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

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Pseudo-Neill…Again

I've been negligent with my blogging lately, but in the past I’ve shown a couple fake John R. Neill drawings. These have all been offered at auction by Rhyton Gallery, through LiveAuctioneers.com. It seems these forgeries are going to continue being sold, so I think it’s worthwhile to keep an ongoing record of what has been offered!

 
The last one showed up this past August, but now another has surfaced, bringing the total up to 5 drawings in the past year. Clearly, this isn’t something that’s going away any time soon!

This time is a little different, as the drawing being offered is not a piece that's known to survive. In each of the previous cases, I've known the location of the authentic drawings, and been fairly certain of the various online sources used by the forger to create the fake drawings. This latest example could only have been drawn from a published version of the original.  

The Whirlpool, originally published in The Scarecrow of Oz (1915), would be a stunning Neill drawing in its original form. What's being offered is a reduced version, only 8” x 11”, and it has the same fake signature that has been used on all the Rhyton offerings.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Buyer Beware!

Another spurious John R. Neill drawing has emerged on the market from Rhyton Gallery - this is the third that I've seen in the past year, and this time the artist has chosen to try replicating a drawing that I own.

 The drawing chosen is a chapter heading of Glinda, from 1914's Tik-Tok of Oz. The other two copied drawings that the gallery offered were both based on pieces from The Wonder City of Oz, a much later title featuring Neill's late style of drawing - bolder and simpler. In attempting the more delicate style of Glinda, the artist's deficiencies are pronounced - there's really no comparison between the original and the copy.

 Aside from the obvious visual differences, the new drawing is on paper rather than artist's board. The artist was probably unaware of the fact that the original of this illustration is drawn on a much larger board than the image itself. The double ruled line beneath the drawing, something seen on most of the chapter titles from this book, has been discarded and a nice fat fake signature has been added - in spite of the fact that none of the Tik-Tok drawings are signed. It's the same signature seen on the other two drawings previously offered, and of the wrong style for this time period.

While I feel the addition of the signature makes this an outright forgery, it doesn't stop the piece being offered. There has at least been an improvement in the style of listing on Live Auctioneers. Rather than being listed as "attributed to" John R. Neill, it is now listed as "in the manner of". This is a significant change, as anyone can try drawing something in the manner of another artist - but there’s no excuse for sticking a fake signature on the piece. The listing already has two bids  - as always in collecting, Buyer Beware!

Thursday, April 1, 2021

A Surprise from Toyland!

So much of collecting is a result of chance or serendipity; the element of surprise is part of what appeals to me. And it invariably happens when least expected!

For some time now, I’ve been collecting costume sketches by Caroline Siedle. I’ve blogged about it before, and have gathered examples of her work for various theater productions, as seen above. Siedle was a major Broadway designer at the beginning of the 20th century, and one of the first women to be regularly credited for her contributions. A family portrait is shown on the left - note the artist's palette brooch at her neck!

My particular interest was sparked by her work on the 1903 Wizard of Oz, which was followed in the same year by Babes in Toyland. Both shows had massive collections of costumes - according to director Julien Mitchell, Siedle created 146 different costume designs for Toyland. Today, a small handful of the Oz designs survive in various collections, and I’ve only come across two definite examples from Toyland.

In one of those strokes of serendipity, I was recently contacted by someone in possession of half a dozen Siedle drawings. They had belonged to his father, who obtained them in the 1980’s at the closing of a lithography company in Pennsylvania. Imagine my surprise to find that they were all designs done for Babes in Toyland! They’ve now joined my collection.

Here we have Alan and Jane, the two protagonists of the story, in their primary costumes. They were played by William Norris and Mabel Barrison, whose names are on the back of the drawings. Since so little color imagery survives from this show, it’s exciting to see the designer’s original color choices. I thought these striking striped costumes were intended to be black and white, and was surprised to find that they were actually russet and cream, with white trim!

Alan’s finished costume closely matches the drawing, whereas Jane’s dress changed from horizontal to vertical stripes on the skirt. By the time the show hit New York, Jane’s hair had also changed from braids to a softer style. The braids can still be seen in this photo from the original Chicago production.

