Welcome to my blog, featuring various pieces from my collection of Oz books, artwork and memorabilia!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Book Collecting

This copy of The Tin Woodman of Oz was the first Reilly & Britton Oz title I purchased for my collection. I started looking for Oz books in the early 1970's, at a time when the "white cover" editions could still be found, bearing the Reilly & Lee imprint. But at the age of 13 or so I decided I wanted to put together a collection of first editions and find the earlier Reilly & Britton versions of the books. I think it took close on 10 years before I finally began to find collectible copies of the titles - and the hunt hasn't ended! Finding this book was exciting as it was the first early copy of a Baum book that I had run across. Eventually this was replaced by a better copy, then a copy with a dust jacket.

Book collecting was quite different when I started, well before the introduction of internet book searches. It involved visiting any used book store you might run across in hopes of finding a treasure, mailing away for catalogs and book lists, getting to know dealers in hopes that you would be informed if something special turned up. Finding a title was an event, and something that might not happen again. All of that is still true today, but now a quick search with a keyboard will turn up dozens of titles without leaving your chair. Not that the challenge isn't still there - it's just a different kind of experience, and I'm glad I've had the chance to try both!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Oz-Kins

When I was a kid, I sent away for a set of plastic Oz-kins, which I painted and then lost track of over the years - all but the Glinda figure, who survived for quite a while before eventually vanishing. I've kept half an eye out for these figures over time, and have picked up few here and there, until once again I finally have a complete set - along with a few extras!

I remember painting the figures as a kid, using the woefully inadequate brush and paint that was provided with the mail-away set. It was not a success, but the figures were still fun; particularly since they included characters that were from the book series, not just the MGM film.

The figures are an odd mix, because the imagery comes from various sources. The Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Lion are based on W. W. Denslow, while Glinda, Mombi, the Sawhorse and the Soldier are based on John R. Neill. Dorothy, Toto and the Wizard are based on the characters from the Chuck Jones Off to See the Wizard cartoon series, which these toys were promoting. Proportions vary from one to the next, and overall it's a very strange assortment!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Toy Theater Update

Last November I did a post about the toy theater I was starting to make, showing scenes from the 1903 Broadway production of The Wizard of Oz. I'm still working away at it, and have made progress - although there are still several scenes to go! It's a fun project, requiring some ingenuity and a good deal of patience, while trying to figure out the sets of the show from the handful of surviving black & white production photos.
 In my earlier post I showed the Poppy scene, which was my starting point of the project. This takes place towards the end of Act 1, and is followed by The Poppy Field in Winter. This was a transformation, with the poppy scene transitioning through a snowstorm, finally revealing the flowers vanquished by the Snow Queen, the travelers awakened and the end of the first act.
Act 2 takes place in a courtyard of the Emerald City, a bizarre architectural blend of East and West. This is a shot of the scene in its early stages, as I was starting to figure out the various panels. I roughed out the ideas on paper, before painting and cutting the final drops from canvas. The original sets for this show were extremely elaborate and complex, involving a number of drop curtains as well as flats and set pieces. For my purpose I've had to try and distill this into something a bit simpler and manageable in a small size; the backdrops of the toy theater are about 12" by 20", which limits the amount of detail presented. This scene required some freestanding set pieces, constructed of balsa and paper mache. 
Of course each scene also needs its cast of characters in appropriate costumes - the actors in the various scenes are approximately 4" tall.
Act 3 is set in The Borderland, with a color scheme primarily of lavender and white. The use of color changing LED lights provides the ability to enhance various colors in the different scenes. Once again, some freestanding set pieces were required, included a cage of wisteria vines which is used as a prison during the act - paper mache to the rescue!

The story presented on stage veered drastically from that of the original book, including an execution scene with the threat of death facing Dorothy and her companions. Fortunately a speedy resolution is achieved, and a happy ending!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Emerald City

I recently picked up a very nice copy of the second printing of The Emerald City of Oz, originally published in 1910. The second printing is marked by a new, simplified cover design which was based on the endpapers of Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz. Otherwise, the physical aspects of the book remain the same as the first printing. 

