Monday, August 7, 2017

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Animals of Yesterday

As regular readers will have noticed, I've received a great many scanned books by e-mail from Charles Leon, all very gratefully received (even the dino sex article). Animals of Yesterday, originally published in 1941 (with this edition arriving in 1966) is mostly a rather run-of-the-mill pre-Renaissance dinosaur book, stocked with the usual Zallingerian swamp beasts. All the same, it does present certain mysteries that I'd love for any readers familiar with museums in Milwaukee to clear up, and moreover it's a book from Charles' personal collection. I feel quite honoured!

The cover illustration is by far the most spectacular and visually arresting of the lot, and is credited to Harold Price. It depicts the sort of murky, green-brown, primordial swamp world so typical of art of the era; the theropod in the foreground sports a vacant expression reminiscent of the pot-bellied beasts that inhabit Zallinger's Age of Reptiles mural. Still, at least there's a lot going on here, with plenty of lush vegetation and a pair of curious temnospondyl-looking fellows inhabiting the lower right. The waves being kicked up as the centre sauropod powers its way through the water succeed in giving an impression of the animal's massive heft. Fans of freaky giraffoid barosaur memes may also wish to note the curious 'neck seam'.

Sadly, the illustrations inside the book aren't credited; they could have been by Price, too, although the style seems somewhat different. The text (by Bertha Morris Parker) starts off as a fairly typical "imagine yourself back in the Jurassic, look! There's a big lizardy fellow! Blimey, it's hot" second-person narrative, but breaks with this (and chronological order) later. The art is competent enough for the most part, with the above Stegosaurus actually being rather good for its era - note the elevated head.

Stegosaurus is followed by Diplodocus (rather than the more typical Bronto), and here it becomes rather apparent that the illustrator unfortunately lacked a decent reference for the head.

Hurr durr. I do like Parker's musing that Diplodocus would have been wonderful for a parade, although "it would hold up the parade, for it would not be able to move at all fast." I'd still take it over one of the frequently stationary vintage diesel buses that were used for Brighton Pride this year. Especially the one that farted a huge black cloud into my face.

Back to Stegosaurus, here attempting to fight off an amazingly limber Allosaurus. The posture of the theropod on the left is quite wonderfully contorted and bizarre, but you've got to love those wicked crocodile smiles. These are your properly old-school, tail-dragging, spindly-fingered lizardy beasts - none of your "my third nephew's a bird" nonsense around here, thanks.

Most intriguing here is the caption next to the beast on the right - "Models Courtesy of Milwaukee Public Museum." Searches for dinosaur models at said museum turn up lots of photos of a huge diorama featuring a rather '80s/early '90s looking T. rex, but nothing quite as old-school as the creatures featured here. I did manage to turn up one photo of a large Stegosaurus model on its way into the museum, but that's about it. If anyone out there is familiar with the models that some of these illustrations were apparently based on, please let me know - I'm very intrigued! (Here's hoping at least some have survived.)

The dinosaurs are followed by rather dull illustrations of marine reptiles and "A Pterodactyl" (how queer it looks!). They're rather lacking in detail when compared with the other pieces, but at least we're treated to a plesiosaur squatting on a rock, looking rather sorry for itself. Rather oddly, neither marine reptile is named; they're simply "Reptiles of the Sea of Long Ago", and their appearance is described in the text. Amusingly, the text implies that ichthyosaurs couldn't have stayed underwater for very long, 'cos they breathe air don't you know. Try telling a whale.

As previously mentioned, the book rather abruptly ditches the second person narrative and general Jurassic setting halfway in, and instead discusses various prehistoric animals from disparate time periods. So here's Dimetrodon, looking rather handsome. It seems this one was also based on a model, and the leap in detail is quite telling - note the carefully shaded musculature and skin folds, especially around the shoulder region. The artist also depicts Dimetrodon with 'lips', which was the norm before 'shrink wrapping' came into vogue, and is a look that artists have returned to in recent years.

The sole full double-page illustation in the book depicts Eryops - described as having three eyes, "one in the middle of its forehead". It's pretty enough, featuring a decent-looking brown and warty one. When compared with the rest of the book, it emphasises how much a fully-realised scene (with plants, varied terrain etc.) can capture the imagination - I wish they'd allowed the artist to paint a few more scenes like this.

Archaeopteryx next, never knowingly caught with its wings neatly folded. I have a feeling that the one on the left is based on an older piece by a different artist, an impression bolstered by the fact that the feathers are attached more-or-less correctly to the hand, unlike the more typical "wings...but with hands!" version on the right.

And here are some mammoths, reproduced in 1/40 scale. There's a lovely painterly quality to their hair, but in the end, who cares for mammoths? They're just elephants dressed for winter. Boring. Boring mammoths. Total losers. SAD.

And finally...the obligatory timescale, helping the reader grasp the vastness of gelogical time!'s lacking dates. When DID the red bar turn into the yellow bar? How long ago? I must know! At least we get a nice illustration of Triceratops and a rather bony-looking Rexy having a chat, while a mammoth strolls nonchalantly away from a bear. Also some trilobites and stuff. Neat.

Coming up next: I'm off to see Dinosaurs of China in Nottingham! At last.


  1. Some of the same art as Life Through The Ages by Bertha Morris Parker?

  2. I agree with Matango.The art in Morris's book appears to be by the same artist. Judging from the weiner dog torso on the allosaur and the schnoz on the Dimetrodon, whoever the artist may be they have a fondness for the elongated little pooches.

  3. You could be right - if only the work in that book had been credited! Got to feel sorry for the artist if it was the same person.

  4. The Age of Mammals is very Californian in its choice of bear poses.
    Age of Man is all propaganda about the sixth extinction, of course, being all empty!

    Is it normal to have a scale indicated for very illustration in books this old? I think I've seen it before, but it feels odd.

  5. Compare the Eryops detail in both books...

  6. Wow. Those wacky allosaurs sure made day!

  7. Apparently the artist for both pamphlets was Frederick E. Seyfarth, but I do not have confirmation of this.

  8. I remember seeing those bizarre Allosaurus illustrations, and a few of the others, when I was a kid. I also had a plastic model Stegosaurus that was identical to this illustration. It was good size, probably about ten inches long, highly detailed and definitely of museum quality for the time. It was part of a set of three the department store where my mother worked at the time was selling which consisted of the Stegosaurus, a "Brontosaurus" that was a good eighteen inches long and of the same high quality as the Stegosaurus, and a frankly quite cheezy T. rex that, while made of the same hollow hard plastic as the other two, was far inferior in quality and was essentially a scaled-up version of the T. rex from the Marx prehistoric animal play sets that every department store carried back then. Naturally, I had all three. Wish I knew what happened to them.


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