Ever run into someone whom you haven’t seen in years – or even decades – in a very unlikely place? A couple of weeks ago I went out for pizza in Leicester with Agata, and the somewhat quirky restaurant we visited had a small table inhabited by a range of rather ugly, cheap, chunky dinosaur figures. Most of them I recognised from recent forays in toy and gift shops (and the Natural History Museum gift shop, sadly), but one of them stood proudly out from the rest – not least because it was bright orange. Wait, don’t I know you?
Here was a dinosaur toy that I’d completely forgotten the existence of, but one that I actually owned as a child. It dates from 1993, so it’s easy to forgive some of its, er, less appealing aesthetic qualities. Unless you went for Tyco (Dino Riders/Smithsonian) or Kenner (JP), most dinosaur toys really weren’t any better than this, and many were far worse. The anatomy is pretty awful, but it’s a large, detailed sculpt, covered in scales, with plenty of wrinkles and creases on the skin and a mouth full of sculpted teeth (that are all uniform, but never mind); there may be a little Sibbick influence in that saggy neck. There’s also no denying that that paint job is very, very snazzy. Vibrant, scaly dromaeosaurs with big cat-like colour schemes are so extremely ’90s that the toy is a guaranteed nostalgia piece these days.
So, I enjoyed seeing it again. It was a lovely surprise to run into my old friend after so many years. (And no, it almost certainly wasn’t the specific toy that I owned as a kid, but leave me with my romantic delusions for a moment, please.) But then…wait, didn’t I take photographs of this thing when I was a kid (so impressed was I by it)? And didn’t I still have those somewhere?
Certainly did – a couple of pretty terrible photographs, taken on a hand-me-down film camera sometime around 1995, in the woods close to my parents’ house. In autumn, apparently (how timely!). I also recalled that the toy came in a box along with a tiny, tiny fragment of GENUINE DINOSAUR BONE, complete with comically pompous certificate of authenticity – and after some digging in a box of childhood memorabilia and nicknacks, I found that too!
Here’s a scan of the certificate, with the full text. It seems that the bone was authenticated by one Henry Galiano, “SOCIETY OF VERTEBRA PALEONTOLOGY [sic], PRESIDENT OF MAXILLA & MANDIBLE, NEW YORK, FORMERLY ASSOCIATED WITH THE AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY”.
Who he? Well, Henry Galiano is a fossil dealer, who indeed ran a store named Maxilla & Mandible in New York, although that closed in 2011. More recently, he’s been mentioned as a “paleontologist consultant” for the auction house Sotheby’s. Was Galiano supplying the toy company with tiny chunklets of fossil bone? Quite possibly, and it’s a very peculiar thought. Presumably, the fossils were of little use to scientists, else they wouldn’t have been broken into tiny bits and bundled with (presumably) thousands and thousands of ugly dinosaur toys back in the ’90s. Never mind the ethics, here’s the Thunder Beasts.
For that was the name of the toy range that this figure belonged to: Thunder Beasts, manufactured by Sky Kids. There were a number of dinosaurs in the line of varying sizes, with our pizzeria friend being the smaller Velociraptor. I discovered this after doing a little digging online, and while fairly obscure, the range does have a modest showing on the Dinosaur Toy Blog, as well as the mothballed Dinosaur Collector site. The Velociraptor appears to be one of the best of a rather sad bunch – the Struthiomimus was described by reviewer Gwangi on the DTB as looking like a “snake with limbs,” as well as “sad, saggy and uncomfortable”. Oh dear.
Alas, then, for while I do still have the teeny tiny piece of bone (and accompanying certificate), my photographs and my memories, I obviously no longer have the toy itself. Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t know anyone who owns it…I’ll give you three guesses.
In any case, I do hope you’ve enjoyed this slightly unusual post on a chance encounter that encouraged me to further investigate a slightly ugly, remarkably orange, and extremely of-its-time dinosaur toy from my childhood. Really, I don’t think it’s all that much worse than some of the toys in Schleich’s current range (which is, admittedly, more of an indictment of Schleich than anything). I’m sure that many of you have had similar encounters, in which case, please do tell me all about them. One of the joyous aspects of our hobby is that it can invoke nostalgia, but is also constantly changing and improving thanks to the efforts of scientists and artists worldwide, and much of the fun is reflecting on how far we’ve come – and how far we’ve yet to travel.