The Emerald City was an elaborately produced book, with the fanciful addition of metallic ink in the 16 color plates. An interesting point in this second printing is a change in the quality of the metallic green ink.
The first printing is seen on the right of this picture. The green ink is brighter with a stronger gleam than the ink used in the second printing, which is seen on the left. ( As always, click on the picture for a larger image). After this printing, the metallic ink was dropped from the book's production.
In the 1990's, Books of Wonder published an edition of this book using metallic ink on the color plates. For their edition, gold glitter was added to the ink to produce increased sparkle. This can be seen on the left of the picture above. More recently, The Bradford Exchange also produced an edition with metallic plates. Their version with a deeper green can be seen on the right of the picture.

The original cover design also used metallic green ink, as well as metallic silver. The elaborate cover was produced in both a dark blue and a light blue binding. As can be seen below, the new cover is quite a step back from the active, bustling original cover design!

Monday, December 14, 2015

A Wogglebug Game

Here's something new - or actually very old - that I don't think has been seen before. For a long time, the first recorded commercially produced Oz game has been the Wogglebug Game of Conundrums, presented by Parker Brothers Games in 1905. But here's a game from a year earlier, also featuring the Wogglebug.

The Woggle Bug Card Game was produced in 1904 by the New Idea Game Co. in Chicago - home of the Oz books. It's a complicated activity involving sequencing colors and numbers. The previously known Game of Conundrums is only Oz related due to its name and the use of the Wogglebug character on the box, but this Woggle Bug Game uses four suites of playing cards featuring Oz characters - the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, Jack Pumpkinhead and the Wogglebug.

1904 was the year of L. Frank Baum's Queer Visitors From the Land of Oz newspaper comic page, and the characters seen in this game are clearly based on the drawings of Walt McDougall, illustrator of the comic.

Sadly, all I have is the instruction sheet (part of which is shown here) - the cards are long gone. But there is enough graphic material on the sheet to reconstruct the cards... so perhaps it may make a reappearance!


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Merry Christmas From the Neill Family

Over the years, John R. Neill created holiday cards for his growing family. In fact, anyone receiving the annual card could watch the family grow!
The cards start off at the end of 1920 with greetings from Mr & Mrs John R. Neill, and Natalie Neill.
Around 1922, Annrea joined the family and was featured together with her sister. For the next few years, the pair of girls are featured in charming portraits. In 1927 they've taken to skis - and the 1928/29 card includes childish portraits of Neill and his wife, along with the family pets.

I'm missing a couple years at this point, but by 1932 Joan had been born and added to the group. I have a larger gap in the series then, until 1941. We take another trip on skis that year, with the three girls. Endolane, the family home in Flanders NJ, is shown as well.
The house appears again in the background of 1942, with the three girls feeding the local wildlife. Then a very different card appears for 1942-43. A military Santa is shown, charging with bayonet drawn!
Many of the cards feature touches of hand coloring. 1925 is interesting for having the appearance of a block print, printed on colorful gold flecked paper. Sizes vary from year to year, some are folded paper and other are full sheets. Sadly the family tradition ended in 1943, with Neill's death.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

A Toy Theater

Lately I've been working on an ongoing Oz project. The 1903 Broadway production of The Wizard of Oz has fascinated me for some time, and I decided to make an attempt at recreating settings from the show in a toy theater format. Toy theaters were the play sets of the Victorian age, generally produced cheaply of paper that was cut and assembled to create sets and characters for a stage version of a popular story or fairy tale.

Of course to do this, I first had to come up with a theater. I decided I wanted something more substantial than paper, so after rummaging in the basement I came up with a wooden wine crate that seemed to be an appropriate size. Some more digging around produced some scrap moldings that had been in the house forever, and when combined, along with some balsa wood and paint, I came up with a very sturdy theater. (Clicking on photos will enlarge them for easier viewing.)
Once the structure itself was finished, it was time to work on a set. The original sets primarily consisted of a series of painted drops, which when layered together create the scene. I decided to start with the Poppy Field, which was consistently singled out in reviews as a highlight of the production. There are only a handful of visual references for the show, so I'm afraid my version can't be considered particularly accurate - but, it was an interesting challenge!
Of course, the stage wouldn't be complete without actors, so a number of figures were required. The poppies were originally an integral part of the set, played by chorus girls in large hats- I decided to make them double sided, one side flowers and the other side chorus girls showing a bit of leg - as chorus girls do.

