Monday, February 20, 2012

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Collins Gem: Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Life

I know what you're thinking and, yes, I probably will start sticking the word 'vintage' in inverted commas soon. After all, 'vintage' doesn't just mean 'old' - as a label it also indicates sophistication, refinement and a certain timelessness. Whereas most of the art I feature (I can't speak for David, obviously) is just cack from unwanted books that I snap up in exchange for three buttons and a short length of twine on eBay. And in that spirit, here's Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Life from the Collins Gem series!






















The 'Gem' books from publisher Collins(/HarperCollins) were tiny, pocket-sized compendiums of fascinating facts on child-friendly topics. Back in 1989, the printing presses spat out this fairly average little dinosaurs-and-all-that book, with text by Beverly Halstead and illustrations by Jenny Halstead. Both of which are quite bland, with a few eccentricities to liven things up. Much like my writing for Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs. A lot of the illustrations are clearly based on those by more established artists, notably Burian and Sibbick, as in the below illustration of swimming 'brontosaurs' (as B. Halstead insists on calling them).












Just some fat old sauropods paddling along. Wait a minute, those heads look a little peculiar...

















Good grief.

Moving on, then. B. Halstead is quite insistent that all of the 'carnosaurs' were scavengers (with one notable exception, but we'll get to that) - not just Tyrannosaurus, but all of them. Specifically, Allosaurus and Megalosaurus are provided as examples of creatures that were "most likely not active hunters but rather scavengers", with the following evidence given:
"...the remains of a brontosaur's tail [have been found] with scratch marks made by the teeth of carnosaurs, together with some broken teeth. It is clear that a carnosaur was eating bits of meat off a brontosaur tail - a hunter would have been concerned with ripping open a dinosaur and wolfing down the entrails, not picking at what was left of the tail."
The idea of a predator opportunistically scavenging being completely preposterous, of course. J. Halstead provides a skulking vision of Megalosaurus, Neave Parker-stylee.
















As if the treatment of its Jurassic theropod kin wasn't cruel enough, Tyrannosaurus suffers the indignity of being described as a fat ol' farm animal with big teeth. Apparently, the terrifying tyrant reptile "waddled along just like a goose...at about 4kph (2.5mph)", presumably while taking tiny baby steps. B. Halstead also believes that teeth "just like steak knives" would only have been good for tackling "inert flesh". Because, well, have you ever used a steak knife on a live cow? EXACTLY. At least, judging by this illustration, the lazy bastard tyrannosaur had a pretty colour scheme going on.






















Stop the presses, though, for there is at least one 'carnosaur' in this book that gets a favourable press. What's more, it had only recently been described when this Gem was published. That's right - it's the British spinosaur Baryonyx. Although B. Halstead notes that its narrow jaws and conical teeth had been interpreted as being similar to those of "fish-eating crocodilians", he considers the idea that such a large creature could have subsisted on fish as being nonsense. Rather, B. Halstead is keen on the idea that
"...the specialisation of the skull was so that they could thrust their heads into the body cavity to drag out the entrails - 'Claws' [a popular nickname for Baryonyx at the time] was...a specialised visceral feeder."
You heard it here first. Probably. Even though it's in a book from 1989. In any case, we are subsequently treated to an unusually gory, graphic and grim depiction of Baryonyx ripping an Iguanodon corpse to bits. Happily, the popular ornithopod maintains its characteristic thumbs-up gesture, even while being feasted upon by specialised intestine scoffers.

















Fortunately, B. Halstead has no eccentric opinions on Archaeopteryx - following the long-established consensus view that it evolved from other theropod dinosaurs. Unfortunately, J. Halstead opted to go for the 'stick-on fingers' look so favoured by artists who are apparently unaware of what a bird's skeleton looks like. I do like a blue Archaeopteryx, though...






















...certainly much more than I like a beaked, distressed-looking Sordes. Apparently, pterosaurs shouldn't be classified as reptiles because they've been found to have had a furry covering. Good old fashioned paraphyletic taxonomy - donchaluvit?
















The following image makes it probable that, at least on a few occasions, J. Halstead just couldn't be bothered. The poses match up quite well with the real fossils, but the dinosaurs themselves look...horrible. Nevertheless, I couldn't help but note the similarity of this Velociraptor to the one featured in Know the World of Dinosaurs. Could it be that one is merely a copy of t'other, or is it simply coincidence - a case of artistic laziness/tight deadlines/lack of advice from the 'consultant/s' convergently producing a similarly snub-nosed result? It's one to ponder, that.






















And finally...Lystrosaurus just loves to be eaten. What does it care? It pretty much dominates the planet! Until next time...


18 comments:

  1. '...in exchange for three buttons and a short length of twine on eBay'

    I like that.

    The Protoceratops and Velociraptor are simply snoozing companionably, surely. So cute...

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    1. Looks more like that Protoceratops is eating the Velociraptor, maybe Protoceratops was an obligate scavenger as well?

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    2. Why, she's merely resting her chin on the raptor's stomach...

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  2. Quick note-- Bev Halstead is a man, baby.

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  3. Halstead was one of the last of the truly stuffy conservative "dinosaurs were barely mobile" academic holdouts, who found his dogma eroding in the '70s and '80s from folks like Ostrom and Bakker. Then he suddenly took a turn for the sensational with a lot of stuff on dinosaur sex.

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    1. Was a typo, I swear...by the way, his Wikipedia page is, um, interesting.

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    2. Damn, now I really want to know his views on dino sex.

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  4. Is that the same Halstead of "history and evolution of DINOSAURS" fame? I loved that book as a kid, even though I found the text confusing and impossible to follow.

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  5. "Back in 1989, the printing presses spat out this fairly average little dinosaurs-and-all-that book, with text by Beverly Halstead and illustrations by Jenny Halstead. Both of which are quite bland, with a few eccentricities to liven things up."

    If you want an eccentric Halstead book, I recommend reading "Deinonychus: The Terrible Claw (Intermediate Books)" ( http://www.amazon.com/Deinonychus-Terrible-Claw-Intermediate-Books/dp/0307637611/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1329797523&sr=1-3 ). Irony (E.g. According to Halstead, Deinonychus was both very bird-like & very ectothermic) & anachronism (E.g. According to Halstead, T.rex scavenged Deinonychus kills) galore!

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  6. For the record, I remember the "Baryonyx as obligate scavenging gut-grinder" theory being pretty popular back in the day. Can't remember where I read it exactly, though.

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  7. I thought the second image from the bottom were 2 baby dinosaurs playing together. The lack of fine detail- big smooth shapes in the bodies with little wrinkling, makes them look small and young.

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    1. They're meant to be the 'Fighting Dinosaurs'...

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    2. Heh, I thought it was two plastic toys left on the ground by a child who had been making them battle each other, but was then called in by his/her mother.

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  8. Truly hilarious. Thanks for this.

    Just one thing, Baryonyx is not exclusively british as it also lived in the Iberian peninsula. Originally discovered in the UK though, if that´s what you meant..

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    1. Yeah, that's what I meant. I was also alluding to the animal's tendency to top lists of 'British' or 'English' dinosaurs.

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