Monday, May 2, 2011

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Anna Pistorius

In the fifties, Anna Pistorius published a series of books for young readers titled some variation of "What _____ Is It?" Dogs, horses, butterflies and wildflowers all drew her attention, but she also covered dinosaurs, and 1958's What Dinosaur Is It? is the subject of today's Vintage Dinosaur Art post.

What Dinosaur Is It?

There is little information about Pistorius available online, and it seems that the "What Is It" series was her biggest accomplishment. As the dinosaur title is the only one to cover prehistoric topics, it begins with a chronological telling of life's evolution, dashing to the Triassic so Pistorius can talk about the book's true stars. From there, the book is structured around questions like "What dinosaur is the longest?" or "What is the smallest dinosaur?" It seems that she was eager to cram as many dinosaurs in the book as possible, as some dinosaurs unrelated to the question at hand are placed on pages, as in this Camptosaurus appearing alongside "smallest dinosaurs" Podokesaurus (now considered to possibly be Coelophysis) and Compsognathus.


The "longest dinosaur" deserves a look as well, mainly because of the hilarious way Diplodocus is sticking its tongue out.


shares space with Brontosaurus, and I'm glad to have found another version of Knight's "bird chaser" meme.


I appreciate the cartoony, light-hearted nature of these illustrations, which to me is always preferable to boring tracings of Knight, Burian, or Zallinger paintings. I especially like Pistorius's Stegosaurus, who merrily eats his greens as a plucky Rhamphorynchus does its best interpretation of "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka.

Stegosaurus and Rhamphorynchus

Roy Chapman Andrews' expedition to Mongolia gets a bit of love, too, though Oviraptor isn't called by name.


The lone anykylosaur in the book is the now-obscure Paleoscincus, the remains of which are now attributed to various dinosaurs. Here, Pistorius makes it into a mash-up of nodosaurid and ankylosaurid features.


The duckbills also receive little attention, with old standby Trachodon sharing a page with Parasaurolophus, which Pistorius imbues with snorkeling abilities as was common at the time.

Trachodon and Parasaurolophus

What could have spooked this poor Struthiomimus so badly?


T. rex getting his tender underbelly poked by Triceratops, of course. Though it may be squeamishness instead of fear motivating Struthiomimus. Looks like the ground is about to be covered in tyrannosaur guts.

Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops

T. rex has the last laugh, though. There wasn't much time left on the dinosaur's clock, after all, and Pistorius leaves us with an image of a dead Triceratops being surveyed by a group of puny mammals.

Dead Triceratops

For more, check out Doubtboy's page dedicated to this title and other scans in the Vintage Dinosaur Art Flickr pool.


  1. My favorite illustration here is the one with Generic Head!Oviraptor and Protoceratops, because the Ovi is looking at the proto as if to say, "Really? You're just going to stand there and not stop me from eating your young? Aaaaaaalrighty then."

  2. Again, T.rex is getting stabbed in the manberries by a Triceratops and doesn't seem to notice. There's also the matter of his tridactyl manus. Generally, though, I like these illustrations. Like you say, they're cartoony and lighthearted.

    I don't think that Triceratops is dead, though. There aren't gratuitous guts and visible white ribs. It's napping after skewering its opponent in the balls.

  3. Drawing dinosaurs unrelated to the question at hand as background material wouldn't be so strange if they weren't also arbitrarily mentioned in the text without any connection to the original topic.

    Love how the ornithomimid-like Oviraptor in older images just casually stroll in to feed on some eggs in plain sight of a nesting Protoceratops, which barely makes a half-hearted attempt to do anything about it.

  4. I think I'll have to do a roundup of dinosaurs being nonchalant about being eaten or eggs being stolen! My absolute favorites are the ones in which a theropod is chewing on a sauropod's neck, taking its sweet time. And the sauropod just seems a little annoyed by it.

  5. I am the great niece of Anna Pistorius; she was my grandfather's sister, and am currently writing an essay about her and about the impact she had on my young life--like her, I devoted my life to books for children; Aunt "Aha" was an early influence. This posting was really fun to find & I think you are right--her dinosaur book was her best known, well ahead of the impending obsession with dinosaur lore. Thank you for posting! Margaret Willey


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