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

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.

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


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!

Sunday, May 3, 2015


The Wizard of Oz was a huge Broadway hit in 1903, due in part to a fervid publicity campaign. The show ran for many years, often leaving town to tour, but returning for weeks at a time. A major attraction of the show, aside from the comedians Montgomery and Stone as the Tin Man and Scarecrow, were the quantities of chorus girls, in a variety of costumes showing quite a bit of leg! This was true of many shows of the period, and the traditions of casting women in male roles helped to provide opportunities for revealing the female figure in a variety of ways.

These photos are part of a series that were featured in the magazine The Standard & Vanity Fair. This was a weekly theater gossip/girlie magazine, featuring many photos of chorus girls doing provocative things like smoking...or kissing...or fighting...or simply showing off their figures in outrageous costumes! The cover from January 6, 1905 shows a rather bizarre pose of chorus girl Bert Dean riding on the backs of the Cowardly Lion and Imogene the cow... I have to say, Imogene does not look like the healthiest cow I've ever seen.

This issue was published with a string of photos featuring some cast members from The Wizard of Oz. Included were four chorus girls, and the two actors who portrayed Imogene and the Cowardly Lion. The feature was popular enough to be continued in the following two issues of the magazine. The photo above shows the participants as well as a wardrobe man and the show's publicist Harry Townsend. Townsend worked tirelessly to promote the production, as this feature from two years into the run demonstrates.

A number of the photos center around the animal characters. The fact that one of the chorus girls, Alice "Stubby" Ainscoe, had married the Cowardly Lion (Arthur Hill) a year earlier is mentioned several times. Ainscoe and Hill were both with the show from the start, and eventually, when the rights were available for amateur productions, the pair were instrumental in producing a very successful version of the show in Boston. In fact, Hill repeated his performance as the Cowardly Lion!

The costumes worn appear to primarily be those of Munchkin youths and maidens from the show, but the photos were taken at a photographer's studio rather than on the stage of the theater.

This is an excellent example of the real attraction of the magazine - chorus girl Helen Turner, smoking a cigarette with her hair down, in a comparatively skimpy costume. In typical hyperbolic verbiage, she's credited with the "most lengthened limbs on this hemisphere"!

The magazine is filled with similarly arch comments and pictures, but I think this is the most surreal of the photos - Arthur Hill wearing the Cowardly Lion's head, photographing two chorus members! The caption explains that Hill was an enthusiastic amateur photographer - but I think it would be difficult to focus his shot while wearing that head. On the other hand, this might prove to be an interesting way of costuming the lion in a stage production!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Babes in Birdland

While in New York a couple weeks ago, for the antiquarian book fair, I picked up an inexpensive copy of Babes in Birdland. This is the 1911 version of Policeman Bluejay, a book written in 1907 by L. Frank Baum under the pseudonym of  Laura Bancroft. As Bancroft, Baum wrote six small books called the Twinkle Tales, as well as this longer story.

The Twinkle Tales, featuring the characters Twinkle and Chubbins, are nature fairy tales. Most of the Twinkle stories take place in North Dakota and are set among the small animals of the region. Babes in Birdland is an extension of this series and the story takes place among the birds. The stories are cute, but for some reason I've never been as fond of them, and consequently have been slow to acquire them!

The book was reprinted again in 1917, with the same title but yet another cover design, this time crediting Baum as the author. One of these days, I really need to pick up a better copy of this version!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Bride's Book

One of John R. Neill's loveliest creations was this bridal book, first published in 1914. It's a book of pages to be filled by the newly wedded couple, as a souvenir of their courtship and marriage. Neill provided headings and a number of illustrations throughout the book, all of which are quite beautifully drawn. This rose and bee were used as endpaper designs.

This is one of my favorite images by Neill, filled with delicate touches of fantasy.
I'd be curious to see what sort of comments this inspired!
And, there's even a classic Neill bunny, out delivering invitations!
 Neill was busy drawing roses in 1914, as that was also the year Tik-Tok of Oz was published, which has a chapter taking place in the Rose Kingdom. In fact, the two books seem to have collided in this illustration from Tik-Tok.

The original artwork for this drawing was pieced together from two separate drawings - one of Tik-Tok, and one of a rose. Perhaps the rose was originally intended for the bride!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Joking with the Tin Man

This is another photo I recently picked up, from the 1903 Wizard of Oz. This a vintage reprint of a well known image of Fred Stone as the Scarecrow, oiling David Montgomery's Tin Man. It's difficult to say when this particular print is from - it was part of the collection of Culver Pictures, a long-time photo service. Judging by the style of a rubber stamping on the back, this print was sent out for use sometime between 1960 and 1963 - but it may have been tucked in their files for much longer.

This pose was also the basis for the cover of A Tin Man's Joke Book, from 1904 (the image shown at right is taken from The Oz Scrapbook). This was a small paperback book, published by J. S. Ogilvie, very possibly without the knowledge of L. Frank Baum. Ogilvie was also the publisher of Pictures From the Wonderful Wizard of Oz - so Oz was familiar territory for the company!

**UPDATE - Apparently there were two separate publishers named Ogilvie - J.S. who published the joke books was based in New York, and George who published the Pictures From the Wonderful Wizard of Oz was based in Chicago.

While looking about on the web, I found an ad for the Ogilvie series of Joke Books. The Tin Man is listed as #46, and #47 is A Scarecrow's Joke Book. I wonder if this image of Fred Stone was used for the cover of that one!