Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Animals of the Past Stamps

Now here's another properly old one (at long last) - a compendium of extinct animal 'stamps' from the Cold War world of 1954. Why put 'stamps' in fright quotes? Well, they're more like stickers, given that you wouldn't be able to send an angry letter to the palaeontological establishment of the day with any of them. This would, therefore, be a sticker album. But 'tis mere semantics - we're here to see a variety of prehistoric creatures presented in sub-technicolour retro stylee, and The Golden Play Book of Animals of the Past Stamps doesn't disappoint.



At least...not too much. The most significant letdown when picking up any dinosaur (andotherprehistoricanimal) book from this period is that, unless you find one illustrated by one of the Old Masters (Burian, Zallinger et al), you know it's going to be filled with art slavishly copying said Masters. (One could argue that this is still the case, but hey, at least we now have copious books filled with entirely original CG abominations to choose from.) Such is the case here for the most part. The stamps were illustrated by Matthew Kalmenoff, and are really quite attractive, even if he sticks to all the usual tropes. The line drawings (to colour in, kids!) were provided by Robert Gartland, but more on them later.


The album spans the entire history of animal life on Earth, and contrary to what you'd likely see in such a book today, prehistoric mammals occupy more pages than the dinosaurs - 15 pages to the archosaurs' piffling 5. This appears to simply be a reflection of contemporary attitudes towards both groups' relative importance, whereas today we know better, and no-one would dream of putting smelly synapsids on a pedestal. No way. In any case, I'll only be looking at Mesozoic animals here, but if you're interested in seeing some of the Cenozoic mammals (as seen on the back cover, above), then please let me know.


For whatever reason, the dinosaurs' brief appearance in this book begins with a look at a 'bird-like dinosaur', presumably an ornithomimosaur. Oddly, this animal isn't explained beyond 'this was a dinosaur' (and surely it's pronounced 'dah-no-sour'?). Tellingly, the stamp (with its lovely impressionistic plants) depicts the theropod with its tail held clear of the ground, while in the line drawing it's rather limp. Ornithomimosaurs tended to be the one theropod group that, back in the day, were depicted as being more active than usual - there's just no escaping those leggy proportions.


Of course, there's no danger of Bronto the Thunder Dinosaur being depicted as anything other than a glacially slow flesh mountain with all the quick wit of the owner of a Donald Trump bumper sticker. On the other hand, and in spite of the fact that the text does mention that the animal "was so heavy that it stayed in the water most of the time," Bronto is depicted standing on more-or-less dry land not only in the line drawing, but in the stamp as well. Although in the latter case the renegade beast is surrounded by more watery compatriots, all slurping mushy plants in suitably Zallingerian style.

And speaking of Zallinger - that Allosaurus (or should that be 'Laelaps'?) looks awfully familiar.


Happily, the Other Leaping Lizard is soon seen taking on Stegosaurus, whose bodily proportions differ conspicuously between the line drawing and the stamp (which is clearly based on a Burian piece). Stegosaurus looks understandably quite cross, while Allosaurus appears simply to want to calm the situation down. Some hope.



Strangely, Protoceratops is the next dinosaur to be ticked off the list. It's referred to as the 'horn-faced dinosaur', which prompted a few remarks over on the Facebook page that it's rather lacking in the horn department. Ah, but you see,
"This creature had no real horn, but just a bony knob on its nose. Yet it became the ancestor of later dinosaurs that had real horns on their faces."
So there. Quiet, pedants. The illustration depicts Protoceratops in classically sprawling guise, overlooking a clutch of someone else's eggs in a desert environment.  The book then skips along to marine reptiles, starting with ichthyosaurs, or 'fish-like reptiles' (fair enough). This illustration must be one of the pieces that has aged most gracefully, probably because ichthyosaurs were already very well known from near-complete specimens at the time. I like its glossiness and swishing motion.


Rather more dated  is this plesiosaur page, featuring a line drawing of a sinisterly grinning beast no doubt heavily inspired by Charles Knight's none-more-influential restoration of Elasmosaurus. That evil fish looks like a difficult prey item, mind you. The stamp appears to show two individuals going after a hesperornithine bird, which lends further credence to my idea that Kalmenoff had more of an idea of what he was doing and/or better access to reference material.

And yes..."It came from a line of dinosaurs that left the land and became animals of the sea." Someone inform Palaeofail.


