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Dinosaur-Mail: Postal Service, Prehistoric Pop-Art & Plagiarism

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The first postage stamp featuring a prehistoric beast was a stamp from India (1951), celebrating the centenary of the Geological Survey of India it showed the reconstruction of the fossil elephant species Stegodon ganesca. In 1958 Cuba released a stamp dedicated to the naturalist Carlos de la Torre y Huerta (1858 – 1950), showing the giant sloth Megalocnus rodens.
In the same year China issued the very first stamp showing a dinosaur – the Chinese prosauropod Lufengosaurus. Belgium followed with the more prominent Iguanodon. From there dinosaurs will appear on postage stamps from Poland and San Marino (1965), Congo (1975), Germany (1977), Mongolia and Nicaragua (1987). The U.S. will dedicate four values to Pteranodon, Tyrannosaurus, Brontosaurus and Stegosaurus in 1989.

Fig.1.The small republic of San Marino issued a series of nine values, showing a Brontosaurus, Brachiosaurus, Pteranodon, Elasmosaurus, Tyrannosaurus, Stegosaurus, Thaumatosaurus, Iguanodon and Triceratops -mostly in dull colors (all images are in public domain).

Fig.2. An interesting series of psychedelic postage stamps from Tanzania (1991), presenting the first (very) colorful dinosaurs.

Fig.3. Many editions of stamps with dinosaurs are intended for collectors – therefore often more aesthetic appealing as scientific accurate. Sometimes the motif is even simply copied from other artists or publications, like these two specimens, copies from the Saltopus by Jane Burton and the Tyrannosaurus by Doug Henderson.

Fig.4. The first postage stamps showing tracks of dinosaurs were released in Lesotho in 1984.

Fig.5. Evolutionary ladder in a Polish edition, illustrations by artist Andrzej Heidrich (he designed also advertising posters and Polish banknotes).

Fig.6. Not only “living dinosaurs”  – a German series (1990) celebrates with dinosaur-skeletons 100 years Museum for Natural History in Berlin.

Fig.7. The End…

Bibliography:

THENIUS, E. & VAVRA, N. (1996): Fossilien im Volksglauben und im Alltag – Bedeutung und Verwendung vorzeitlicher Tier- und Pflanzenreste von der Steinzeit bis heute. Senckenberg-Buch 71, Waldemar Kramer Verlag – Frankfurt am Main: 179

David Bressan About the Author: Freelance geologist dealing with quaternary outcrops interested in the history and the development of geological concepts through time. Follow on Twitter @David_Bressan.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.



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  1. 1. ErnestPayne 5:28 pm 03/4/2013

    The stamps are relatively easy to find mint or cancelled to order. If you want a real challenge try to find them postally used from some of these smaller countries.

    Link to this
  2. 2. paleophilatelist 5:09 am 12/2/2014

    Nice, brief overview of Prehistoric Animals on stamps !
    Just few more highlights
    * First post item with dinosaur image is from USA.
    From the nineteen thirties until the fifties, the Sinclair Oil Company used this meter franking, as well as regular ad to advertise their motor oil. They chose a dinosaur as company logo as a symbol of the great length of time their oil spent in the ground.
    * The first FDC (First Day Cover) shows a dinosaur is coming from USA too. On 09.08.1946 a stamp was issued to celebrate the centenary of the Smithsonian Institution.
    The stamp itself shows the Smithsonian’s buildings in Washington but an illustration on the left side of the cover shows a sauropod, most likely a Diplodocus.

    More details about Milestones of Paleontology related Philately are here: http://www.paleophilatelie.eu/stamps_milestones.html

    Link to this

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