I started collecting prehistoric items a couple years before Mom’s and my visit to Dinosaur Park. By the time I was about 13 years old, as in the photo to the left, this was the entire extent of my “dinosaur collection.” Not much was available back then for any dinosaur enthusiast, young or old, to purchase.
There were the metal SRG figures that had been sold in museum gift shops, through magazines and other outlet. My first SRG figure was the small version of the company’s Tyrannosaurus. It cost a whopping 80 cents in those days. I couldn’t afford the larger Tyrannosaurus SRG, which cost two whole dollars.
There were also some nice ceramic figures, also sold mostly in those museum shops. But the SRGs and the ceramics were just about it back then, and those weren’t considered “toys.”
Most of the items I acquired in those early days of collecting came from the gift shop at the Chicago Natural History Museum (now The Field Museum). Not only did the shop stock the SRG and ceramic figures, but it also sold such items as postcards reproducing a few of the famous murals by artist Charles R. Knight showing life through time, and offered numerous books, both technical and popular, about prehistoric animals, natural history and science in general.
It was from this same museum shop that I bought my first book about ancient life, Animals of Yesterday, written for young readers by Bertha Morris Parker with illustrations by Frederick E. Seyfarth.
The first book I ever own that was “all about dinosaurs,” rather than all kinds of prehistoric life, was Roy Chapman Andres’ classic book for young readers. A thoughtful grammar school classmate gave it to me at my 10th-year birthday party.
Just nine months after getting that book — and after saving up my allowances until I had a total of five dollars stashed away — I bought my first “grown up” book about dinosaurs, Dr. Edwin H. Colbert’s classic tome The Dinosaur Book. My paleo-library was just getting started. When I couldn’t find books, I wrote and illustrated my own!
Of course, I also had some comic books that featured prehistoric creatures of various kinds. The first comic book I recall ever owning with dinosaurs was a 1949 issue of Dell’s Tarzan, written by Gaylord Dubois and drawn by Jesse Marsh. For some reason, as those early years went by, I remembered much about that comic book — but didn’t recall the dinosaurs, probably because back then I didn’t yet know what a dinosaur was!
My favorite of these books (and the best, in my opinion), then and now, featured a caveman hero called Tor, written and drawn by Joe Kubert. Tor made his debut in his first issue, then called 1.000,000 Years Ago (before the title was changed simply to Tor), published in 1953. That premiere issue had tremendous influence on me — in quite a few ways. I’ve been fortunate in collecting all of Tor’s adventures, including the more recent stories by Kubert.
The first actual magzine (non-comic book) that I remember saving (I wasn’t actually “collecting” yet) was the September 7, 1953 issue of Life magazine, the cover of which reproduced part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Age of Reptiles” painting done by artist Rudolph Zallinger in the late 1940s for Yale University’s Peabody Museum of Natural History.
Then, around 1956, the first mass-produced toy dinosaurs appeared in “dime” or “10-cent” stores, waxy plastic figures made by the Miller company (below).
These were soon followed by the famous Marx “Prehistoric Times” playsets and individually sold plastic figures.
This Marx Tyrannosaurus (left), like many other figures in the set, were based on the Zallinger restorations shown in the above-mentioned Life magazine article…and in this souvenir postcard (below) from Yale’s Peabody Museum.
Countless other toy prehistoric animal figures — also more books, the first prehistoric-creature plastic assembly model kits, you name it, would follow. And my days of collecting had, more or less, officially begun.