Thursday, 13 June 2013

Dinosaur Treasure from the Garage!

The garage at my parent's old house was only ever used for the car on a handful of occasions. There were two main reasons for this -  the first was that the driveway was ridiculously steep.  But the second (and more prominent reason) was that the garage was filled with childhood memorabilia.

The garage was something of an Aladdin’s cave of family history. You were hardly likely to find something valuable in the conventional sense of the word, but you might find something interesting. Photo albums, childhood books, toys—I still remember spending hours poring over my father’s extensive collection of Beatles magazines from the 1960s. I don’t know if he still has them, but I suspect they’d be worth something to a collector these days.
A couple of years ago mum and dad moved to their current address, necessitating a clean-out of the various items that had been accumulating for so many years. Plenty of old stuff went into the bin or to the local charity store, as might be expected. But not all of it…

Flash forward to the June long weekend of 2013 – my wife and myself I were visiting my parent’s place, so I decided to take a look through some of my old stuff in their garage. The main purpose was to look for childhood artefacts, which I could hopefully mine for blogs (and possibly eBay).

One of the more interesting items was the Dinosaur Fact File binder.

The Dinosaur Fact File was one of those magazine series that you buy from a newsagent or direct marketing company ($2.95 for the first part, $9.95 for every part thereafter – you know the type). Every couple of weeks or so, you’d receive a pack of sheets, which were meant to be inserted into slots within the binder itself. Dinosaur profiles, trivia, interesting facts, accompanied with great illustrations in an edutainment format. Most of the information presented was not particularly earth-shattering, but it put the spotlight on a few dinos that don’t usually get the same level of public affection as T-Rex and velociraptors. Some may not really see the point of this colection when much of this information was already available elsewhere, but the late 1990s were a time when the internet was not in such easy reach as it is for the kids today – dinosaur devotees needed to spend big chunks of time searching through books for dinosaur information. You couldn’t just Google it and have everything you needed to know within five minutes like you can now!
Additionally, sets like this appeal to serial collectors like myself. There have been plenty of things I've bought lots of over the years - regardless of how silly they were - solely so I'd have a complete set. I suspect I'm not alone in this, either.
Back on topic - particularly interesting were the short comics that covered various aspects of the history of dinosaur discovery, such as The Bone Wars between Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope. We tend to think of palaeontologists as being fairly formal and staid, but it seems that in the early days things were much more comparable to Indiana Jones. Their aggressive rivalry to document new breeds was a fascinating and (now) oft-overlooked era in recent history. I was quite hooked at the time. Just thinking about it now makes me want to hit up Wikipedia (or perhaps something a bit more *ahem* scholarly) and read about it again, this time with an adult's perspective.  


But the arguable highlight was the 3-D pages. As a child, I was something of a sucker for optical illusions – Magic Eye Books, holographic stickers – you know the drill. These red-green 3-D images were incredibly cool. Looking at them at them at the time, and even now, I tend to think that they must have used miniatures for at least some of them. This sort of 3-D was a bit old-fashioned even by the 1990s, but it's amazing how gimmicks like this can hook kids.
Images aside, one of the things I enjoyed most of all about this section was the 3-D glasses themselves, which were in the shape of a roaring T-Rex. Some of the best 3-D glasses I’ve ever seen, if not THE best. Of course, what actually happened to them between when I got them 15 years ago and now is a complete mystery. They may have been lost during a house move, or simply chucked out when I hit my teen years.
On a more general note, the 1990s were a great time to be a dinosaur fan. Dinosaurs are almost universally admired among young boys, no matter the decade, but the 1990s had the edge over many other decades. Why? Well, I tend to think it’s because of Jurassic Park. The film version of Michael Crichton’s novel was released to huge fanfare in 1993, helping to spark a whole new wave of interest in these magnificent beasts. The movie has contributed its own share of public misconceptions – the velociraptors being one of the best-known examples – but I tend to think the film was on the whole positive for the dinosaur world. While public interest leads to crappy cash-in products, it can also mean increased financial support for legitimate scientific adventures. And if nothing else, no other movie has come close to conveying how terrifying a Tyrannosaurus attack might actually be.
I showcased this binder on Facebook the other day, and was reminded by a friend that one of the main drawcards of this series was actually a glow-in-the-dark T-Rex skeleton. Each edition came with a few more pieces from the plastic kit, which you could eventually assemble. I’m pretty sure that I completed the T-Rex, and I think that I may have even started on a second dinosaur – though by this point the whole enterprise had become quite expensive, and was discontinued.
The T-Rex himself has been lost to time, just like the glasses. From memory some of the pieces got broken, which of course rendered him fairly useless. Disappointing, but not the end of the world. And, these days I have a substantially nicer T-Rex skeleton, which also glows in the dark – as mentioned in a previous Lupine Book Club entry.
Information about this series seems to be fairly scarce online, which leads me to suspect it probably wasn’t quite the success that its creators hoped. It seems likely that it was at least partially intended to ride the Jurassic Park train. It came out around the time of its sequel, The Lost World – a movie which was fun enough at the time, but not a patch on the original.
Nonetheless, the Dinosaur Fact File was a fun read. But it’s done its time in my hands – time to pass it on to a new generation of dinosaur fans, I think.

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