Monday, May 9, 2016

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Animals of the Past Stamps - Part 2

Having had a look at the dinosaurs in Animals of the Past Stamps (1954), I asked our lovely readers if they'd be at all interested in seeing some of the stinkin' Cenozoic mammals. A handful of people were, so here we are. Unfortunately, I don't know half as much about prehistoric mammals as I do dinosaurs (in spite of being a descendant of some of them), so you'll have to forgive me when I fail to spot the bleedin' obvious. I mean, more so than usual. In any case, let's start at the Palaeogene beginning!



That the NA dinosaurs were killed off in some sort of cataclysm is taken for granted these days, so it's easy to forget that the concept is relatively recent. Of course, the asteroid idea was yet to be mooted in the pre-Renaissance days, but in addition the dinosaurs were long considered to be simply obsolete by the end of the Cretaceous. After all, their frills, spines and tiny arms matched with giant heads were just examples of evolutionary silliness, and they were surely doomed to be replaced by animals that were smaller, leaner, faster, and could actually maintain their body temperature. This book is typical in asking nothing of where all the dinosaurs went - they just, y'know, died out. Whatever. I'm not sure what this fairly generic Early Mammal is based on, but it looks a bit like a fossa with a weird wombat head. Lovely stripes on the stamp illustration, though.


Of course, the dinosaurs do get their last hurrah as 'kings of the beasts' at the start of the Cenozoic section of any book like this, normally in the form of Gastornis aka 'Diatryma'. Long depicted as an active predator of small mammals (and thus contributing to an evocative 'upside down world' that the plucky underdog mammals would come to dominate), more recent research has painted a rather different picture of this admittedly very fearsome-looking bird. In the line drawing here, it appears to be chasing the fossa-thing from the previous page. Or possibly a housecat. Meanwhile, the stamp depiction features an interesting glistening red streak on the neck. Which I quite like.

There's also the matter of The Uinta Beast, which sounds like it belongs in the cryptozoological literature, and its tiny, tiny brain. "The brute must have been very stupid." Yeah, but I'm sure its unsightly facial protuberances helped it get by.


Given that this is a book from 1954, one can forgive the overly simplistic view of equine evolution. However, it's always interesting to see a meme like this explained and illustrated through the decades. The Middle Horse illustration is especially good, with varied terrain and vegetation adding interest, but still not detracting from the subject matter. (Now just watch someone turn up and point out how it's been shamelessly copied from Charles Knight or someone.) The Dawn and Middle horses share a page with Brontotherium, which is just standing around looking pretty. Hello, dear brontothere.


Naturally, a line drawing is provided that illustrates how as horses evolved, they became bigger and lost/fused digits until they became much better at being modern horses, running around fields and pleasing posh people and the like. Which isn't quite right, or how evolution works, but I've already mentioned that. The animals in the illustration above would make a lovely sculpture, although the incongruously gigantic grass implies that they've had a run in with Rick Moranis in the 1980s.


Sooner or later, you just know that a gigantic hornless rhinoceros is going to turn up and hog all the attention. This particular creature is infamously the largest land mammal of all time (which would still have been dwarfed by the largest dinosaurs. Take that, synapsids!). It has also gone by any number of different generic names over the years, possibly to avoid being tracked down by Interpol. When I were a lad, this animal seemed to be consistently referred to as Indricotherium, whereas here it's Baluchitherium, and these days it's Paraceratherium, or the near-horned-beast (as this book would probably put it). While convincingly bulky, I'm not sure if the necks in these illustrations are a little too chunky by modern standards. Do let me know in the comments, should you be into this sort of thing. Weirdo.

(Incidentally, I searched for Paraceratherium in Google Images, just of curiosity, and 'v T. rex' inevitably appeared. Which is so very Carnivora Forum and awesomebro that I'd just love for someone to illustrate it properly.)


Occasionally, a mammal is simply too far-removed from any modern lineages for it to be referred to by anything other than its scientific name. So here is an Apostrophe (sorry, astrapothere, namely Astrapotherium), depicted inhabiting a fetchingly primordial landscape of vivid red-and-yellow sunsets straight from Jurassic Park toy packaging. (Which is by no means an insult or even backhanded compliment - I loved the JP toy boxes.) I'm quite tempted to take some brightly coloured felt tips to the illustration below, if only to cheer up the cross-looking animal depicted in it.

There's also a three-horned creature depicted in what appears to be a lovely site for picnicking (if it weren't for all the pesky prehistoric mammals roaming about the place). First person to remind me of the damn thing's name gets a shout out. UPDATE: Synthetoceras it is. Connor Ross wins.


