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

Monday, March 31, 2008

Oz Toys

As a kid, I had a few Oz toys. My favorite by far was the set of hand puppets that was given away with detergent. These had vinyl heads with plastic sleeves for bodies. The sleeves would rip out very easily with extended play, and my mother would sew up much sturdier cloth bodies for the puppets. I'm still impressed by her fabric choices!

I also had the cardboard Emerald City theater that you had to mail away for, and which came with a play script. The theater is long gone, but I do still have the script - and it's one of the most insipid adaptations I've run across. Somehow, I never seem to have gotten the Good Witch puppet - I had two Dorothy puppets instead. By the way, the cover of the script was the first time I ever saw a Denslow illustration - I found it very odd, not at all what I was used to.

I also have the Off to See the Wizard hand puppet, with voice box. This is a toy that is really somewhat pointless - you couldn't do much with it, and the voice box was a big awkward lump, so it didn't see much use. The individual hand puppets were much better. Other things I remember having are a Colorforms set, some coloring books, and a set of Ozkins - all of which have vanished with time.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Arts & Crafts

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
is an excellent example of an Arts & Crafts book. Just as architects and artists were seeking to create an American style, L. Frank Baum was writing his American fairy tale - and W. W. Denslow was designing it. This was a conscious attempt to break free from European traditions, and devise something new and original. Chicago was a center for the movement, so Baum would have been in the midst of new concepts.

Denslow was very involved in the Arts & Crafts movement of the turn of the last century. He worked with Elbert Hubbard and the Roycroft Shops, creating images for magazines and illustrating several of the Roycroft books.

He also designed a great set of wrought iron fireplace andirons, featuring his trademark seahorse. Dard Hunter III currently offers a door knocker of a similar design. He found the original knocker, which was never put into production, and now offers reproductions in 2 sizes - the same large scale of the original piece, and a smaller version that is a little easier to use in today's homes. I have a large version, but so far have had no where to put it - I'll find a spot one of these days.

The two cartoons I'm showing are both from The Fra, a later magazine published by Hubbard. Books to Burn!! was first published in The Philistine in 1898, and reprinted on the rear cover of The Fra in December 1909. Is He Sincere? is from the rear cover of June, 1908.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


A fifth volume was planned in Reilly & Britton's series of American poetry books. This was to have been Thanatopsis and Other Poems by William Cullen Bryant. Unfortunately, the series was discontinued before this book was published. John R. Neill had already completed the cover art and title page for this book, and I'm thrilled to have been able to acquire it.

When printed, this cover would undoubtedly have had gold metallic ink added to the image - either in the background behind the head of the Sphinx, or perhaps in the outer border. Maybe both - who knows.

The title pages features a marvelously macabre skull, and is a good example of Neill's lettering skill - as is the cover, for that matter.

William Cullen Bryant is considered to be the first American poet to win international acclaim. He supposedly wrote the bulk of Thanatopsis ( a meditation on death) at the age of 16 or 17, around 1811. His work began to fall out of favor in the late 19th century, and he was further eclipsed by 20th century poets.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Sky Island

Sky Island was the second book in the new series L. Frank Baum started with the Sea Fairies. As sales had been disappointing, he added a couple Oz characters to the new story, to try and increase interest. Still, this was the end of the series, and Baum returned to Oz the following year.

This was published in 1912, and Reilly & Britton seems to have backed away from the extravagant, metallic ink enhanced books they had been producing. However, this book is very attractive, with wonderful illustrations by John R. Neill, and something new - a dustjacket with an image that wraps around the book, as well as being different from the cover label.

I was very lucky to stumble across a copy of the first edition in its original dustjacket at a local antiques show several years ago. I have found these shows to be a good source for unusual Oz items.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mother Goose Platters

Denslow's Mother Goose was such a success, it even inspired a few dishes. The Haynes Pottery Company, of Baltimore Maryland created a pair of large plates and apparently a pitcher as well. I've never seen even a picture of the pitcher, but have a pair of the plates.

I'm very curious as to what image was used for the pitcher...maybe Jack & Jill?

I've also wondered if there were more pieces to the set. I've seen other Haynes Pottery pieces that use the same basic plates with the same borders, but have scenes from Dickens novels ( supposedly after C. D. Gibson, but they certainly don't look like it), or heads of Native Americans. Obviously, there were several series of these plates.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


John R. Neill's illustrations for The Sea Fairies were just one of many examples of sea-related drawings done by the artist. He had a definite flair for ocean imagery, or dock scenes, or anything related to the sea. He did own a boat and enjoyed sailing, so perhaps this ability isn't so surprising.

I have a large watercolor sketch of a sailboat on rather rough water that show's Neill's skill, even in a simple sketch. The back of the board has a second sailboat image. This was a common habit of Neill's, using the back of a drawing to sketch other ideas - the sign of a frugal artist.

The existing full page illustrations for The Road to Oz are another example of this thriftiness - many of them have a sketch on the reverse side for another illustration in the book.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Denslow's Mother Goose

Denslow's Mother Goose, from 1901, was W. W. Denslow's first solo effort at a children's book. This book has a wonderful scale, as well as bold colors and images. Below at the left is an ad for the book, proudly calling out that it was printed in 4 colors. It was a great success, and is one of the first major American picture books.

