The Metropolitan Museum of Mesozoic Memorabilia
I have been fascinated all my life with dinosaurs and their
depiction in drawings, paintings, fiction and non-fiction. I have
a calling card I hand out that says "I collect anything
concerning prehistoric animals, especially children's books,
historical documents, science fiction, paper american, museum
guides, art, sculpture, and antique toys."
Illustration from "The Enormous Egg"
Oliver Butterworth, my favorite book as a child
This collection has grown so large that my friends now call it the
Metropolitan Museum of Mesozoic Memorabilia. According to Don Glut,
who wrote The Dinosaur Scrapbook, it is the largest
print collection of its kind. (He still has the largest private
collection of three-dimensional dinosaur stuff — fossils and models
My public appearances began in the spring of 1980 when I gave an
exhibition called DINOSAURABILIA at the home office of the
Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, which showcased my collection of
memorabilia about dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals. The
pamphlet I distributed said:
"In one way or other I have been building this collection all my
life (I'm 34). It includes:
"It all started when I was five. My father used to take the
family to the American Museum of Natural History, where I'd gape
at the gigantic dinosaur skeletons and run to the bookshop for
souvenirs. Then my father took me to my first movie, The Beast
from 20,000 Fathoms. I was so excited that when the dinosaur
finally appeared on the screen I threw up. I soon found the word
'paleontology' in the dictionary and started using it to amaze my
friends. Ends of the Earth, by Roy Chapman Andrews, told me just
how to find dinosaur eggs in the Gobi desert. By this time I had
a dinosaur fever of 105 degrees.
"Although I have not chosen paleontology as a profession, my
interest in man's fascination with prehistoric animals has never
waned. I correspond with 300 rare book dealers, and advertise in
antiques and collectibles magazines. I gather up duplicates to
trade with fellow collectors. On a slow day I'll even write
dinosaur limmericks, or coin words like paleophily and
sauropodiatry. I guess you could say I'm a . . .
Over the years, a few other people have written up this collection
too. Here are some of the articles that have appeared:
1982: "America's Top
Dinosaur Hunter" by Tom Hanley, Collectibles
Thorough albeit early coverage of my collection. Nowadays, of course,
it's much bigger and fiercer. Great picture of me, too. Please think I
still look like that.
Collectibles" by Dean Hannotte, Warman's Americana &
Still valid advice on how to start your own museum.
1989: "Here A Gronk,
There A Gronk, Everywhere A Gronk Gronk" by Lenore Skenazy from
her New York Daily News Sunday Magazine "Only in New York"
Lousy title, great interview.
Saurians in Popular Culture", by Richard Milner, The Encyclopedia
Nice to get credit for something once in awhile, even if
it's just a word you made up.
1992: "Living With
Dinosaurs: Inside the mind of a man who makes fantasy seem real"
by Miriam Bensimhon, Life Magazine, October.
After a three hour interview, Miriam quotes my opinion that
dinosaurs were big. Nail it, Mir.
1992: "Dean Hannotte,
Dinosaurabilia Collector", by Daniel and Susan Cohen, Where to
Find Dinosaurs Today, Dutton.
From an accurate and fun book by two of the best children's
"Interview with Dean Hannotte", by Tony Campagna,
Prehistoric Times No. 48, June/July 2001, pp. 49-51
America's Top Dinosaur Hunter
by Tom Hanley
Remember all those science fiction films where dinosaur-like
monsters trampled Japanese cities; the comic book heroes who fought
dinosaurs in timewarp battles, and the children's stories you used to
read about the "friendly dinosaur"?
Dean Hannotte remembers.
Showing off my favorite T. Rex
(click to enlarge)
Dinosaurs have played a big part in Hannotte's life ever since he
received his first set of plastic prehistoric creatures as a gift at
the age of ten. "I remember haunting the American Museum of Natural
History as a kid, staring at the huge dinosaur skeletons for hours,"
the 34-year-old collector recalled. "I read all the books on
paleontology I could find and sent in a mountain of cereal boxtops to
receive dinosaur-related giveaways."