Furthermore, if anyone would like to tell me exactly what the 'bear-like dogs' were, I'd be very grateful. Handsome portraits are fine, but scientific names would be very useful. Thankfully, I knows me a gomphothere when I see one. Wonderful use of perspective to emphasise the animal's sheer strageness - like an elephant in a funhouse mirror.


And finally...a Smilodon, striking a suitably Knightian pose as it menaces one of those pesky three-horned things, trapped in what is ostensibly a tar pit but which more closely resembles, as Rob Evans put it on Facebook, "bedsheets". Yeah, but it's just so the kids can colour it in, preferably in custard yellow. The stamp image is just as reminiscent of Knight, but I do think that bison is very handsome. It seems that depictions of herbivores in this book are often more interesting than those of carnivores...which is quite welcome.

Next time: I've finally bought a book from the 1980s with a bunch of feathered dinosaurs and annoying idiosyncratic taxonomy in it. You can probably guess which one.

14 comments:

  1. The three horned mammal is a Synthetoceras. Do I win?

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  2. I think "bear-like dog" refers to Amphicyonids.

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    1. Having just looked them up, I think you're right. You learn something new every day...

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  3. Were these re-issued during the mid-60s? I'm almost positive I had these books, and looked forward to going grocery shopping weekly to get the newest stamps.

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    1. I had several of these stamp/sticker Golden Stamp Books when I was a kid in the '60s (as I recall, my dad would pick them up someplace- I wish I knew where). These versions had the stickers already in the books in sheets of 12 (the front & rear covers reproduce 2 of these sheets). The Sinclair Dinosaur stamps were issued weekly and the 3rd album came out in 1959, but those were issued at gas stations. I remember going to the store & buying packets of the Panini stickers (reviewed back in 2011 April) but that was rather later (the early '80s or maybe a bit later?). Of course, the company may have done a re-issue later in another format, perhaps in another region of the country or even foreign. (In fact the renumbering of the pages does indicate another edition.) I used to have a large sticker book of animals that had maybe 200+ stickers in it. The album itself was rather large in dimension, larger than a Life magazine. I don't remember the title, but it came out in the late '70s or early '80s. I don't remember how I got the stickers, but I ended up with most of them. The illustrations were very colorful & some of the dinosaurs were rather bizarre in style. Or perhaps you're thinking of the Brooke Bond tea cards, which came in boxes of Red Rose Tea (I forget how many in each or the frequency) in the mid-'60s.

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  4. The illustration of Smilodon is magnificent. I learnt a lot about prehistoric mammals from this book. This and the How and Why Wonder Book of Prehistoric Animals.

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  5. Wonderful! Thanks for sharing!

    That 'early mammal' is based upon Phenacodus: the stamp artwork looks very reminiscent of a Charles Knight painting of the same animal. And Brontotherium nowadays is lumped under Megacerops.

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  6. I agree with the previous comment, the early mammal is surely Phenacodus. Knight's take on it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phenacodus#/media/File:Knight_Phenacodus.jpg

    And Harder's version too: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phenacodus#/media/File:Phenacodus.jpg

    Both are very similar to that drawing up above...

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  7. I do like these mammals. It's nice to see a bear-dog with a bushy tail. I don't think I have EVER seen one drawn in such a way, they always seem to have sleek big-cat type tails. Also, a big thumbs up for the 'shovel-tusker' having a PROPER trunk instead of a big flat snout that just looks like someone sat upon a poor elephant's trunk, as was the norm in depicting them (and actually still is to an extent)... but my understanding is that gomphotheres, even the wacky shovel-tusked ones, did have normal elephanty trunks.

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  8. I must say, this post makes a refreshing change. It's nice to re-acquaint ourselves with prehistoric mammals.

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  9. @ Lockwood: This book definitely got re-issued in the 1960s. As I noted in Part 1, I remember this book, and that's when I would have been a young kid. (I think either I owned a copy, or my cousin Mike did, and we teamed up to color it.) Only the copy I remember came with all the stamps -- we didn't have to go to the grocery story to pick them up in installments.

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  10. The line drawing is very non-specific, but I'm forced to assume the Gastornis/Diatryma is chasing after an Eohippus or some other dawn horse, given the ubiquity of that paleo-meme.

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    1. Yes, the Diatryma munching the first horse is something of a meme, though the animal it's pursuing doesn't look very equine. Perhaps a condylarth? I do like how the bird is chasing it at a distance, much like some big cats do.

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