Caroline Siedle was born in England, and attended the School of Art in South Kensington. She came from an artistic family, and became familiar with stage work after her marriage, doing decorative work and even scene painting (very unusual for a woman at that time). She began to work in costuming around 1893, with a show titled The Knickerbockers, and built a highly successful career. She could design a comic opera in three weeks, though she admitted "a month is better".

Alan’s toy soldier costume was completely redesigned for New York, but the Chicago production featured the design seen here. A notation on the back of the drawing says “shoes to be made by Mr. Siedle"; this would be Edward Siedle, Caroline's husband and the prop master at the Metropolitan Opera. The pair worked on many shows together. 
 
A sideline for the couple was Siedle Studios, a warehouse filled with props that could be rented out to productions. Many of the pieces were purchased by Caroline at auctions and sales, and in 1905 ownership of the building was transferred to her name. Sadly, she died of pnuemonia in 1907, cutting short a brilliant career. While obituaries list her age as "around 40", she was actually 53 at the time. One obituary credited her with costume designs in nine shows that were currently running on Broadway - a very impressive list! Siedle Studios continued after her death, employing about a dozen people.
This is the primary costume for Jill, one of the 14 Piper children. Areas where the design was corrected by scraping the board can be seen, with changes to the position of the arm and the width of the skirt. The knockabout dance of Jill and Grumio, the toymaker’s assistant, was a humorous highlight of the second act of the show. The parts were played by Nellie Daly and Charles Guyer, a husband and wife team that specialized in acrobatic tumbling. 
 
Finally, two third act designs for Jill and Grumio. At this point in the show, they are disguised as lady’s maid and valet to Alan and Contrary Mary, trying to escape from Toyland. A drawing of Jill in this costume can be seen in the ad on the right, which also features the pair of characters doing their eccentric dance. I have not run across any photos of the actors wearing these third act designs.
 

(Edit - Since writing this, I have found a newspaper photo of Jill in her Act 3 costume, shown on the left).

A lengthy newspaper interview with Mrs. Siedle was published in the New York Sun in 1895. It contains the following excerpt, written by the interviewer: 

"Anyone who is hunting for a new collecting fad might take a hint here. When the designs are completed and sent to the purchaser, every one of them is a little water color gem of a figure, and so full of action that often they are preferred to portraits as foundations for the posters of a company. What becomes of all these sketches isn't stated, but if they could be secured they would make an immensely interesting collection."

I would have been thrilled to find a single chorus costume from Babes in Toyland. I never dreamed of six character pieces!

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Music Box Oz

 I’ve posted a few times in the past about music box discs of songs from the original stage version of The Wizard of Oz. I first became aware of these several years ago, from David Maxine’s Hungry Tiger Talk blog. At this point, I’ve managed to come up with 8 of the 12 songs that I know to exist. There might easily be more!

These are all popular songs that either originated with the show, or were interpolated into various performances. Sadly, I don’t believe any of the L. Frank Baum / Paul Tietjens songs received this treatment. Still, it’s an enjoyable way to get a taste of the show! 

(If the video below doesn’t appear on your phone, check the web version of my blog).

 Disc music boxes are very specific, in terms of what discs will play on what box. So, some songs were only available for certain brands of music box, while others were in wider use. In this case I’m showing discs from three different brands and two different sizes of music box!

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Land of Oz Story Book

Here's a fun bit of ephemera - the Land of Oz Story Book, published in Great Britain by Hutchinson & Company. This is an abridged version of the second Oz book, 19 pages long, published in a softcover pamphlet form. Hutchinson also published the Land of Oz Paint Book, in a similar format; this had a cover featuring more characters, as well as interior illustrations to color, by the same artist. There’s no date, but I would guess these books are from the same late 1930's/early 1940’s period of the other Oz books the company produced. These were intended to tie in with the British premiere of the MGM film.


The cover shows Mombi hiding behind a tree, watching Tip and a rather unusual Jack Pumpkinhead pass by. Jack's human face is a bit disconcerting, and reminds me of some of the early 20th century stage productions, like The Wogglebug, The Pearl and the Pumpkin, and The Lady of the Slipper.

