Well, it’s official! It’s been a year in the making, but I’m finally able to talk about it: Canada Post’s sensational new stamp series, Dinos of Canada.
I got involved with the project early on, when Canada Post asked me to be the scientific advisor for the stamps. My duties were twofold: to help decide which prehistoric animals would be featured on the stamps, and to vet the artwork and related text for accuracy.
I initially came up with a list of 24 dinosaurs and other prehistoric organisms as possible contenders for the stamps. These contenders ranged from all parts of Canada, all branches of the Tree of Life, and all periods of the geologic timescale. Narrowing down the contestants to just five species was difficult, and there were many worthy animals that did not make the cut.
For each of the finalists, I benefited from having direct access to superb fossil remains from each one, all held in our museum’s national fossil collection. The Canadian Museum of Nature, in fact, has the type specimens for Ornithomimus edmontonicus, Chasmosaurus belli, and Euoplocephalus tutus. These are the first of their kind used to describe the species, and have immense scientific and historical value.
We wanted to be able to say something interesting about each of the featured species, and to draw a connection to Canada—to the places where they were found and to the people they honour.
For example, the ostrich-mimic Ornithomimus edmontonicus is named after a rock unit called the Edmonton Formation where it was found, which itself is named after the city of Edmonton.
The name of the horned dinosaur Chasmosaurus belli likewise honours Robert Bell, a former natural sciences professor at Queen’s University, and administrative head of the Geological Survey of Canada.
There are many scientific subtleties on the stamps that I hope won’t go undetected. Did you notice that the Ornithomimus has wings? Or that the Tylosaurus has a tail fluke? Or that the nostril of the Chasmosaurus is positioned forward on its face, as opposed to back towards its nasal horn? These are all scientific findings that have only come to light in recent years.
Of course, my work as scientific advisor was made easy by collaborating with one of the most renowned palaeo-artists in the world, Julius Csotonyi. Julius’ sharp eye and aesthetic sense do justice to these great beasts in a way that simple scientific descriptions never could, and I would be remiss if I didn’t pay him tribute.
Designer Andrew Perro is likewise deserving of accolades for his well-executed contribution. How much more realistic do those dinosaurs appear popping out at you from those stamps? It’s as if the badlands in the background (expertly photographed by Judy Arndt) have given up their deathly grip so that the dinosaurs (and one mosasaur!) could burst forward with life once again.
One of the perks about being a palaeontologist with the museum is the chance to do advisory work like this, but working with Canada Post and the associated talent has made this project stand out for me. I even got to promote the stamps last week on the national TV morning show, Canada AM! If you’d like a set of your own stamps, they’re available for purchase now in the gift shop at the Canadian Museum of Nature, or of course, at Canada Post outlets.
NOTE: On Thursday, April 16 at 6:30 p.m. celebrate this new stamp series at the museum. Meet Dr. Jordan Mallon and palaeo-artist Julius Csotonyi. Hear how science and art bring to life the five creatures portrayed on the stamps. See large reproductions of each stamp and real fossils that match the featured animals. Stamps will be available for purchase.