Ten years ago Hannotte, an affable bachelor, decided to pick up
where he had left off as a boy. "Dinosaurabilia" became his passion as
he embarked on an odyssey through used book stores and flea markets in
search of prehistoric creatures. "I'm more intrigued by man's
fascination with the idea of prehistoric monsters than the actual
creatures themselves," Hannotte explained. The results of that
fascination fill his New York City apartment — which is literally
crammed from floor to ceiling with dinosaur memorabilia. Included
among the assemblage are more than 1000 books, as well as films,
records, newspaper stories, postcards, puzzles and games, all with
dinosaur themes. Over 300 dinosaur toys of all shapes and sizes can
also be found in the collection, including a large red plastic
tyrannosaurus with menacing teeth, produced by the Aurora model
company. Hannotte purchased it from the back of a candy box in 1974
Motion pictures have often turned to dinosaur subjects in their
quest to attract movie-goers. The first commercially successful
animated feature was "Gertie the Dinosaur" (1909), a film short by
cartoonist Winsor McKay. Among the dinosaur's great moments on the
silver screen, Hannotte feels, was the 1925 film adaptation of Sir
Arthur Conan Doyle's novel, "Lost World", and the 1931 classic "King
Kong". Dinosaur battles in both films were produced under the guidance
of legendary special-effects wizard Willis O'Brien. "The technical
work behind the dinosaurs in these films remains far superior to
anything else ever attempted. All the animals look like they stepped
right out of paleontology books."
Hannotte explained that dinosaurs first captured the American
public's imagination in the 1880s and '90s, when fossil discoveries in
the West touched off what Hannotte called "a bone rush." Newspaper
headlines proclaiming new discoveries almost daily whipped fossil
fever to a frenzy. "Even the American Museum of Natural History got
into the act when it auctioned off a dinosaur egg for $5000 during the
height of the craze," Hannotte said. The egg was found in the Gobi
Desert, and when the Chinese government got word of the sale, it
closed the desert to further exploration, keeping it off limits to
archaeologists until the 1940s.
Despite the dinosaur's place in American history and folklore,
Hannotte stands virtually alone as a collector of dinosaurabilia.
"I've yet to meet anyone else who collects the stuff on this scale,"
he stated. He is working to correct that. It is typical of him to send
a visitor home with a shopping bag filled with duplicate dinosaur
books, "just to start off their collection." In fact, books — comic
books, pulps, magazines and hardcover volumes — make up the largest
portion of the Hannotte dinosaur collection. Over the collector's bed,
a tyrannosaurus crushes an armored tank on the cover of a pulp
magazine of World War II vintage which reads: "Blitzkrieg in the
Past." "I don't think there's any book on dinosaurs in the last 30
years that I don't have," Hannotte ventured to say. He has achieved
this be regularly combing used book stores around Manhattan and
keeping up correspondence with 300 book dealers around the
Turning to specific titles on his shelves, he noted, "Here's the
rarest book in my collection, a 1902 dinosaur takeoff on "Alice in
Wonderland" called "Wonders in Monsterland." Other eye-catching titles
stand out, such as "I Married a Dinosaur" and "Bring Them Back
Petrified", both by Lillian Brown, wife of the late Barnum Brown, a
noted paleontologist who made extensive expeditions in search of
Comic books have long been fertile terrain for dinosaurs and
Hannotte has accumulated boxes of them, including the popular "Turok,
Son of Stone" series and DC Comics' "Star Spangled War Stories," in
which dinosaurs battled with airplanes. "Even Mickey Mouse and Goofy
went back on occasion to the prehistoric era," Hannotte said.
One of the biggest producers of dinosaur items was the now defunct
Sinclair Oil Company, which used a dinosaur for its corporate symbol.
The friendly Sinclair brontosaurus appeared in advertisements as well
as company literature, many of which have found their way into
Hannotte's collection. "The company gave away dinosaur banks, jigsaw
puzzles, stamp albums and inflatable toys," the collector said.
Ironically, like the dinosaur, Sinclair was doomed to eventual
extinction. The company logo disappeared in 1969 as a result of a
merger with Atlantic Richfield.
Dinosaurs have appeared on all sorts of media over the years.
Unlike baseball cards, America never went in big for dinosaur trading
cards. "The few available are quite expensive today, going for as much
as $2 apiece," he said. One such series, consisting of 60 cards, was
issued by Nucards Sales of Seaford, New York, in the early 1960s.
"They're quite difficult to find," Hannotte explained. Foreign
companies, on the other hand, have a history of producing dinosaur
trading cards. Perhaps the most lavish set ever produced was issued by
an Italian firm, Panini, in 1970. "The set contains 360 cards and are
the largest I've ever seen," Hannotte remarked.
