Vintage Dinosaur Art: The World’s Wonderful Creatures

Vintage Dinosaur Art

When looking at books from the years BT (Before T’internet), we must of course always bear in mind that decent reference material was rather difficult to come by, especially for your average jobbing illustrator without privileged access to museums and/or scientists. (And even then, the scientists sometimes just didn’t give a toss.) This explains the proliferation of Knight, Burian, and Zallinger clones – what else were the poor artists supposed to do, if not take inspiration from the greats? Nevertheless, this does make a lot of older books rather samey.

Thank goodness, then, for those brave souls who produced not only illustrations, but accompanying texts based on a dinosaur book that they had once glanced at in between their frequent absinthe binges. Our Vintage Dinosaur Art experience is all the richer for them (your definition of ‘vintage’ may vary).

Prehistoric monsters from The World's Wonderful Creatures

The subject of today’s post is The World’s Wonderful Creatures, as submitted for my consideration by Andrew Plant (himself a natural history illustrator who’s done dinosaurs!). It’s a rather obscure book that dates from the 1950s and was published by W H Allen; beyond that, not a lot of information is available. If you’d like a look at the cover (and oh my, what a period piece), check out its listing on Morgan’s Rare Books, for as long as that lasts. The book as a whole is fairly bonkers (and, naturally, quite racist) by modern standards, but its short section on prehistoric life really takes the cake.

Yes, this is supposed to be a factual book for children. A book in which cavemen happily coexist with Neave Parker’s Styracosaurus, a stegosaur-sauropod hybrid, and an actual dragon (which, based on the text, might be intended to represent Tyrannosaurus).  Said cavemen are fond of poking these hallucinogenic creations with sticks, although this is often to no avail, as is explained in the caption for, er, “Dimtrodon”. A “lizard” only 6.5 feet long, and yet somehow much larger than a man. At least both it and the accompanying mammoth somewhat resemble the animals they’re intended to portray, which is more than can be said of most of the creations here.

Prehistoric sea creatures from The World's Wonderful Creatures

For example: how might one draw Dunkleosteus in the style of a 1930s cartoon? Surely, it would look something like the creation on the left (the one on the right is just another dragon). Ah, but don’t you mean “dinzeththis” (an amphibian)? Someone was definitely very, very drunk.

Dinosaurs and prehistoric birds from The World's Wonderful Creatures

The fun continues with a fight between Stegosaurus and Ceratosaurus. Well – I suppose one of them has plates. It also has raptorial talons, though, while the other creature resembles a sauropodomorph, and isn’t so well armed. It’s anyone’s guess as to which is which. At least the animal on the right is clearly Protoceratops, although the humble hog-sized ceratopsian is here described as a carnivore “as big as one of the largest elephants”, with a “beak resembling that of a bird of prey” and “needle-sharp teeth”.

It’s worth mentioning that the illustrator was clearly very competent, even if they had absolutely no idea what they were doing when it came to Mesozoic animals (or orangutans, apparently). Given the nature of the book, there’s every chance that more than a little of the wild exaggeration is deliberate. Even so, I’m not quite prepared to forgive the bizarre feather arrangement on that Archaeopteryx – ain’t no shortage of references for bird wings. The bad pterosaurs are more understandable. And then we have the bat-squirrel-thing with its purple wing membranes and bad attitude, which appears apropos of nothing.

I’ve saved the best for last, though. Behold:

"Parlisaurus" from The World's Wonderful Creatures

The “Parlisaurus”, a flailing, stumpy-limbed, big-nosed, frilly-backed excuse for a giant “lizard”. One can imagine a scene in which the author of this book, clutching a stiff drink and standing unsteadily on his feet, was dictating the text, and the artist was taking notes:

“And then there wash this one that wash…it had this, this pointy thing, on its head….”

“Pointing forwards or backwards?”

“I don’t bloody well know, do I…could be either…and it wash, I think it walked on itsh back…back legs. Like a kangaroo. But it didn’t hop. Or maybe it did. Nah, wash too big…”

“What was it called?”


Thanks again to Andrew for sending me this one! Normal, rather less quirky service will resume shortly.

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  • Reply
    Gemma Hazeborg
    February 12, 2024 at 4:46 pm

    What a fabulous find! Happy year of the Dragon! It’s the nose of the paralellogramosaurus that really gets me.

