's going to end up as T. rex feed. And it does – although it looks rather unconcerned about the whole thing, just standing idly by while T. rex takes a nibble.
There's plenty more of the sludgy brown-grey-green Mesozoic world to discover in this wonderful book, but unfortunately my undergraduate thesis won't write itself, so that's as far as I'll delve for now. One last thing worthy of note – the entry for 'BIRDS' in the A-Z 'Encyclopedia of Prehistoric Animals' that appends the book:
“Birds appeared during Jurassic times and can be traced back to a common Thecodont ancestry with the reptiles.”
As if anyone would believe that these days! Ha ha ha. HA HA HA.
Thanks again to Marc for contributing an excellent piece to the Vintage Dinosaur Art series. Be sure to follow the Dinosaur Toy Blog if you don't already. Besides fun writing on admirable and laughable toys, the group also manages to squeeze in some great anatomical information.
If you've got something you'd like to post about here, hit me up at the email in the sidebar. As always, share your own scans or photos of old dinosaur illustrations at the Vintage Dinosaur Art flickr pool.