Monday, September 5, 2016

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Book of Big Beasts

After my thinly disguised plea for new material from readers in the previous post, I've been lucky to receive a cavalcade of scanned and photographed Vintage Dinosaur Art from a number of lovely Chasmoheads. Thank you, all! I'll be featuring said submissions over the next few weeks, starting with this - Book of Big Beasts, published in 1954 in the US and written/illustrated by Bettina L Kramer and Harold V Kramer. (I'm not entirely sure who did what; do fill me in if you know.) The BBB comes courtesy of reader David Landis.

The cover is by far the best thing about this book, a wonderfully stylised piece with a bold but naive feel, completely fitting its subject matter. The text opens with a description of the types of primordial Big Beasts to be found within:
"The beasts in this book were monsters of long ago. They lived on this earth hundreds of years before the first man. Some of these beasts were bigger and heavier than a tank truck. Some of theses beasts were so big they could not find enough food to feed their large bodies."
One must surely wonder how these hungry hungry horrors could possibly have evolved in the first place. But never mind! We want to see some of these gargantuan, truck-shaming, permanently starving monstrosities! Onwards!

Hang on...what? Eryops!?! Granted, it was rather large for a temnospondyl at a mighty 3 metres in length, and this many-toothed squat fellow would probably be a rather alarming sight for anything tempted to take a dip in the cooling pools of the earlier Permian. But still, this is not the big rig beater that we were promised.

Now this is more like it - Stegosaurus! At least Steggy can be properly compared with a motor vehicle - in fact, the book mentions a "refrigerator car". Apparently as "shy as a deer" in spite of its giant spikes and pea brain, Steggy's appearance here is clearly modelled on Marsh's skeletal, and sports the typical overly short, squat forelimbs with lizardlike hands and low-slung head seen in illustrations of the period.

Now here's a really Big Beast - Diplodocus, an animal that in spite of its huge size "could not take care of itself," for "smaller animals ate this big beast". This is one of the lazier illustrations in the book, resembling nothing so much as Gertie the Dinosaur, although the protruding hippo-nostrils are amusing. The grumptastic illustration on Dippy's face is reminiscent of Zallinger's Brontosaurus of Age of Reptiles fame.

By contrast, Ceratosaurus looks rather dashing with its intriguing, overlapping, armour-like scales, although the actual dermal armour possessed by the animal is strangely absent. The pose of the two fighting animals is, again, very reminiscent of one of Othniel Marsh's skeletals. The text rather sagely notes that "it could walk and run like a bird", while also noting its fondness for 'fighting other beasts'. "One lizard would kill the other in a fight." That's no doubt what's underway in the illustration, as one ceratosaur grabs a decent chunk of flesh from another. That's what you get for having your left hand growing out of your head.

Rexy doesn't care much for you or your attitude. This is the 'teeth all the way back to here' (or, alternatively, 'how many fingers?') edition of "the great king lizard". If the creature in the background looks a little familiar, that's because it's a total rip off of Charles Knight's life restoration of the 'snacking allosaur' mount in the AMNH.

Perhaps my favourite illustration in the entire book is this fantastically medieval-looking Mosasaurus, ready to "swallow you in one gulp". That evil, fixing stare. Those flashing, thorny teeth. That luscious flowing mane. And a mermaid's tail to finish things off. As Mette Aumala commented over on the Fezbooks, "now I know what a heraldic mosasaur looks like." Which is a term I Googled, only to come upon a serpentine leopard flashing a forked tongue. So thank you for that.

And now, some bonus stinkin' mammals. As you've probably guessed, the above illustration depicts Paraceratherium, here referred to by its 347th junior synonym, Baluchitherium. Bizarrely, the text refers to this overblown rhino as "the largest land animal," which is likely to be an instance of "animal" being synonymised with "mammal", which used to happen a lot but tends not to nowadays. Good. Mark Witton wrote about people's attempts to restore this animal last month, pointing out that there was particular disagreement over how stocky it was, the size of its ears and nose, and the relative length of its neck. This illustration would probably fall in the more robust, short-eared area of the giant Paraceratherium Reconstruction Diagram. Also, its eyes are in a weird place, which makes it look strangely sinister.

And finally...sad Arsinoitherium is sad. Perhaps it's because it's permanently lumbered with those two ridiculous horns, or perhaps it's because "many hyenas would attack it at one time". I'm not sure that hyenas had even evolved by Arsinoitherium's time; they probably attacked it on hoverboards. Poor, poor Arsinoitherium.


  1. I've checked. Definitely no hyenas in Arsinoitherium's time. I suppose it isn't the laziest mistake made here.

  2. I Have an old book from the 1980s that i think you might want to see. it is full of tail draggers.

  3. Re "hyenas": I think the author meant Hyaenodon. Charles R. Knight in fact depicted Arsinoitherium as being attacked (or at least sort of threatened) by several Hyaenodon in this painting:

  4. Knight also depicted Arsinoitherium fighting back against a wolflike predator that might be a Hyaenodon, tossing it into the air:

    I'm not quite as sure about the predator's identity in that one, though.

  5. This is one of the lazier illustrations in the book, resembling nothing so much as Gertie the Dinosaur, although the protruding hippo-nostrils are amusing.

    I'm pretty sure the nostrils are taken directly from Marsh's hideous fictional Brontosaurus skull.

    1. That thing is just adorable. Did Marsh ever even see a sauropod skull before he made that mess? Or, you know, any animal's skull?

  6. (Nice to see the "stinkin' mammals" reference, too :-) )

  7. Is that a tail fluke I see on the mosasaur?

  8. Frankly it looks like the small, full-body Rex is eating a rug.


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