After the inevitable Charles Knight mosasaur (now in the movies, baby!) comes the inevitable Burianesque Pteranodon (no Hendrix perm), one of only two pterosaurs known at the time. Seemingly. In fairness, Kalmenoff's illustration more riffs on Burian's work rather than directly copying it, and the sky is simply gorgeous. The line illustration, meanwhile, rather reminds me of those foam gliders one can buy (normally labelled 'FLYING DINOSAUR'). Only without the comedy teeth.


Here's that other pterosaur - no scientific name, but it's probably Rhamphorhynchus, based on the head and relatively short neck. Decent illustrations for the time, although one of the individuals in the line drawing appears to have gone splat against the cliff. And lost its tail. I have a feeling that the line drawing may be based on an illustration of different pterosaur genera (hence the tail), but I'm not sure. Feel free to drop me a comment.


As is typical of any dinosaur (andotherprehistoricanimals) book published prior to...well, let's face it, the late 1990s, Archaeopteryx is lumped in with the pterosaurs, 'cos it's a flying animal and that. This illustration more-or-less follows the 'magpie Archaeopteryx' meme, which might not actually be that wide of the mark, as it transpires. The stamp is nicely composed, with the foliage serving to emphasise the animal where it could easily have cluttered the scene and made a mess.

Unfortunately for the Ancient Bird, it must share this spread with another, much larger and uglier, theropod. Bafflingly drawn in the style of early Knight works that the artist himself later superseded, it's...


...Rexy! And his eternal enemy, Badly Drawn Lumpen Triceratops. Rexy notably sports a Disney-pleasing three-fingered hand, while his feet appear well adapted to perching on top of passing alamosaurs. Poor old Triceratops, meanwhile, has once again been drawn with horns erupting from behind its eyes. Ferchrissake.


Happily, the stamps are much better - Triceratops sports far more convincing horns and, er, limbs, while Rexy is the subject of a handsome, if very dated, portrait. (Why's the ear there? We'll never know.) Rexy's look pretty much follows the standard lizardy Knightian mould (all wrinkly neck and zipper teeth), but the Triceratops is more intriguing. The unusual frill is reminiscent of the skeleton on display in the NHM (London) which, believe it or not, is entirely sculpted. All of it. Which is why it's so damn weird. This was itself apparently based on an earlier model developed for the Pan-American Expo in 1904. For more information on all of this, I implore you to read an especially superb post over at Extinct Monsters if you haven't already. In any case, this Triceratops' exposed teeth are also very unusual. It also makes it look as if the animal is giving us a sly grin, which I definitely approve of.

And now for something completely different.

LATE DAVE HONE NEWS!  

Dave Hone (for it is he) is hosting the launch of his new book, The Tyrannosaur Chronicles, in London on April 22 at the Queen Mary University of London. You can get free tickets for the event on the official website. Unfortunately I can't make it, but Niroot should be there. Look out for much more on The Tyrannosaur Chronicles here in the near future! It looks set to be an important and very readable addition to the popular literature on those most notorious of fluffy coelurosaurian moviestar carnivores.

24 comments:

  1. I'm looking at the line drawing for "A Flying Reptile", and if I had to guess, I'd say it must be ripping off some classic "early flying family portrait" piece. The upper right pterosaur is clearly Rhamphorynchus, the one on the cliff is clearly Pterodactylus, and to my eyes it looks like the middle one was originally a Dimorphodon who's beak the artist sloppily tried to redraw into a more rhamphorynchoid shape.

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  2. What a wonderful post! From what I've seen online these prehistoric animal "stamp" books were very popular back in the day.
    That being said I'm one who'd love to see some Cenozoic pages! Since I tend to be pretty fond of the "Sweat-Eaters" (as my friends call them).

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    1. Thank you! The Cenozoic pages might have to follow (even though I won't have as much to say).

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  3. I think I must have owned this book! Strangely, I don't actually remember owning it. But every single one of the pictures here -- both the stamps and the line drawings -- produced a strong shock of recognition for me.

    Remembering things I loved as a kid and had since forgotten ... one of the reasons I love this site.

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  4. Oh joy! I owned this book too and entirely echo Stevo's sentiments. I know it's heresy to say this on this site, but I love my sauropods lumpy and waterlogged, my theropods erect, ceratopsians bow-legged and my pterosaurs furless!

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    1. Well, there's a good chance that ceratopsians really were slightly bow-legged...or rather, bow-armed.

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  5. Was it typical at the time to refer to dinosaurs by the translations of their scientific names? Seems a little odd to see "Three-Horned Dinosaur" rather than "Triceratops" and such.