I've pictured a small advertising card below - this was originally folded in half and reproduces the covers of the book, with information on the reverse side. A similar card was done for Denslow's Night Before Christmas, a follow up to Mother Goose.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Poetry Books

Reilly & Britton started a series of small books featuring American poets in 1909. These were lovely little books, elaborately produced with metallic ink on the cover labels, and illustrated by John R. Neill. Four volumes were published between 1909 and 1910 - Snowbound, by John Greenleaf Whittier, Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Hiawatha, again by Longfellow, and The Raven and Other Poems by Edgar Allen Poe. Also shown in the photo at left are another copy of Snowbound, this time in a deluxe suede binding, and a copy of The Uncrowned King by Harold Bell Wright. This is an allegorical poem, also from 1910, but published by The Book Supply Co.

I have an original piece of art from The Raven, showing the narrator of the poem (a portrait of Poe) being tormented by his lost Lenore. In the book, the illustrations were printed with a blue wash.

The other books of this series used the same technique, in various colors - yellow for Snowbound, pink for Evangeline, and green for Hiawatha. The only other existing piece of published art from this series that I know of is a plate from Snowbound.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Neill Easter Rabbits

Here is a series of six Easter postcards produced by the Stecher Litho Co. around 1920, using John R. Neill illustrations of rabbit musicians. These pieces are not signed, which may indicate that the images were used without Neill’s knowledge.

Stecher Lithographic Company was developed by Frank A. Stecher, a native of Germany who came to Rochester, New York in 1870. Stecher Litho was developed from a printing company established in 1865, and I believe it still exists today as Stecher-Traung-Schmidt Company of Detroit. Aside from postcards the company produced nurserymen’s catalogs, fruit labels, cigar labels, picture books, etc.

These Easter cards were available in the 787 series and the 900 series, both lettered A to F. The 900 series was more elaborately produced with embossing on the rabbits, and a touch of gilt ink on the lettering. The top 3 cards are from the 900 series. These images were also mirror image of those in the 787 series.

The rabbits seem to be a continuation of a subject the artist enjoyed. In 1915 Neill drew a rabbit drummer for the copyright page of The Scarecrow of Oz (see left - I wish this was the actual artwork!), and another group of musician rabbits was featured as the cover of the March 1916 Pictorial Review magazine. There is also a watercolor of yet another group of rabbit musicians in the collection of the Neill family.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Sea Fairies

The Sea Fairies was L. Frank Baum's attempt to start a new fantasy series after the success of the first six Oz books. The book was handsomely produced by Reilly & Britton, once again using a gold background on the cover label, and metallic inks on the borders of the interior color plates. I like the use of sea green and coral for the cover colors, which ties in nicely with the watery theme of the book, but somehow this doesn't give the same lush impression that the Emerald City of Oz achieved.

The cover label is printed on a textured paper, which seems to deaden the metallic effect - it also made the label prone to rubbing and wear. The color plates are from watercolors by John R. Neill, but this time they are duotones rather than full color, and printed at a smaller size within the large metallic borders. I think full color would have been a much better choice. The overall look of the book is very elegant, but I don't think it's very appealing to a child audience.

The cover did change rather quickly - perhaps the rubbing problem was noticed, or dropping the gold was a cost cutting device. Or maybe they thought a new cover would sell more books. At any rate, just as the new cover label for Emerald City was simply a rehash of an earlier endpaper design, the new cover for The Sea Fairies was an adaptation of a color plate from within the book.

Eventually a third cover was used, this one from a new watercolor by Neill.

I know that some original color plate art survives from this book, but do not know of any black & white pieces.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Landscape Covers

Several of W. W. Denslow's cover designs for Rand McNally feature landscapes. An Arkansas Planter and The Waters of Caney Fork, both by Opie Reid, feature rustic Arts & Crafts homes tucked into bucolic settings. An Arkansas Planter is also illustrated by Denslow, in his earlier style - not as broadly comical. The more colorful cover of A Colonial Dame combines an elegant building glimpsed through trees, together with a coat of arms - another popular image for Denslow covers.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Denslow Drawing

W. W. Denslow is best known for his simple comic illustration style, but he was also an accom- plished artist in other genres. This delicate pencil drawing shows his ability to create a simple landscape. Although there's no connection, the bridge does make me think of the one used in the Kansas scenes of the MGM film, when Dorothy arrives at the caravan of Professor Marvel.

