Monday, August 15, 2016

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs (The Open Gate Library)

As you might imagine (and as I'm sure I've repeatedly said over the last three or so years), it's become increasingly difficult to find truly old books to use in Vintage Dinosaur Art posts. In recent months, all of my best eBay purchases seem to be from a single store, the aptly titled 'World of Rare Books'. When one does have the opportunity to cover a decades-old, illustration-heavy publication, it's typically full of tiresome Charles Knight rip-offs loitering around remarkably sparse backdrops, typically with all the vibrant colour of an original Game Boy screen. And I won't lie - this is pretty much one of those. However, there are just enough amusing quirks in here to make it worthwhile. Just check out that gnarly Ceratosaurus...


The functionally titled Dinosaurs, part of the Open Gate Library series, was first published in 1959 in the US, with a UK edition arriving in 1963. This particular edition dates to 1967. Aimed at young children, it's light on text and dominated by double-page black and white (and green) illustrations by Robert Gartland, whose work also featured in Animals of the Past Stamps. Only the cover is more colourful, and the funky giraffe-like pattern on the neck of the more horizontal animal is surprisingly daring for the time. Inside, everything is rather more plain, because giant lizards.


Or sometimes, it transpires, not-so-giant. The book follows a peculiar trend of the time in refusing to refer to animals by their scientific names in the text (in spite of the fact that children just love learning dinosaur names, mainly to annoy their parents and teachers). Instead, each animal is given a nickname that is sometimes related to the generic name, but not always. So, Ornitholestes is predictably referred to as 'bird robber', but Compsognathus becomes 'smallest lizard'. Perhaps it's because 'delicate jaw' doesn't really sum up the animal. Regardless, we're treated to the usual Knight-copying, bird-grabbing Ornitholestes, except here it's being watched by both Compsognathus and the Great Time-Travelling Chicken. All hail the Great Time-Travelling Chicken! Did you know he once starred in his own Saturday-morning cartoon series? Or he should have done.


The wee theropods are followed by these brontosaurssszzzzzz. Hey look, footprints!


As previously indicated by the Great Time-Travelling Chicken, the book is keen on comparing dinosaurs with modern-day animals and objects. So, Brachiosaurus (or 'Largest Lizard'....gah) poses next to some charmingly old-fashioned "motor coaches" in one illustration, and precisely matches the weight of a herd of elephants crowded onto a pair of improbably gigantic scales in another.


Even better is this illustration, where Allosaurus has been fooled by a wily estate agent. Not only is the door on the property far too small to accommodate a dinosaur of his considerable stature, someone's gone and stolen his lunch from the roof. (With apologies for repeating a joke I already made on Facebook.) No wonder he looks so...disappointed.


As ever, mildly perturbed Allosaurus is just the warm-up act for furious Rexy, seen here grasping for something just out of reach. This Rexy notably sports a reversed first toe on each foot, like a perching bird. This anatomical anomaly does have a tendency to appear in illustrations of this vintage, but quite why is a little mysterious. Although it would be handy for preventing toy tyrannosaurs from toppling over, it looks really silly.


Once Rexy has appeared, every other animal is inevitably pulled into his superstar orbit. So, this Knightian, rather long-tailed Triceratops is described as the only animal willing to confront Rexy. Old Three-Horned-Face looks rather shiny and smooth in true retro fashion - a world away from today's gnarlier, nobblier, altogether more interesting versions.


Ankylosaurus, meanwhile, is the animal that hunkers down when Rexy draws near. Apart from being typically round, short-tailed, and incongruously small, this might be the only illustration I've seen where Ankylosaurus takes on what appears to be a Permian synapsid.


Desmatosuchus was another dinosaur that evolved armour plates to defend itself against tyrannosaurs. Wait, what!?!


Meanwhile, other animals took to the water to escape the jaws of the tottering tyrant lizards. Among these was the sausage-limbed, web-handed duckbill, Parasaurolophus, an animal that "kept air stored in its 'horn'" to facilitate long dives. God, I love 1960s dinosaur books.


I'm not sure I can bring myself to love this thing, though. Quack quack.


And finally...what I like to think of as a little wry social commentary. He might not have changed his barbarous habits much, but at least he's managed to stay clean shaven.

18 comments:

  1. What exactly happened to the Corythosaurus' crest?

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  2. Time-travelling Permian synapsids are surely no more remarkable than time-travelling Quaternary galliforms?

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  3. If you're hurting for more vintage dino art, I have a few old books I could send you scans of. Would you be interested in that?

    One's a McLoughlin book titled "Dinosaurs of the Southwest", and the other is something from the 60s featuring photos nice-but-unconvincing of models.

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    1. That'd be great, thank you. Best address would be mhorridus@googlemail.com. Might be an idea to upload them somewhere and then just send a URL.

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    2. I also have a copy of Dinosaurs of The Southwest, or at least I did last time I checked. If you get a chance please review it, it's ridiculous it talks about dinosaurs regrowing legs and tails and being unable to propperly sense pain and other very dated very amusing material.

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    3. Just sent in some scans of the McLoughlin book! I directly emailed them to you as I don't have a Flickr account or anything like that. If you'd prefer though, I can do that for the next book.
      Oh! I just remembered! I also have a Zallinger book I should scan for you! And not the Zallinger you're thinking of. ;)

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    4. What email should I send them too?

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    5. mhorridus@googlemail.com. Please don't mind me if I take a while to respond to you, I have a tendency to forget to check that mailbox...

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  4. Is this a British edition? The pages you post are identical to a book that I've seen on this side of the pond from around the same dates with the title "The True Book of Dinosaurs".

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  5. I've been meaning to ask you if you use some material. Among the ones that I can offer are "The First Book of Prehistoric Animals", by Alice Dickinson (1954); "The Strange World of Dinosaurs", by John Olstrom; both "Prehistoric Animals" & "The First Mammals", by William Scheele; and a Raymond Ditmars book that I don't have the title of handy. My local library just got a new scanner, and I can scan stuff as .jpgs (2 pg color!) or .pdf files.

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    1. If you could send me some scans, that'd be fantastic. I normally resize mine to a maximum of 900 pixels tall. E-mail is mhorridus@googlemail.com. Thank you!

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    2. I'll try to in the near future. My Internet time is a bit limited and my laptop is on its last legs, so timing is going to be iffy. Also, most of my books are in storage- but I've been scanning a bunch of library books as part of the paleoart project I've been working on.

      (BTW, the Ditmars book is "The Book of Prehistoric Animals".)

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  6. Do you already have the book 'Prehistoric Life On Earth' by Kai Peterson, illustrated by Verner Hancke? This is book with lovely 1950s art. Highly recommended. I must admit, though, that the illustrations of paleozoic creatures and post-dinosaur mammals are far superior to those of dinosaurs (which are Knight-ripoffs mostly). The book knows at least editions in Danish, English, French and Dutch.

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  7. I made some pretty horrible noises while reading this.
    Good stuff!

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  8. Thank you for getting rid of the damn spam!!!

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  9. Well, this book is truly terrible. Really horrible. Ouch.

    But that last page ... kind of sort of almost redeems it. Almost.

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