When all the elements are put together, you get an approximation of the scene. Thanks to the availability of flexible mini LED lights, I was able to add the ability of lighting the stage - and in a variety of colors, which create different atmospheres. Sadly, it doesn't photograph terribly well - but then, theater is always better live, isn't it?
So, with a few more figures added we have the tableau of Dorothy falling asleep among the poppies. As this is the Broadway version, we also have Pastoria, Tryxie Tryfle and Imogene the cow. And Locasta, the Witch of the North, has arrived to save the day by calling forth a deadly frost....but that's the next scene.




Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Head of a Lion

The Cowardly Lion was a popular element in the 1903 Broadway production of The Wizard of Oz. The character was played by Arthur Hill, and was a traditional 4-legged pantomime beast with no dialog in the production. Hill remained with the show throughout its long run and married a member of the chorus, Alice "Stubby" Ainscoe. The photo on the left, from the NYPL Digital Collections, shows the actor with his lion costume.


Hill had been portraying animals in English pantomimes for 8 years before landing the job in the Wizard. He was a pupil of Charles Lauri, (1860-1903) a celebrated English animal impersonator who was known for his versatility in portraying a variety of animals including monkeys, poodles, and Puss in Boots. On the right, Lauri is seen with two of his costumes.

Publicity for the 1903 Wizard of Oz made much of the news that the head for the lion was modeled after a famous painting by Rosa Bonheur. Bonheur was a French painter and sculptor, primarily of animals, and was one of the best known female painters of the 19th century. Her painting An Old Monarch was the supposed source of inspiration for the Oz lion head. The painting was well known in its time, and was loaned by George Vanderbilt for display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

I can't say I see a particularly strong resemblance between the two!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Late Father Goose


Father Goose, His Book was the first book by L. Frank Baum and W. W. Denslow, and it was a runaway success in 1899. Due to its popularity, the book was kept in publication for many years - first by the original publisher, George M. Hill, then by Bobbs-Merrill, and finally by Donohue & Co. Donohue was a reprint house, who produced cheaper versions of several Baum titles in the mid-teens. The book then dropped out of print and basically disappeared! Strange, in some ways, for such a popular title.

The final Donohue printings are certainly less attractive than the earlier editions of the book. On the right is a copy with a gift inscription from 1919 - "To Billy from Granddaddy". The original Hill printings had a blank spine, but in the Bobbs-Merrill years a title was added - this is still in use on this late Donohue copy. The book itself is slightly smaller than the original printing, and on a heavier, coarser paper, making for a thicker book.

Sadly, the printing of Denslow's whimsical illustrations is not nearly as crisp as in earlier editions - due in part to the cheap paper. On the left, the lower image is from the Donohue book, showing the muting of the background color and a choppy edge on the red circle. This picture also shows how the text had changed - the rather cruel rhyme about Polly the parrot was dropped from the book in its sixth printing.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Dorothy and Friends

In last week's post, I mentioned that we created a glass piece for our presentation on stained glass at OzCon. This panel was inspired by the original dust jacket of The Road To Oz, and shows Dorothy, the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion. It was designed to show many different glass techniques in a piece we could carry on the plane to the convention, and included painting, detailed piecework, plating and sandblasting. Specialty glasses such as iridescent glass and drapery glass were also used.

All stained glass starts with a pattern, which is drawn up to the full size of the finished piece. Glass is selected, cut and fit using a light table to keep track of how the finished piece will light. Painting is done with powdered minerals, which are fired into the glass to become permanent. Details are worked into the paint through scratching away and manipulating the dry pigment.

video
This short video shows how a layer of color is applied to the glass. After painting and firing the more detailed line work, color is brushed on and then quickly spread and matted into a thin layer. This can then be manipulated, removed to create highlights, and fired. Several layers and firings may be used to build up a tone and finish a piece.