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    1. The book was for kiddies, after-all. But it seriously underestimates a child's ability - and enthusiasm - for pronouncing scientific names. Often kid's books phonetically spelt the names for them. By the by, does anyone know why Allosaurus was often translated 'leaping' lizard? If the beast on the stamp tried to leap it would have broken a hip.

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    2. Yeah, I asked my third-grade teacher how to spell Pachycephalosaurus. She didn't know. :(

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    3. Pure speculation, but if I recall correctly the Allosaurs in The Lost World were described as ugly toad-like creatures that chased the natives down and leapt on them, crushing the puny humans with its massive belly. So perhaps that was an influence?

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    4. Yes, I'm also thinking of Knight's Laelaps (Dryptosaurus) but it still doesn't seem very satisfactory. Possibly the name was mistranslated in the popular media sometime and it got stuck. But how would it be possible to mistranslate allos? After all, leaping lizard would be Saltosaurus.

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    5. "Hallos" is Greek for "different"; "saltus" is Latin for "leaping". (Saltasaurus is from the Salta Provence of Argentina (I didn't bother to look up the origin of THAT name, but I'll guess that it's probably named after someone NAMED Salta.) Laelaps is usually translated as "leaping" (a good description for a tick- the original application of the name), but it also is referenced to Odysseus's dog in Greek mythology. You do find "leaping lizard" being offered as translation for Allosaurus occasionally in older books. It seems to have been especially used in the 1950s & '60s. Where it came from, I haven't been able to find, but realize that the 19th-century authors didn't always explain the reason for their names (and even though the teaching of the classics was much more predominant now, some of the details didn't always "take' permanently, so to speak.

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    7. Apparently so. I've seen several other children's books from the late '50s-into the '60s that do the same thing in referring to the animals by the translations of the generic names. I get the feeling that some authors were trying to establish common names for prehistoric critters and the Latin/Greek terms were considered too complicated for the kiddies.

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  6. @The LITC crew

    I'm really sorry for not having commented in a while or as often as I used to. It's just that I've been distracted w/several different things (especially work) & forgetting to check the paleo blogs regularly. I'll try to do better.

    "So there. Quiet, pedants."

    Also, to quote Holmes, "even the apparently hornless taxa, such as Psittacosaurus and Pro-toceratops, have large cheek horns that jut from the sides of their skulls."

    "This illustration more-or-less follows the 'magpie Archaeopteryx' meme, which might not actually be that wide of the mark, as it transpires."

    Is it just me, or is that Archaeopteryx copying Maurice Wilson's ( http://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/how-dinosaurs-evolved-into-birds.html )? Also, have you guys seen the NHM's now-feathered Deinonychus?

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    1. I haven't seen them in person, although Niroot has. Definitely a case of 'at least it's feathered'. Could really do with some more up-to-date models, though. Also, that site - "...the humble pigeon is a distant descendent of the mighty T. rex." Well no...it isn't. Distant RELATIVE, yes.

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  7. Count another vote for doing the perhistoric mammals. And the Palaeozoic stuff too if there's any of it.

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  8. Loving those anatomically impossible claws on the archeopteryx.

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  9. I would like to see a post at least covering that amazing platybellodon....so yes, some "smelly synapsids"...please?

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    1. They're a-comin'! Please bear with me...

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  10. I have a later 70's version of this book which is more spaced for the Dinos. Every entry takes one page now. http://www.dinofan.com/dfcollectibles/dfCollectiblesImages/1087_1.gif
    I learned alot from it, even if it was chock full of mistakes.

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    1. Yeah, there must have been another edition of this. The Triceratops is labeled page #17 (and the text continues onto the 'Early Mammal' page), but another source on the web shows the full double-page spread with Tyrannosaurus & Triceratops as pgs 24-5, and it is clearly the center pages (for a total of 48 pages, common at the time).
      [BTW, the link you give is dead.]

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  11. I had this book too! I remember drawing roundels on the pterosaurs' wings, as well as giving one snazzy flying goggles and helmet. I had no problem with the preponderance of ancient mammals - all extinct creatures are equally amazing. I also had the stamp book on trees. Not quite as exciting as prehistoric animals.

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  12. Noticing the homage to Knight in some of these paintings and drawings. The two cute little crocs at the feet of Brontosaurus, for example, and the Allosaurus munching on the fleshy vertebrae of a sauropod. Though his leaping lizard is profoundly more round than Knight's mean lean killing machine. Seems like the artists used other artists but went out of his way to be original.

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