Showing off my favorite Brontosaur
(click to enlarge)
"Precious" is the word the dinosaur collector uses when asked to
assess the value of his collection. Hannotte figures he's spent at
least $10,000 during the past decade acquiring his treasures. "But I
really can't say what the value is," he admitted, explaining further
that there is no one qualified to appraise such a collection.
"Dinosaur memorabilia has not established its own market, simply
because there's not enough people collecting the stuff. For example,
dinosaur figurines done by Charles Knight, the premiere paleontologist
artist in the country back in 1892, are in one sense very valuable, as
they are hard to find. But on the other hand, it would be equally hard
to find people who would want them in the first place."
Hannotte has reached the point where his greatest pleasure comes in
simply enjoying the items he has acquired. "I don't make quite as many
extended forays to New Jersey book sales as I once did." He still
maintains hope of someday finding others who share his appreciation
"It's difficult to explain," Hannotte said. "All I know is that,
for me, the hours spent combing racks on a bookstore ladder and
getting crooked knees, just to have the thrill of finding an elusive
dinosaur gem like "The Book of Prehistoric Animals", written in 1935
by Raymond Ditmars, keeper of the Bronx Zoo, are all worthwhile."
reprinted from the July/August 1982
issue of "Collectibles Illustrated".
by Dean Hannotte
Collecting Hints: Don't look at the National Gallery of Art,
Sotheby's or any branch of Bloomingdale's. Do scout the corner candy
store, the five and dime, Sunday comics, children's artwork and
poetry, and Macy's toy department on Christmas eve. For dinoamericana
of past decades raid flea markets, garage sales, church bazaars and
book and antique dealers. With any luck you will soon have more
dinosaur books, cards, clothes, coins, comics, figurines, films,
glassware, jewelry, models, novelties, postcards, posters, promos,
pulps, puzzles, slides, souvenirs, stamps and toys than you will know
what to do with.
History: Dinosaur collectibles, known as
dinosaurabilia, are found in every nook and cranny of
modern American culture. We are the only civilized nation to have
erected a national monument to the dinosaur, though we did our best to
hide it away in Utah.
The first edition (1984) of "Warman's
Americana and Collectibles" (click to enlarge)
The dinosaur holds roughly the same place in the American mythos as
does the dragon in Europe; but we seem to have taken this love affair
to indecent extremes. Long before they can remember the names of five
U.S. presidents, children of both genders routinely rattle off vital
statistics of whole families of prehistoric reptiles, astounding their
elders with Latin scientific names delivered trippingly on the tongue.
The world's first dinosaur skeleton was described in 1858 by Dr.
Joseph Leidy, curator of the Academy of Natural Sciences of
Philadelphia. In the late 19th century, Edward Drinker Cope and
Othniel Charles Marsh waged their celebrated war over the fossil
fields of the West, making the dinosaur a household word. Fanciful
exaggerated drawings of antediluvian monsters began usurping the space
usually reserved for redskins on the warpath in all the Sunday
Natural history museums began mounting complete skeletons in
awe-inspiring poses, providing dramatic and concrete evidence for the
idea of biological evolution. In no time at all the hucksters and
capitalizers moved in, charging admission to fraudulent finds and
selling worthless fragments of cattle bones for outrageous prices.
Still, many interesting and valuable pieces of Americana survive from
these hectic years in the form of museum postcards, newspaper
clippings and, for the purist, airy scientific publications.
In the 20th century, Hollywood rushed in where devils feared not to
tread. Many allusions to prehistoric life can be found in the short
subjects of the period, including those of D. W. Griffith. But it was
not until 1925 that the first authentic classic of the paleocinema
arrived in the form of Willis O'Brien's "The Lost World," followed in
1932 by O'Brien's "King Kong" with its lovingly crafted monsters based
exclusively on the superb scientific illustrations of Charles R.
