Sinclair Oil Company, 1934-38

James E. Allen was a well-established illustrator of stories in popular magazines when, in 1934, he began his association with advertising art. Deane Uptegrove was advertising director for the Alley & Richards advertising agency, who represented the Sinclair Oil Corporation. Uptegrove recommended Allen as an artist for an upcoming dinosaur-centered advertising campaign because he remembered an illustration of a fictional Jurassic sea creature Allen had done for a story in Colliers Magazine a year earlier -- Wetgen, Albert Richard, “At Cinders Lake”, Collier’s, December 30, 1933, p. 22

James E. Allen had four, possibly five, commissions with the Sinclair Oil Company, an association that connected his name with dinosaurs for a generation of Americans.

1. The Sinclair Dinosaur Logo?

In 1930 the Sinclair Oil Company began using various dinosaurs in their advertisements "to remind you of the great age of the crude oils from which SInclair Motors Oils are refined." The Brontosaurus (aka Apatosaurus) quickly surpassed Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops in popularity, and in 1932 they trademarked a Brontosaurus named “Dino” as their logo[1].

At least one source[2] claims Allen was hired to update their logo, but we can find no evidence he was responsible for replacing a variety of images like those on the left with the green silhouette shown on the right. However, as the change occurred during the time Allen was doing their advertising art, It is likely his work influenced the graphic work for the new corporate logo.

2. The Sinclair Dinosaur Book

This booklet was commissioned by the Sinclair Oil Company as a followup to their enormously successful “Sinclair Dinosaur” exhibit at the 1934 Chicago "Century of Progress" World’s Fair, where some 16 million visitors came to see nine full-sized animated dinosaurs.[3][4]

The text was by Dr. Barnum Brown of the American Museum of Natural History. Known as Dr. Bones, he was a popular fossil hunter known for his finding of the first remains of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. James Allen created original oil paintings for the illustrations. Allen worked with Dr. Brown and others at the museum in order to make his depictions as scientifically accurate as possible according to current science[5], sketching first the skeletons before overlaying that with muscle and skin.

The booklet stayed in circulation for years[6], some 650,000 copies in 4 editions. They were given out as a promotion through gas stations (free with purchase), and made available to researchers, libraries, and teachers. Copies are still available today through ebay.

Cover illustration - original oil painting (Courtesy Greg Holmes)
Page 1 illustration, small image at top of page - from printed book (original painting not found)
Page 2 illustration - from printed book (original painting not found)
Page 4 illustration - original oil painting (courtesy Greg Holmes)
Page 6-7 illustration - from printed book (original painting not found)
Page 9 illistration - original oil painting (courtesy Greg Holmes)
Page 11 illustration - from printed book (original painting not found)

3. The Sinclair Dinosaur Stamp Album, 1935

As a promotion in 1935, Sinclair Oil published a dinosaur stamp album and accompanying dinosaur stamps that could only be found at Sinclair service stations. A new set of stamps was issued once per week, available for free "as long as they last, to any boy or girl who asks for them, provided he or she is accompanied by an adult." The response was astounding -- The company noted that “The final totals were 4 million albums and 48 million stamps”. [4]

From inside cover: "A word of appreciation to Dr. Barnum Brown, Curator of Fossils, Reptiles, American Museum of Natural History, New York City -- Sinclair is deeply indebted to Doctor Brown for his careful preparation of the descriptive material in the Sinclair Dinosaur Stamp album and for his help in giving to the boys and gils of America a scientifically accurate account of these fascinating creatures, the Dinosaurs, and some of the contemporary birds and reptiles. The drawings for the Sinclair Dinosaur Stamps were made by James E. Allen under the supervision of Doctor Brown"

4. The Sinclair Dinosaur Stamp Album, 1938

The dinosaur stamp promotion was repeated in 1938 (and again in 1959 with new, uncredited illustrations). It contained the same introductory appreciation for the contributions of Dr. Barnum Brown and James E. Allen.

5. Dinosaur Models and Lithographs, 1938

James Allen produced 8 dinosaur lithographs for Sinclair Oil that were used in a year-long print ad campaign in 1938 in The Saturday Evening Post (several sources date the lithographs back to 1934, suggesting perhaps these were coincident with the painting for the Dinosaur book, but earlier instances of these ads have not been found). There were 10 ads in all -- the first two, featuring Brontosaurus and Stegosaurus, seem to be photographs of dioramas using Allen’s own plasticine models, with background elements contributed by Grace Allen. Whether the models were from earlier studies or explicitly for this campaign is not known.

The ads, in order of appearance, are shown here. Note in the last two that Brontosaurus made a return appearance as a minor character in ads that ran in 1939 in both Life Magazine and The Saturday Evening Post.

Brontosaurus - model and ad (Saturday Evening Post, April 2, 1938)
Plasticene model (from Allen estate)
Model (courtesy Greg Holmes)
Stegosaurus - model and ad (Saturday Evening Post, April 23, 1938)
Parasaurolophus - lithograph and ad (Saturday Evening Post, May 21, 1938)
Triceratops - lithograph and ad (Saturday Evening Post, June 11, 1938)
Dimorphodon - lithograph and ad (Saturday Evening Post, July 2, 1938)
Dimorphodon - reconstructed lithograph and ad (Saturday Evening Post, July 23, 1938)
Corythosaurus - lithograph and ad (Saturday Evening Post, Aug 13, 1938)
Mesosaurus - lithograph and ad (Saturday Evening Post, Sep 3, 1938)
Iguanodon - lithograph and ad (Saturday Evening Post, Sep 24, 1938)
Ichthyosaurus - lithograph and ad (Saturday Evening Post, Oct 15, 1938)


  1. The Sinclair Oil Dinosaur Fact Sheet

  2. Terra Foundation - James Edward [sic] Allen

  3. Lacovara, Kenneth, “Does Oil Come From Dinosaurs?”, September 15, 2017

  4. Dinosaur Fever – Sinclair’s Icon

  5. Hoagland, Clayton. “They Gave Life to Bones.” The Scientific Monthly, vol. 56, no. 2, 1943, pp. 114–133. JSTOR, Accessed 17 Aug. 2020.

  6. This is generally asserted in writings without specifics; a reference to an 1937 edition can be found in “Bibliography of Fossil Vertebrates 1944-1948”, by C.L. Camp, S.P. Welles, and Morton Green, likely just a reprinting

-- Lynn McRae (