One of the fun aspects of researching American children’s periodicals and books before 1873 is seeing how they deal with prehistory. It’s interesting to see how writers dealt with the increasing disconnect between religious tradition and scientific explanation. But it’s especially entertaining to watch dinosaurs change with decades.

Okay, mostly one dinosaur: the iguanodon. The first American work for children to show dinosaur illustrations appears to be the frontispiece of Peter Parley’s Wonders of the Earth, Sea, and Sky, reworked by Samuel Griswold Goodrich from one in a British book as Goodrich asserted ownership of his creation: “Peter Parley.”

EarthfrHere are the pterosaur, the plesiosaur, and the ichthyosaur, which in the nineteenth century belly-crawled on land because it hadn’t yet been established as a water-dweller.

Goodrich appears also to have published the first illustration of an iguanodon for children in Robert Merry’s Museum in 1842. It’s … unfamiliar:

Iguanodon, from Robert Merry's Museum, 1842The mighty (and mighty low-slung) iguanodon roars to the sky, while a duckish plesiosaur glides serenely through a prehistoric pool. It will look familiar to anyone who’s seen the first volume of The Wonders of Geology, by Gideon Mantell; the frontispiece is John Martin’s “The Country of the Iguanodon,” with an iguanodon which is lunching on one reptile roaring in pain as it is attacked by another reptile. The iguanodon in the Museum is the middle dinosaur in Martin’s picture.

It looks fairly sleek by comparison with one appearing in The Children’s Friend thirty years later:

1872ChFrPAIt’s … Hmm.

illustration of a short-legged dinosaurIt’s sturdy, low-browed, no-necked—almost stereotypically Neanderthalish. At least it’s off the ground.

And it’s accompanied by some old friends:

ichthy1872It’s our old pal, the ichthyosaur, still scrambling about on the land! And is that the plesiosaur beside it? (The stocky little critter in the foreground looks almost un-reptilian.)

The later iguanodon shows up in the work of Waterhouse Hawkins, who made life-size recreations of dinosaurs for a London park. We’ve changed it again: the horn that 19th-century naturalists put on its nose is now believed to be the thumb.

I like the 21st-century iguanodon, but I rather miss the seal-like version from 1842.

(Oddly enough, while the word “dinosaur” was first used in England in 1841, it hasn’t yet shown up in any pre-1873 works for children that I’ve seen. Stay tuned.)