Hunting for Dinosaur (cards)
By Kurt Kuersteiner (© Monsterwax Monster Trading Cards) for The Wrapper Magazine
It's remarkable to realize that at some point in our past, dragons were real. They didn't breath fire, but could have inhaled humans if given the chance. Try imagining your neighborhood crawling with giant reptiles, many of them larger than elephants. It might sound like a scene from a science fiction movie, but it's actual history. Fossils indicate gargantuan dinosaurs dominated our planet long before monkeys or their descendants climbed down from the trees.
No one was around to draw the dinosaurs or snap their photographs, but trading card companies have been busy making up for lost time during the last century. Some of the most colorful, imaginative, and amazing sets ever made recreate our prehistoric past. Many such sets have been profiled in The Wrapper before, but many others haven't. It's the lost gems that fell between the cracks that will be discussed here. Many of them are absent from the price guides as well. Some of them are foreign issues, while others are simply rare or obscure. All of them are fun in their own way. Have a look and see if you don't agree.
First on the examination table are dinosaur cards issued by the Milwaukee Public Museum from 1982 to 1990. There are only 28 cards in the set. The driving force behind the set was Paul Tenpenny, a security guard at the museum, who was a Wrapper subscriber at the time. He released the series just a few cards each year, usually releasing subsets of four or eight. Collectors could get the four or so cards free when visiting the museum. The art is very colorful and somewhat stylized. (Different artist worked on it over the years.) The last card in the set is a tribute to the Milwaukee Brewers and Tom Trebelhorn. This unnumbered card may be the first and only dinosaur-sports card ever made.
Now for the confusing part: Cards 17 - 22 were issued with a 1988 copyright date. Then two years later, five more cards were issued with different dinosaurs but overlapping numbers (17-21). No copyright date was included on the 1990 cards. So the set goes from 1 - 22, with several repeat numbers. And you thought carbon-dating was tricky!
Weird numbering aside, this is a neat set but very frustrating to piece together. I felt incredibly lucky to have found a complete set on the second-hand market for $35.
Another fun but tough to find dino-set is the 12 card set from Dina-Sour [sic] egg candy. It was distributed in 1987 by Willy Wonka. It came attached to the box of candy, and had to be pulled off along the perforated edges. The shape has a tab sticking out the top, but otherwise measures 1 7/8" x 3 7/8". The images are black and white drawings with blank backs. So far, there have been no reports of the eggs hatching. (Talk about a painful stomach ache.)
Here's one of the more expensive dinosaur tobacco sets. (They wanted $100, I paid $75. Oy!) It's called Peeps into Prehistoric Times. It was issued with Army Club Cigarettes in 1930, by Cavanders Ltd., of London. Billed as the "Fourth Series of 24 Real Photographs" it actually consists of 48 cards. That's because they are stereoscopic photographs and there's one for each eye (which equals 24 pairs, assuming you're not Sammy Davis). One of each pair has dinosaur facts on the back. The other twin tells how to use the camerascope. The viewer could be purchased from Cavanders Ltd.. There were apparently two different sets-- one large and one small. I've only seen the small set (which is standard tobacco card size of 1 1/2" x 2 1/2"). These appear to be prehistoric models from a diorama or display that were filmed with a stereoscopic camera. Pretty cool black and white images for 1930. These could be the same critters who starred in the 1925 First National film, The Lost World. They sure look like it.
Another neat dinosaur model set is more recent. Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals is actually a rummy set of 33 oversized cards. They measure 2 5/8" x 3 7/8" and are full color. The backs all have the same design. The 33rd card is a header card. None of the cards give a date, but the company is Safari Limited out of Florida, and they're still in business. The cards look to be 1960s or 70s.
A more modern approach was utilized to create the German 3-D cards from Kellogg's Dinosaurier Im Reich Der Giganten (Dinosaur-- The world of the Giant). These are beautiful color photos from a BBC dinosaur series, like Walking With Dinosaurs but renamed for a German audience. The copyright date is 2000. There are only 24 cards in the set. The backs are all identical. The front gives symbols that show the dinosaur's size, weight, and speed, but no actual text about the dinosaur is given except the name. They measure 2 1/8" x 3 1/8". The vari-view motion effect is pretty cool. It's the next worse thing to being there!
A colorful reproduction of the Imperial tobacco card set from 1924 has recently been issued by the Card Collectors Society (©2000, probably England). There are 25 in the set. The art is very attractive and the back text small and detailed. The originals must really be nice. It's regular tobacco size.
Another interesting series is a tea card set issued in 1965 by Clover Dairies. The 25 card set is entitled Prehistoric Animals. Detailed descriptions are included on the backs. It's cigarette card sized (approximately 1 3/8 X 2 5/8 inches). The artwork and color are somewhat bland, giving the cards a primitive look. I can't decide if I love them or hate them. (A common complaint of the opposite sex.)
Another primitive art set is the 50 card series issued by Brooke Bond Tea in 1972. Prehistoric Animals are tobacco sized cards with detailed descriptions on the backs written by Dr. Alan Chaig. Let's hope he's a better scholar than Maurice Wilson is an artist! The funny thing is, these cards looks like crayon drawings when compared to the 1963 Brooke Bond series of 48 dinosaurs. That series was gorgeous! And yet nine years later, the quality went dramatically downhill. Isn't man supposed to evolve and get better with time? Unfortunately, this one is from the bottom of the tea kettle... but still worth having. There's only a few dinosaurs in it. Most the animals are from the last 3 million years of so, including Australopithecus, the primitive "ape-man" troglodyte, who bears an uncanny resemblance to my high school PE instructor.
That's it for this journey into the past. Enjoy your summer and keep digging for dinos!
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