The interior makes use of several of the original John R. Neill drawings, but due to the format of the book, the placement can be rather haphazard. All three scenes shown below happened earlier in the story!


Monday, March 8, 2021

Washee-Washee

Here’s a little Reilly & Britton oddity, something unlikely to be published today - the Washee-Washee book of laundry lists. This was published in 1905, and while it is not an Oz book, it has the honor of having been advertised in the Ozmapolitan, the little newspaper created to publicize the Oz books.
The booklet had its own mailing envelope, printed with the cover design and the address of the publisher, Reilly & Britton. This example is inscribed with "A very merry Xmas and a Happy New Year!"
The book itself is intended to be used when sending out laundry to the cleaner, with appropriate spaces for indicating quantities of clothing articles. At the bottom of each page is a quote from a variety of sources, or as the title page says, "wise saws and modern instances”.

As an institution, the Chinese laundry has disappeared; but during the time period when this book was published, Chinese laundries could be found in every town across America. This was due to restrictive laws that blocked Asian immigrants from pursuing better jobs. The Chinese Exclusion Act wasn’t repealed until 1943.

While the book is built around the kind of comic ethnic stereotype that is found offensive today, the advertising piece printed in The Publisher's Weekly adds insult to injury. This took the form of the front page of the Ozmapolitan, the newspaper of Oz, and refers to "The Yellow Peril" and "Oz endangered by Invasion of Heathen Chinee". It then goes on to explain that the Washee-Washee is simply a popular novelty book.
 
The same page advertises L. Frank Baum’s The Wogglebug Book, notorious for its use of humor based on ethnic stereotypes. In a rather bizarre reference, the Wogglebug is said to have been inspired in his exploits by the adventures of Johann Hoch; Hoch was the notorious Bluebeard murderer, who was captured in 1905 and executed in 1906. Other items on the page include The Christmas Stocking Series, (under the bold headline of 60,000 KILLED?) and Baum’s pseudonymous book The Fate of a Crown
 
The image of the Ozmapolitan shown above is taken from the Baum Bugle. I don’t know if this was simply created as an advertising page for The Publisher’s Weekly, or if an actual paper was produced. In any case, it's quite a page of questionable content!

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Ozma Comes Home

Here’s the story of a window that was 30 years in the making!

Every year, Irwin & I close our studio between Christmas and New Year’s Day. This past holiday, with its lack of entertaining and socializing, seemed the perfect opportunity to finish a long lingering project. This began 30 years ago, when we created a stained glass window based on the endpaper drawing of Ozma in The Emerald City of Oz. This window was eventually sold through Books of Wonder.

Our studio was new at the time, and this was one of our first windows that required a painted face. As I was a little uncertain how things would go, I painted and fired two faces - one to be a spare in case of any accidents or problems in constructing the window. As it happened, the spare face was not needed and it was set aside. 

Miraculously, it survived years of being tossed about, filed, neglected, and left on a shelf. Then, 5 years ago, I decided it was time to use it. I drew up a new pattern, but a large window requires both time and considerable space for construction, and we didn’t have either - in fact, for the past several years we haven't taken window commissions, as we are booked up with lamp work.

So, this particular Christmas break seemed like an ideal opportunity to attempt the window. The timing worked out perfectly, with both of us cracking away, and there is now a new friend to keep us company in our window seat!

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Babes in Toyland

 Babes in Toyland is not an Oz book, but there is a very strong connection between this book and The Wizard of Oz - both stories were successful Broadway musicals in 1903.

After the stage adaptation of The Wizard proved to be a hit, the producers came up with a successor to follow the wildly popular show. Using a production team that included many of the same designers and writers who worked on Oz, as well as some of the same actors, Babes in Toyland was the result. The musical is in three acts, like Wizard. The first act is based on a traditional pantomime, The Babes in the Wood, peopled with traditional nursery rhyme characters. Part of the second act is loosely adapted from The Wondersmith, a rather gothic tale by Fitz-James O'Brian, and the third act bears a strong resemblance to the previous hit, The Wizard of Oz!

The stage show was a success, and included a lovely score by Victor Herbert, with several songs that are still popular today. There have been film and television adaptations based on the show, and heavily rewritten versions are frequently produced around Christmas time. But nothing has been as lavish as the original production! 