Plating is a process of applying a second layer of glass to the assembled piece. This is a way to create more depth and color variation than is present in a single piece of glass. On this panel, Dorothy's face and dress were plated - the photo on the right shows the pieces before assembly. The detail on the neck of Dorothy's dress was created by sandblasting a pattern into a piece of flash glass (clear glass with a thin layer of color on one side), then plating it behind a piece of semi-translucent ripple glass. Working out details of this sort are the fun part of creating in stained glass!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

OzCon 2015

This past weekend was OzCon, in San Diego. I've been asked what happens at an Oz convention, and really it's basically like any other gathering of the sort - there are presentations, special guests, dealers selling Oz items (winged monkey on the left created by Joe Phillips), as well as an auction, costumes, etc. - but the real heart of the convention is the opportunity to catch up with friends and acquaintances that you may not have an opportunity to see otherwise! It's easy to see why people return year after year.

On Friday morning at the convention, Irwin and I gave an hour long talk on the Oz themed stained glass panels we have been creating at our studio for the past 30 years. The presentation was illustrated with projections of our work which included pieces we created for Books of Wonder in the 1980's & 90's and continued to the larger windows we have been making in recent years.
On Saturday, I was also part of a panel that discussed collecting original Oz art.

One of the primary themes of the convention was the 30th anniversary of the Disney movie Return to Oz. Highlights at the convention included cast and production members as special guests, as well as examples of costumes and set models on display.

Next year's convention will be held in Portland, Oregon - further details can be found here.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Summertime

I've been taking a bit of a summer break from blogging - but this weekend was the local annual antiquarian book fair, so I thought a post was in order. There was actually very little of interest for me this year at the fair, but I did find a W. W. Denslow cover variant that I needed.

The King of the Mountains is one of the most picturesque covers Denslow designed for Rand McNally. On the right are two copies of the book in my collection. The first one I bought was rather rough, but I was happy to find a copy of the book. Later, I was able to upgrade to a very nice example, far brighter and cleaner than the first. But, neither of those books had Denslow's signature seahorse on the cover. In fact, most copies I ran across lacked the seahorse.

At the book fair, I ran across an inexpensive copy of the title complete with seahorse. It's even in decent condition, with some minor wear. What interests me, aside from the seahorse signature in the lower right corner, is how much different the color is - the background is a teal fabric, rather than plain blue, and the king's hair and moustache are stamped in a light grey, rather than a bright white. The overall effect is a bit more muted and balanced than the later printings, which altered the subtle colors.

Denslow was creative in his color choices for the Rand McNally book covers, and it's nice to see what the original choices were!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Printing Plate

Here's a bit of an Oz novelty. This is an original printing plate, used by the publishers to print a full page illustration by John R. Neill in The Patchwork Girl of Oz. It's a classic image of Scraps, proclaiming "I hate dignity", while catching a stone she's kicked in the air. For a long time, the original printing plates from the Oz books were assumed to have been lost or destroyed, but in 2013 a series of them came to auction. They had been in the collection of rare book collector Richard Manney, and are the only plates known to have survived.

The plate is engraved in zinc, and the stamped number on the upper right refers to its placement in the book - page 131. In the original printing of the book, the illustration was in full color which would have required additional plates, one for each color. This is the black, or key line plate. When the color printing was dropped, in the 1930's, this would have been the only plate used. With the popularity of the Oz books, new printing plates had to be made as old ones wore out, and the publishers kept the original drawings by John R. Neill for this purpose.

Creating the printing plates appears to have involved quite a bit of hand work, in addition to photo-mechanical etching. In this detail, the circular marks of a grinder, used to clean up the background, can be plainly seen.

This has been very nicely presented in a custom box which provides a space for the plate, as well as a new proof pulled from the plate. There is also a pamphlet containing an essay concerning the Oz illustrations, written by Michael Patrick Hearn. It's fascinating as an integral part of the creation of the Oz books!