  • Reply
    Grant Harding
    February 12, 2024 at 11:16 pm


  • Reply
    Vincent Giard
    February 13, 2024 at 10:04 am


  • Reply
    February 13, 2024 at 12:57 pm

    “Bad Pterosaurs” that sounds like a good name for a band. What a wacky find with this particular vintage stuff. I’ve come late to the LITC party, discovering your blog & podcasts in just the past 9 months or so, and now look forward to every one. Your observations are by turns smart, informative, clever, funny, a wee bit snarky…and always put a smile on my face. Thanks guys, I appreciate very much what you share with us.

  • Reply
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    February 16, 2024 at 8:00 am

    […] In The Time of Chasmosaurs has a long series of posts on vintage dinosaur art. Link goes to a recent post in the series, featuring some amusingly inaccurate […]

  • Reply
    February 16, 2024 at 5:56 pm

    The green ‘n’ purple bat thing reminds me of something very specific. I thought it was the Weird Tales cover for March 1944. You know much is made on this blog of gaffes concerning dinosaur anatomy but a lot of animal art in general suffered in the same way.

  • Reply
    February 16, 2024 at 5:58 pm

    The green bat guy reminded me of this Weird Tales cover, and something else very specific but that I can’t recall.

  • Reply
    February 19, 2024 at 1:47 am

    If the T-Rex was 15 foot long but 20 foot high does this mean it always floated 5 foot off the ground?

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    Andrew Plant
    February 19, 2024 at 7:08 pm

    Like HIFFA (sorry, I know that’s not your name but it just kind of jumped out at me!) I only found LITC about a year ago, so it gave me much perverse pleasure to share The World’s Wonderful Creatures with its unsuspecting readers. There is so much in the text (let alone the illustrations) to instruct and baffle. And like John, the idea of a 15 foot long Tyrannosaurus that was also 20 feet high mystified me. Also “An almost complete skeleton … and some fossilised remains.” Hmmm. Plus the fact that due to said remains “…we have a very clear idea of what the creature must have looked like.” Pity such clarity wasn’t passed on to the artist.
    Despite the glorious disaster that is Parlisaurus, one of my favourite bits is actually a little detail in the Stegosaurus/Ceratosaurus punch up. It’s the little hula-skirted caveman next to the conveniently perfect cave in the background. His body language seems to be saying “Am I supposed to be here in the Jurassic? Perhaps if I stay very still, no one will notice.” No wonder I was a bit confused as a little kid!
    Thanks again to LITC for the great posts. I’ve got quite a few (and lost a couple) of the 50s and 60s books that have been reviewed, and have been introduced to some new artists as well. Alice B. Woodward’s illustrations for Knipe’s Evolution in the Past (1912) are glorious, and as accurate as could be for the time. Her style reminds me of the wonderful B & W illustrations of H. G. Wells’ stories in turn-of-the-century magazines such as Pearson’s and The Strand. Another artist called Bucknall also contributed to Knipe’s book, and although wonderfully atmospheric, his anatomy is appalling. Really shows just how good Woodward was for the time.
    Let the palaeoart – good and bad – continue!

  • Reply
    Andreas Johansson
    February 20, 2024 at 6:05 am

    I’m more annoyed than I perhaps should be that the author thought that “saurus” is one syllable …

  • Reply
    February 22, 2024 at 11:28 am

    One of the dinosaurs in the stego v. cerato scene is directly copied from an illustration to Bradbury’s “The Fog Horn”

    • Reply
      February 23, 2024 at 3:56 pm

      You are absolutely right, its the Saturday Evening Post illustration! Or a poor copy but a copy for sure. How odd that the illustrator copied from popular magazines, although, maybe they were easier to access than reference books? The dragon with the dunkleostus looks very familiar too. It really looks like something from an old Argosy or Famous Fantastic Fiction cover..sort of J Allen St John like (I know this blog doesn’t mess too much with non-fictional books but I have a soft spot in my heart for St. Johns dinos). The archeopteryx’s coloring is cribbed from a pulp cover too, I’m almost certain! I think it’s a Finlay cover. How wonderfully odd this book is.

      • Reply
        February 23, 2024 at 11:05 pm

        It certainly explains a lot about the book that the illustrator was relying on fiction magazine illustrations as their reference material, Weird Tales included! Ironic that the illustration doesn’t remotely match Bradbury’s description of the ‘sea monster’, which very much sounds like an elasmosaur. “The head rose a full forty feet above the water on a slender and beautiful neck. Only then did the body, like a little island of black coral and shells and crayfish, drip up from the subterranean.” Great, moody short story – I remember it from school. Possibly slightly more scientifically accurate than The World’s Wonderful Creatures!

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