Vintage Dinosaur Art: The Giant Book of Dinosaurs – Part 2

Vintage Dinosaur Art

It’s the triumphant return of The Giant Book of Dinosaurs, everyone’s fifth or sixth favourite children’s dinosaur book from the 1980s to be written by Mike Benton. As we’ve already examined the book’s theropods, let’s turn now to the lesser dinosaurs that pad out the rest of this irritatingly proportioned book – starting with the sauropodmorphs.

First giant plant-eaters

As I mentioned last time, this book’s slightly too large for my scanner, so I’ve taken some photographs instead – therefore, these images might not entirely represent the quality of what’s printed. But I did my best. Rather than simply include Plateosaurus as ‘the first large dinosaur’ and call it a day, TGBOD sees fit to feature Melanorosaurus and Anchisaurus, too – as seen above. Melanorosaurus doesn’t look too bad, with nicely blended camouflage colours on its torso and belly, and once again, I do appreciate the lush foliage and mountainous landscape. Anchisaurus, though, does look rather awkward – while its spotty skin is quite pretty, its jutting neck and head appear crude. It doesn’t quite all slot together as a living creature.


Plateosaurus itself does fare better, even if it looks very similar to Melanorosaurus (not too far off reality, to be fair). This scene – with a quadrupedal animal standing behind a bipedal animal, and a family group off in the distance – has definite Normanpedia vibes, without being a straight copy. The individual in the foreground does look a little hollow-chested, too, like its ribcage has been dramatically reduced – a problem that the beast behind it doesn’t seem to suffer from.

Colorado giants

There are no such problem with the Proper Sauropods, which are suitably chunky in that slighly retro, Sibbick-aping way that was so common back in the 1980s and early ’90s. Predictably, Apatosaurus is the rotundest of them all – we’re firmly in ‘fat Diplodocus’ territory here. I do like the various details in this scene that help flesh out Late Jurassic Colorado – from the lizard and tiny dinosaur scampering among the sauropods in the lower left, to the battling Allosaurus and Stegosaurus in the top right (with Stegosaurus looking unusually athletic here). But, yes, the sauropods are a little backward for the time. At least the Apatosaurus has the right sort of head…

Apatosaurus head

…Even if there’s something rather disconcerting about it. I think it’s that blank, glossy eye, quite unlike the eyes of any other animal in the book. But I can’t make that Jaws joke yet again. Perhaps I can say that it’s like…a spider’s eye? Yes, that’ll do. Alien, unreachable, unknowable. With a mouthful of ferns.


Brachiosaurus makes an appearance too, of course, and this being the late 1980s, it’s accompanied by a matryoshka doll diagram depicting Supersaurus and “Ultrasauros” (very hypothetically). The life reconstruction is very 1980s and rather reminiscent of Sibbick’s, with its chunky frame, very conspicuous forehead nostrils and smiling peg-tooth mouth. Again, though, Knowelden (the illustrator) does turn in some lovely foliage.


Also rather like the Normanpedia is the inclusion of Hylaeosaurus and Polacanthus on the same spread, although here they appear to be squaring off against one another, an idea I actually rather like. I’m not sure if these two were actually contemporaneous, but the thought of two thyreophorans of different species getting belligerent with one another is quite fun. (Has anyone illustrated that?)

In any case, these are fairly generic 1980s ankylosaurs. A little awkward, but then, ankylosaurs are hard if you don’t have access to good reference material. Also, the Polacanthus is really aged by its resemblance to Neave Parker’s, but most of them did around that time. At least they aren’t ground-hugging neckless retro scolosaur thingies.


On the subject of ‘British’ dinosaurs, here’s a rather odd-looking Iguanodon. Now, it’s by no means the worst Iguanodon ever, but it does suffer from a peculiarly snub-nosed face and diminutive hands, among other things. The latter could be blamed on the likes of Mantellisaurus being lumped into Iguanodon at the time, of course, although there was also a general tendency to downplay Iguanodon‘s hands in more old-school palaeoart. The flexed elbows definitely hearken back to a time when Iguanodon was always depicted with flexed elbows. I do really like the animal’s colours here, which remind me of nothing so much as a dead leaf, like the one shed from my rubber plant about a week ago. The trampled plant is also a nice touch. But, yes, it’s a little strange. And those legs don’t work. They just make things worse.


While Iguanodon could be mistaken for Some Ornithopod in this book, there’s no mistaking Triceratops, at least. These are most definitely the Triceratops of my childhood, complete with unduly elepantine feet. I do appreciate that they are depicted fighting each other rather than a Tyrannosaurus, and they look suitably bulky and intimidating, even if certain details of their anatomy are a bit suspect. Palaeoart points deducted for the barren, rocky landscape and that suspiciously Sibbicky one in the background.

Giant rhinoceroses?

And finally…while Triceratops doesn’t take on Rexy in this book, Centrosaurus certainly does. Centrosaurus appears to have taken on T. rex rather a lot back in the 1980s (see also: Phil Tippett’s awesome Prehistoric Beast), although it’s not clear why, as the two don’t overlap in time. If anyone’s able to shed some light on that one, please let me know. In any case, you’ll note that the ‘hooks’ at the back of the frill are present and correct, and Rexy manages to maintain a consistent look throughout the book (including when he’s masquerading as Allosaurus). Also, everyone is very green. I may have run out of things to say. Until next time!

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  • Reply
    John D'Angelo
    March 3, 2021 at 7:31 pm

    The head of Apatosaurus there seems to me to be remarkably reminiscent of the skull Marsh gave “Brontosaurus” back in the 1880s based on the skull USNM 5730, which is now interpreted as belonging to Brachiosaurus. So that’s interesting. That sure is one unsettling eye, though.

  • Reply
    Z. Mustafa Ahmed
    March 5, 2021 at 3:24 pm

    While at the other end of the 80’s, could I suggest for a future review 1982’s Dinosaurs: Fun, Fact & Fantasy? Its full of Parkeresque models, wondrously 70’s designs and views/theories, and some delightful puppetry and songs.

  • Reply
    Caleb W.
    March 11, 2021 at 11:11 am

    It’s probably a coincidence, but the resemblance of that Stegosaurus to Godzilla is striking (and a little disconcerting…).

    Also, does the book credit a different artist for the size diagrams? There seems to be a lot of disparity between them and the main images, particularly the Iguanodon.

  • Reply
    April 11, 2021 at 7:43 am

    This book is a very special, nostalgic and precious book for me personally, since it’s the one that originally got me interested in dinosaurs in the first place. In hindsight, its art may look a bit clunky and boring compared to lots of other books that I’ve read later on. But back when I was a kid, it still managed to make dinosaurs appear so magical and wonderful to me. Thanks for covering the book, it was great to see it.

    Have you ever shared scans from “The Big Golden Book of Dinosaurs” by Mary Elting? I’d love to see some blog posts about it. It was another book I used to read as a kid, but I wasn’t anywhere near as fond of that book since I found some of its ideas a bit strange. Specifically, I’m talking about the book’s Stegosaurus with only one row of plates on its back, and the insistence to portray the animal as rearing up on its hind-legs. I assume that Stego might’ve been able to pull it off for a brief moment, but it’s weird how the book has two illustrations of this occurrence yet it doesn’t comment on it in its text at all. I can’t fit the book on my scanner, but I took a couple of photos of it:

    • Reply
      Marc Vincent
      April 11, 2021 at 7:50 am

      I don’t think we have done that one. The more famous Golden Book has been covered, of course. Also, I’m glad to hear that this book was special to you. I get worried about people getting bored of samey books from the 1980s and 90s!

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