The American public no longer had any doubts about its unofficial
national mascot. O'Brien and his successor, Ray Harryhausen, have done
more to fan the flames of international paleomania, and are better
known, than all the dedicated paleontologists who made the original
Dinosaurs and their prehistoric friends had a foothold they would
not begin to relinquish until spaceships began landing men on the
The term dinosaur, incidentally, refers only to
land-dwelling reptiles. Anyone who collects dinosaur material also
will be interested in flying reptiles, sea dwelling reptiles and
prehistoric mammals, such as the mastodon the sabre-tooth tiger. For
an authoritative account of the origin and evolution of modern
dinosaurabilia, refer to The Dinosaur Scrapbook.
References: Donald F. Glut, The Dinosaur Scrapbook,
Citadel Press, 1980; Sylvia Massey Czerkas and Donald F. Glut,
Dinosaurs, Mammoths and Cavemen: The Art of Charles R. Knight,
Dutton, 1982; William Stout, illustrator, The Dinosaurs,
Bantam, 1981. Also see books by L. B. Halstead, Britain's currently
reigning king of the tyrant lizards.
Periodical: News Bulletin, Society of Vertebrate
Paleontology, Florida State Museum, University of Florida,
Gainesville, FL 32611.
Collectors Clubs: The Dinosaur Club, P.O. Box 164, Kingston
Upon Thames, Surrey KT1 3SQ, England. Publishes The Dinosaur
Times, quarterly; Dinosaur Nature Association, c/o Executive
Secretary, Jensen, Utah 84035. Organized in 1956 to assist the
National Park Service with educational activities at Dinosaur National
Monument. Annual membership: $1.00, no benefits except membership card
with stegosaurus printed on it; a group of German philatelists who
specialize in paleontology, geology, mineralogy and speleology can be
reached care of Johan Chr. van Soeren, Steinknock 3, 8520
Erlangen-Sieglitzhof, West Germany.
Museums: Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA;
American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY; Carnegie Museum of
Natural History, Pittsburgh, PA; U. S. National Museum of Natural
History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
The Academy of Natural Sciences, under the direction of Hollister
Knowlton, is assembling a new hall on dinosaur paleontology with
special emphasis on the dinosaur's impact on popular culture as seen
through the newspapers, science fiction, children's toys and other
types of collectibles.
Park: Dinosaur National Monument, Jensen, Utah.
reprinted from Warman's Americana & Collectibles, 1984.
Here A Gronk, There A Gronk, Everywhere A Gronk Gronk
by Lenore Skenazy
Dinosaur scholars visiting New York journey first to the American
Museum of Natural History, then speed down to East Ninth Street.
There, in a cramped and cat fur-filled apartment, a genial man named
Dean Hannotte introduces them to four friendly felines and one of the
world's largest collections of dinosaurabilia — everything
dinosauresque, except for (this is, after all, his apartment)
Lenore thought this an appropriate illustration
Dinos flowered in the land from about 200 million years ago to
about 70 million years ago. In graspable city terms, that's a 130
million-year lease. By comparison, man's been renting here for a mere
million and a half. "We're like a little experiment," chuckles
Hannotte, in real life a computer programmer. "It's not clear if
we're going to do well on this planet, but they were
definitely survivors. The question is not why they died. It's 'What
made them so successful?'"
Another question is: What has made Dean so keen on collecting every
dinosaur children's book written since 1880 — not to mention every
dino figurine, puzzle, comic book, trading card, rubber stamp, oil
painting, and dish towel? (The latter is hanging damp in the kitchen;
this is not a man who keeps his collection behind glass.)
The answer, as with so many Mysteries of Life, lies in the Bronx.
"My dad took me to see 'The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms' when I was
about 6," recalls Parckchester-born Dean. "When the dinosaur came on,
I was excited in a way I'd never been. I immediately ran to the
bathroom and threw up." That's amore.
Later on, the American Museum of Natural History played its role,
too. The skeletons there also inspired several of his friends; one,
Richie Mirissis of Staten Island, now boasts the world's largest
collection of Godzillabilia. "We created our own fields," says Dean.
"I dig in bookstores and thrift shops for my artifacts. I'm in touch
with 500 collectors all over the world — Sweden, Europe, Japan. I'm
as much an excavator as any paleontologist. I just do it on different
Scholars recognize amateur Dean as a bona fide expert: The Academy
of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia invited him to consult on its
"Discovering Dinosaurs" exhibit, slides from his collection were
screened recently at our own American Museum of Natural History, and
he's lectured at the prestigious (well, fun) Dinomania Festival at
Dinosaur State Park in Connecticut.
