Sinclair’s Trachodon captures a moment of history in dinosaur pop culture and science which is gradually growing farther and farther away, but its imagery remains pervasively iconic.
There’s always something new to discover in the collecting hobby – even when it’s technically old. In my case, the discovery in question was the identity of three old dinosaur toys I had recently taken in. As a kid, I had often played with these among a variety of other toys at my grandparents’ house. However, even back then I think I recognized these particular three ones were of a different make than the others – most of which were commonplace Chinese/Hong Kong knockoffs of other brands. As an adult, with renewed curiosity and far greater resources – starting with our very own Dinosaur Toy Forum – I quickly uncovered the identity of the toys in question, and learned a little more about the history of dinosaur toys in the process.
The Sinclair Oil Company remains famous for its green Brontosaurus mascot, but younger generations like myself may be less aware of their contributions to dinosaur pop culture during the 1964-1965 World’s Fair in New York. Sinclair commissioned nine life-size dinosaur statues for the “Sinclair Dinoland” exhibit, which would later go on tour around the country. Many of these statues still exist today, scattered in different locations across the United States. Sinclair produced or commissioned a variety of merchandise to promote the event, which included six small-to-medium-sized plastic figurines sold in bagged sets with an informational booklet. These particular figures can often be mistaken as part of the more famous Marx toy line (a point of confusion not helped by the fact that Sinclair themselves reused Marx’s molds in later years), but Sinclair’s figures are quite distinct in shape and style from their Marx contemporaries when compared directly, and tend to be more rare to boot. Sinclair’s molds were later reused (as well as those of other brands like Tim Mee) by Dimensions For Children (DMC) for their Prehistoric Playsets released in the early 1980s. This means that obtaining these figures and identifying originals can prove to be quite the adventure for collectors. Suddenly my Grandma’s toys were much more special than I expected!
For this review, I’ll be looking at Sinclair’s take on Trachodon – the primary figure responsible for prompting my curiosity. Trachodon mirabilis (marvelous rough tooth) was a common name in older books and artwork, and for a time was probably the most iconic of the “duckbilled” dinosaurs, or hadrosaurs (bulky lizards). However, these days the genus is considered a nomen dubium. The holotype for T. mirabilis was composed of scattered teeth which were ultimately considered nondescript by hadrosaur standards, and so the genus name fell out of use. Interestingly, more recent surveys of the teeth suggest that the animal may have been part of the lambeosaurine family, whereas traditional depictions of Trachodon render the animal similar to the genus currently known as Edmontosaurus (itself formerly known under several names including Anatosaurus and Anatotitan). Other species were described under Trachodon as well, but met similar fates, becoming dubious or classified under entirely different genera. Hadrosaur classification could get messy in the early days, but for the sake of this review, I will assume the subject depicted would now be considered an Edmontosaurus.
Sinclair’s “Dinoland” Trachodon measures roughly 14 cm (5.5 inches) long and 7 cm (2.5 inches) tall. The figure is marked with the genus name, as well as a life size of 32 feet in length – a modest estimate in retrospect, as Edmontosaurus is now considered to reach lengths of 12-15 metres (39-49 ft). Depending on your size preference, the figure can be considered about 1/70 to 1/107 scale. The toy’s silhouette resembles the fiberglass statue produced by Louis Paul Jonas for the Dinoland exhibit, as well as the artwork from the accompanying booklet sold with the toys.
The figure itself is posed mid-saunter in the classic upright posture with its tail dragging on the ground with a gentle curve. It is mostly smooth in texture, but the sculpt emphasizes the shape of the body with surprisingly lifelike effect. A few creases and grooves are sculpted into the neck, flanks, and tail, depicting folds of skin as the creature’s body shifts. Toned muscles are evident in the legs and tail, as well as distinct shoulders which shift forward and back with the swinging of the arms. A wattle of skin runs the length of the throat and a finely veined sail runs down the neck and back, fitting the then-common understanding of hadrosaurs as semi-aquatic animals. The Trachodon‘s head is arched in a sharp S-shape, which while recognized as an anatomical trait among many dinosaurs, looks remarkably similar to large waterfowl in this figure’s case. Even when dinosaurs were considered savage overgrown lizards, their avian connections managed to shine through here and there. The head also bears nice facial features which include perfectly beady-round eyes and even slight indentations for nostrils. The hands and feet, meanwhile, are reduced to nondescript flippers. The overall effect is of an animal with great heft, but with hints of gracefulness, even out of its “natural” aquatic environment (as was commonly believed at the time).
Most older dinosaur toy brands were molded in solid colors and often unpainted; this was true for Sinclair as well. My Trachodon is a modest, flat reddish-brown color, which I find reminiscent of earth or clay. Most original Trachodons have been reported to be either this brown hue, or in a grey hue, however, the figure was later released in a wider variety or brighter colors including green and yellow. A company by the name of Dimensions For Children (DMC) released a set simply titled Prehistoric Playset in the early 1980s, which included recasts of the Sinclair dinosaurs. Barring a few subtle differences, telling apart originals from recasts can be tricky – and let it be known, I am not about to claim any expertise here!
My brown Trachodon bears its label on the lower right side of its belly. Mold circles are present on the right shoulder and ankle, and ridges are scattered on the underside of the figure – possibly a side effect of the molding process. DMC recasts are reported to show different or fewer mold marks, save a possible blister on the throat. Recasts also place the label of the figure on the base of the tail on the left side.
A second and third copy of the Trachodon in my collection, molded in dark green and bright yellow, display most of these traits and can be seen in the provided images. Some DMC recasts would also tend to lose detail; thankfully, in my copies’ cases, this appears not to be true, but it’s a point for collectors to be aware of.
Sinclair’s Trachodon captures a moment of history in dinosaur pop culture and science which is gradually growing farther and farther away, but its imagery remains pervasively iconic. I’m quite charmed by my collection of Trachodons, and would certainly recommend them to fellow collectors who can appreciate old-school dinosaur toys and memorabilia. Be mindful, though: you may have to be patient and diligent in hunting eBay to find one of your own. Alternatively, a newer online shop called Emmitsburg Online Hobbies might be able to help out, too, depending on what’s in stock at any given time. Happy hunting!
I want to give special thanks to Jeffrey Pfeiffer, Mike Fredericks and Doug Watson for their input and advice while I was researching for this review.
We have Sinclair gas stations here in Salt Lake City; they have the large green Brontosaurus statue on display outside )
Happy to see someone else tackling some vintage figures. Really appreciate your deep dive into the history here, one of the most fascinating things about toys like these. Great review, I personally prefer this Trachodon to the Marx one.
Yeah, honestly, although I do like the Marx figure, the difference between the two is night and day. I guess that’s the advantage of about 10 years difference!
A true icon of our hobby with a massive nostalgia buzz. I wish they were more readily available in my country!