Monday, February 14, 2011

Old Dinosaur Illustration of the Day

So here's the deal. I didn't think I was going to have much time for today's entry, so I thought, "Oh, I'll just toss onto the blog a cool old illustration of dinosaurs that I have laying around1 and be done with it. I won't really need to say anything."


Now, part of the reason I wasn't going to write much about this illustration featuring pterodactyls, monstrous sea creatures and -- for some reason -- a solemn stork (in the upper-right corner), is that I didn't know what book it was from. It was a loose-leaf page that had been pulled from an unsalvageable, falling-apart old book a while back. But while I found the illustration interesting and worth keeping2, I stupidly didn't bother to make a note of the book it was from.

The other side of the illustration has a page of text, but no obvious indicators of the book's title. So I decided, just for the heck of it, to type a sentence from that page into Google:

"Another reptile allied to the pterodactyle lived in this epoch."

The Internet is a scary thing, sometimes.

And so it's clear this page and illustration are from an 1887 children's non-fiction book by Henry Davenport Northrop. I was going to type the book's title, but to heck with that. Instead, here is a facsimile image of the title page, from the Google eBook:

(That title makes "The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?" seem like a short title by comparison.)

So now that the mystery has been lessened and we know what book this illustration came from, what else can we learn?

Well, we can learn that you can find interesting stuff if you accidentally type the wrong name into Google. I meant to enter the author's name, "Henry Davenport Northrop," into the search engine. But, for some reason, I typed "Henry David Northrop" instead.

And I got an interesting hit! Because somebody else got his name wrong, too.

The following anecdote about Northrop's book comes from a 2008 message-board post on, of all places, the official Rifftrax forum3. Here's the post by user "basselope" that discusses his then-recent acquisition of the book:

Pardon the epic reply, but this is a story I've never told to anyone but my wife.

Earth, Sea and Sky by Henry David Northrop, printed in 1887, the only printing I'm aware of.

It may sound silly at first, but I've been wanting this one since I was about ten years old. When I was a little stinker My mother would take me to my Great Grandmother's house the next state over about once a year. Her home was rather Spartan and very Great Grandmotherly (read: not much for a little stinker to do.) I don't know how it started, but every time we would visit her I would make a beeline for one of her books. It had pictures of animals, stars, deep sea life, and even Dragons and Dinosaurs. And there was something intangible about that book that just drew me in. It felt ancient and a little bit mysterious with it's guilt leather binding, filigree lettering here and there and the black and white ink illustrations. I loved that book.

My Great Grandmother passed on when I was, oh, I guess around 6 years old. When we went to her house to gather her things, my Mother handed me the book and told me Gran'ma wanted me to have it. I don't know whether or not they had ever actually discussed the book and, frankly, it doesn't matter. Nothing on this earth could have touched me more than that.

As I grew and could read better I began to notice something odd about that book. It had always been a mystery and I was determined that I would be able to read it one day, but things just didn't seem right. Eventually I figured out that the copy I had was a salesman's copy. The binding was split into samples of the four different options, the text was only partial and skipped around quite a bit, and even then it was printed in four lettering styles and three languages. To say I was disappointed would be a gross understatement.

Jump forward to a few weeks ago. After years of off-and-on searching, I found a copy in reasonable condition on an auction site. I was sweating bullets waiting for the auction to end, scared to death someone would out bid me. Turns out there's not a big demand for this particular tome... go figure! I was the only bidder. Once I got it in my grubby little hands I was elated. It was at least twice as thick as my sales copy and, except for the cover, it was in beautiful condition.

I don't have anything else to add, except that I'm now kicking myself for only keeping this single illustrated page from Northrop's book, even if it was falling apart and unsalvageable. I should have kept the whole thing and let it pass down to future generations.

That concludes today's entry. I was originally going to apologize for its length.

Instead, I will apologize for its length.

1. Doesn't everyone?
2. My name is Chris, and I hoard ephemera.
3. This entry couldn't get any weirder if it tried.


  1. Mr. Northrop wrote many a strange book back in the late 1800's.

    Chris - I share your interest in ephemera, both my partner and I do. Lately I've been on a roll finding some of the strangest books I've ever seen, and the illustrations in them, the steel engravings, are the stuff of nightmares.

    One wonders how some of this was ever published......

    I'll be watching you -

    oh - are you on Facebook? Sorry, but I prefer them to Titter...


  2. Chris, you're right - the internet is an interesting place. While searching for information related to the sales copy of this book, which I have had as a child, I saw a Google preview of someone seemingly discussing just this scenario. "No Way!" I thought. Turns out I was the dummy who got the author's middle name wrong... and I had no idea until I read your post :oP

    I'm very glad you found my words worth re-posting, warts and all. It's really a very good book and surprisingly accurate for the time. You may be happy to know that you can download the full book at (187MB pdf)
    (no really!)