The search for real dinosaur relics began about 1870 in America,
with fierce rivals Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope
"competing out west to find bones," reports Dean. "They were so
competitive they'd blow up each other's finds and hire Indians to
At that time, "dino-mania became what dragon-mania is in Europe,"
Dean Explains. Until then, America didn't have a monster to call its
own. "All the stories about dragons concerned European history. When
dinosaurs were found in this country, we finally had our own beast."
In the yellowed newspaper clippings Dean collects, dinosaurs are
most often pictured cavorting down Broadway or up the Flatiron
Building, linking their history with our own. And perhaps we really do
have something in common with them: These prehistoric predators
commingled with the cockroach throughout their entire history. Only
the cockroach survived.
reprinted from her March 19, 1989 "Only in New York" column
in the New York Daily News Sunday Magazine.
Dinosaurabilia: Saurians in Popular Culture
by Richard Milner
Two-hundred years ago no one had even heard of a dinosaur. Today
children play with dinosaur toys, visit Dinosaur National Monument,
even eat dinosaur-shaped breakfast cereals. During the 1980s a
veritable explosion of dinosaur merchandising swept America, replacing
Teddy bears and Disney characters as the most ubiquitous image in
The term "Dinosaurabilia" was coined in 1980 by
Dean Hannotte, a Manhattan
computer expert whose passion is collecting anything connected with
dinosaurs. Hannotte has assembled thousands of rare items, ranging
from original paintings by Charles R. Knight (the father of dinosaur
art) to early paleontological books, cereal premiums, toys, night
lights, stereopticon slides, inflatables, jewelry, cards, models kits,
neckties, pulp magazines, soaps and comic books.
My calling card (click to enlarge)
Among the quality collectibles are the line of Sinclair Oil Company
premiums, glassware and stamp books issued at gas stations in the
1930s and 1950s with the company's "Dino" logo. Rare illustrated books
by artists such as Knight and the Czech painter Zdenek Burian are also
coveted, as are promotional materials from early dinosaur movies,
including the original King Kong (1933), with its classic
dinosaur scenes based on Knight's illustrations. The most
authoritative account of the origin and evolution of dinosaurabilia is
The Dinosaur Scrapbook (1980), written by Donald F. Glut, one
of the world's champion collectors of Dinosaurabilia.
reprinted from The Encyclopedia of Evolution, 1990.
Living With Dinosaurs:
Inside the mind of a man who makes fantasy seem real
by Miriam Bensimhon
Dinosaurs are America's national monsters, as much a part of our
historical mythology as dragons are to Europe's. Like so much that is
American, this mythology is of fairly recent vintage, having its
origins in that place where science meets pop culture. (Remember
Godzilla? Or Sinclair Oil's Dino?) But relative newness doesn't
limit our fascination with things dinosaurian. Paleontologists do
their part — discovering, on average, a new dinosaur every seven
weeks — and the media do theirs. Who can blame them? Peter Dodson,
coeditor of The Dinosauria, claims "Slap a dinosaur on anything
and it'll sell." And Sheryl Leach, who created PBS's Barney, admits
that her dinosaur was originally a teddy bear. Then she took her son
to a dinosaur exhibit. "I thought, 'Why not capiitalize on the appeal
Cover of "The Enormous Egg"
But what is the appeal? "Dinosaurs remind us of our
smallness," claims Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park, a
novel in which dinosaurs are brought back to life. "It used to be that
people saw the stars. Now people live in cities and are not reminded
daily of their place in the universe. Dinosaurs give us that
perspective. And anxiety about the environment translates into renewed
New York collector
Dean Hannotte, who calls his assortment of stuff the
Metropolitan Museum of Mesozoic Memorabilia, agrees: "You can't help
but be struck in your soul by the gigantism of these animals." Perhaps
that's why kids love dinosaurs — because they're big (and scary) like
grown-ups. But Smithsonian paleontologist Michael Brett-Surman thinks
it has to do with "Big, like power, not parents." San Francisco child
psychologist Stevanne Auerbach seconds that. "Kinds can control and
master scaled-down dinosaur toys, even though they know dinosaurs were
much bigger." But Don Lessem, a writer who founded the Dinosaur
Society, which raises money for dinosaur research and public
education, says, "I prefer the simple explanation: Dinosaurs are
reprinted from the October 1992 issue of "Life Magazine".