It's interesting to note that the show does feel like a definite attempt to outdo the Wizard - instead of a spectacular cyclone, Babes has a raging storm at sea AND an erupting volcano. Instead of the transformation of a field of chorus girl poppies into a snowstorm, there is the transformation of the Spider's Forest into the Floral Court of the Moth Queen, with a troop of chorus girl butterflies. Both shows include a threatened execution in the third act. Babes is more bloodthirsty than Wizard, with several deaths. In spite of these attempts, I think The Wizard of Oz feels far more original in its story and characters.  A poster for the show can be seen above, sold several years ago at auction. 

The book was published in 1904, a year after the successful extravaganza opened on Broadway. Glen MacDonough and Anna Alice Chapin are listed as the authors; Macdonough wrote the stage show, and I’m guessing the book was actually written by Chapin, using MacDonough's concepts and even some of the stage dialogue. It follows much of the first two acts of the show, with some changes - all love interests are cut, and the Toymaker, who is not an evil character in this book, doesn't die. At the same time, Alan and Jane's journey to Toyland is fleshed out with additional incidents.

Descriptions of various locations in the story are clearly based on the set designs of the show, but the illustrations by Ethel Franklin Betts are not based on the stage presentation. The exception is her painting of Alan as a toy soldier, and the cover design of Alan and Jane as toys. These are directly based on the costume designs of the show, as seen in the photo on the right, from the NYPL digital collections


Earlier this year, I finished off a toy theater version of the show. Like my earlier toy theater version of The Wizard, it's based on the various scripts and photos I've been able to track down and reference. As with Wizard, it's not terribly accurate but an attempt to capture some of the visual aspects of the show. Unfortunately, I've been unable to find visual references for several of the scenes and characters, so I simply filled in as necessary!

1903 Babes in Toyland 



Sunday, November 1, 2020

Trick or Treat?

Just in time for Halloween - well, a day late - here’s a puzzling little picture. It appears to be an original John R. Neill illustration from the 1940 Oz book The Wonder City of Oz, showing Jack Pumpkinhead and Jenny Jump. This was offered at auction recently, but there’s a problem - the published version of this drawing has sold in the past and is currently being offered by Peter Harrington, a bookseller in the United Kingdom. So, what is this one?
 
When I saw this offered, I immediately had misgivings. I knew the published drawing was currently available elsewhere. The drawing itself didn't look "right". Looking at the other listings in this auction, my unease increased; every lot was being sold as “attributed to” or “in the manner of” various artists. Consequently, I had very little faith in the authenticity of anything being offered. This drawing had no provenance, and when I asked I was simply told it came from a private collection. But I was intrigued by it, and I bid on it!
 

I was the only bidder and won the auction for a fraction of the low estimate. Why would I buy a drawing that I felt was fake? I was fascinated by the idea of an actual Neill forgery, and of the work involved in creating it. I was very curious to see the drawing in person, to get a better sense of how close the artist came to succeeding.

 
This seems an odd image to copy; there are some questionable Oz drawings out there, but they tend to be “unused” images that haven’t been seen before. This drawing is one that’s known to exist. A strange choice to copy, except - there is a very clear image of the published artwork readily available online. It would be easy to use this as a template for creating a fake. Below, I've scaled the drawing and aligned the published version and this version together, to show how closely the basic drawing matches.
In examining the drawing, it’s surprising to see how closely many of the lines match up to the original version. Even fairly obscure things - on the right side, there is a fine line drawn under the heavy ink wash shading. This is not readily obvious, but it’s there in both drawings. That shows a good attention to detail; and yet, areas of shading are missing from Jenny’s left shoe, and on Jack’s sleeve. Not quite as attentive as I thought. The expression on Jenny’s face simply isn’t right; if I were trying to forge a drawing, I’d be particular about getting the face right!
 
The line work is a mix of bold and fine lines, but it’s missing Neill’s touch. The lines are all of the same weight, while in Neill’s work there is a lively mix of both delicacy and strength, creating an elegant feeling of light and depth within the drawing. It was the lack of this quality, along with Neill's characteristic grace of line that initially made me doubt this drawing.

The paper is wrong as well. It’s drawn on a wove paper with a definite texture which I haven’t seen in other drawings from this book. The paper is nicely aged; and the drawing bears a very nice signature. This is in pencil, rather than ink, which is odd. And, with a little looking online, I found the original signature that this is based on - a detail of a drawing recently offered for sale. This in itself is interesting, as it shows that this is a rather recent forgery, within the past two years. The published version of the drawing is not signed.

Finally, the scale of the drawing is a little off. It’s slightly oversized compared to other drawings I have from this book. As far as the idea that this is a preliminary or rejected drawing, at this point in his life I should think Neill could dash off a drawing of this sort without much difficulty or concern!

So - the paper texture, the scale of the drawing, the signature, the quality of the line work and the general question of why this drawing would exist are all points against this piece. Overall, it’s a fascinating example of someone trying to be clever. By buying it I've removed it from the marketplace, and I like having it in my collection as a curiosity - but be warned, there could be other similar pieces turning up on the market!


Monday, October 26, 2020

Rand McNally

I’ve posted a number of times in the past about books published by Rand McNally, with cover designs by W. W. Denslow. Recently, I picked up a Rand McNally catalog of Holiday Books from 1898 that features quite a few of these titles.
I enjoy seeing the verbiage used to sell the books - in some cases, like Enoch the Philistine and Romola, Denslow is mentioned as the cover designer. The presence of Denslow's name in connection with the design for Romola is nice, as it confirms that this is indeed a Denslow design. Of his various Rand McNally covers, this one looks the least like one of his works to me!
 
In others, like Phoebe Tilson, we are given the artist's description of the cover design - although Denslow isn't actually mentioned:
 
"In the words of the artist's description of the cover design, "Phoebe Tilson" treats of the life of an eccentric maiden lady who is dragging out a drab-colored existence in the gray atmosphere of a quaint New England village, when that existence is enlivened and entirely changed by the advent of a bright little girl child, a waif, left at her door. This child brings cheer and color into the neglected house as does the gay little geranium against the dusty panes of a garret window. The other side of the cover is suggestive of the tender care bestowed upon the "waif", while on the back (spine) is represented the locket which proved her right to her estates and a name beside the "Blossom"that she is."
Illustrations are included from some of his other titles; the only books I'm aware of with interior drawings are An Arkansas Planter, and A Cruise Under the Crescent.
All in all, it's a fun little reference!

Monday, October 19, 2020

A Golden Road

The original edition of The Road to Oz is one of the handful of Oz books featuring a jacket with a different design than the cover of the book. On the 1909 Reilly & Britton first edition, the book itself has a stamped cover and the jacket is a lovely watercolor of Dorothy and friends, with a metallic gold background. The metallic ink was only used on the earliest copies, and the jacket soon changed to a yellow or blue background, finally settling on yellow after 1920. When Reilly & Britton became Reilly & Lee and dropped the stamped cover, the jacket design was put to use as a paper label. Metallic jackets are few and far between - I don’t own one, the photo shown below on the right is a later version of the jacket with a blue background.

A little while back, I was involved in some discussions concerning the Road to Oz dust jacket, spurred by a fragment of a metallic gold Road jacket. On closer examination, questions arose as to the authenticity of the piece; in the end, it appeared to be a much later jacket that had been altered with gold paint. I thought it would be interesting to see how difficult it might be to do this, and decided to create a copy of the book with a metallic label. I chose to do this to a book rather than a jacket, as it would be a sturdier base to work on, and jackets - even on later printings - are still uncommon enough that I didn’t want to destroy one! The original book was never published this way.

Different shades of yellow were used on the later printings of Road, varying from pale (which is rather attractive) to quite bright. I happened to have a late 1940’s/early 1950’s copy with the bright yellow background that I dislike. I masked the cover using frisket (an adhesive film), and cut out the background areas. With a couple passes of gold spray paint, I had created a non-existent variant of the book! The above photo shows the result. The book on the left is another copy of the standard cover, and on the right is my metallic version. It didn't take long, and the result is actually rather attractive!