This image is labeled: Miller's Creek / Canada / opposite Oakfield Club / July 28th 1908. The canoe is named the Idyll, and the whole scene is indeed quite idyllic. In the excellent book W.W. Denslow, by Michael Hearn and Douglas Greene, the authors mention that Denslow began doing work for the Niagra Lithograph Co in Buffalo, NY in 1908, and moved to Buffalo in 1909. He clearly made at least one trip across the border at some point.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Wizard by Any Name

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was only published under that title for about 2 years. When the publisher, The George M. Hill Co., went bankrupt, the title was bought by Bobbs Merrill. They produced a new edition in 1903, this time titled The New Wizard of Oz. This may have been to show that it was indeed a new edition, or it may have been to separate it from the highly successful 1902

Broadway show, which used characters from the book but did not retain much of the story. It could also have something to do with the fact that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was never quite properly copyrighted - maybe this was a way of fixing that situation. "New" was quickly dropped from the title, and the

story became known as The Wizard of Oz.

Above on the right is a copy of The New Wizard of Oz, not an easy title to come by. On the left is a later printing by the Donohue company in dustjacket, ca 1913.

Minor changes to the titles of Baum books were not uncommon. In some cases, books would be reprinted under new titles, sometimes even with a new psuedonymous name for the author.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


This is one of my favorite pieces of John R. Neill artwork in my collection. It's a lovely pastel portrait, and I don't know if it was ever published - there are no notes or indications on it. This shows yet another medium Neill worked in - aside from pen & ink, watercolor, ink wash, and graphite. Although it has no obvious Oz connection, I tend to think of it as a portrait of Ozma - it's reminiscent of his images of her in The Emerald City of Oz.

Apparently, Neill did not do any oil paintings - which seems a little odd. He did have a set of oils, which his granddaughter now owns, and he was commissioned by a fan to do a large Oz mural in oils for above a fireplace - but that is the only mention I've ever seen of any work of that sort. Oils aren't something you just dive into without some practice - so I wonder if there ever were any other paintings by him? Many of the major illustrators of his time did do large scale paintings - perhaps he just didn't like that method of working. Still, an oil painting by Neill is something I'd love to run across.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Little More MGM

As I mentioned before, I don't have many items relating to the MGM film in my collection. I do have a very nice autographed photo of Judy Garland from approximately the right time period, as well as an advertising card for the movie. Judging by the hole at the top, this appears to have been used over a door handle. This card also advertised two other films on the back, In Name Only with Carole Lombard and Cary Grant, and The Angels Wash Their Faces with Ann Sheridan and Ronald Reagan! I also have a fairly moth eaten set of 45's with the score of the film.

I've always been a fan of the movie - a lot of Oz fans seem to have a bit of a love/hate reaction to it. Personally, I think it's a lot of fun, and far better than what might have happened if some of the earlier plans/scripts had been followed. Also, like it or not, the movie is what has kept Oz as well known as it is today.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Emerald City

In 1910, L. Frank Baum published The Emerald City of Oz. This was intended to be the last Oz book, and Reilly & Britton pulled out all the stops. The spine was stamped in silver, the cover label had both silver and green metallic ink, and there were 16 color plates printed from watercolors by John R. Neill. These plates also had highlights of metallic green ink, making this a very opulent book.

This label was soon replaced by a much simpler one, based on the endpapers of Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz. I never quite understood this - even if the metallic accents were dropped, the same image could have been used. I suspect that Reilly & Britton wanted to shift to a simpler, more graphic cover in keeping with the books being published at that time. Below I show the original cover in both light and dark blue cloth, as well as the secondary cover.

When I was a kid, I ran across a copy of Emerald City at a friend's house. At that point, I had only read the first two books of the series, and was thrown by the Nome King, a character I had not read of before. I don't think I even finished the book - the characters and story had evolved too far from what I already knew. Once I started filling in the gaps from the other books of the series, that wasn't a problem.

As a collector, The Emerald City was a book I was very anxious to get in first edition. It has all the bells and whistles of an Oz book, and aside from being a fun story, is a great object. At least some of the original watercolor illustrations survive today - I'm not sure how many. Like the Road to Oz illustrations, I consider these to be Holy Grail Oz illustration pieces.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Nome King

The Nome King is the great Oz villain. He continually re-appears with plans to conquer the Land of Oz, and enslave the Oz people. Of course, he never succeeds although he does manage to get pretty close sometimes.

This character is first introduced in Ozma of Oz, the 3rd book in the series. Here I have two variants of an illustration by Dale Ulrey for the previously mentioned 1950's edition with new illustrations, which was never published.

The first is what I consider the finished drawing, showing the Scarecrow's attack on the Nome King. The second is interesting, as it is a moodier piece done of the same subject, but with an ink wash and more atmosphere, showing more of the setting. The Nome King is a bit different too, looking more like one of Snow White's dwarves. In the upper drawing, he's very much the same Nome King that John R. Neill drew.

Dale Conner Ulrey was a comic artist, who worked as an assistant on the strip Apple Mary. She took over the strip in 1938, when the name was changed to Mary Worth's Family, and drew it until 1942. This strip is still running today as Mary Worth. Her first Oz-related work was illustrating Jaglon and the Tiger Fairies in 1953.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Early Baum

I've already shown Mother Goose in Prose, L. Frank Baum's first published children's book, and Father Goose His Book, Baum's first success. Here's another early title, A New Wonderland. This was the first children's book written by Baum, before Mother Goose in Prose, but it didn't get published until after The Wonderful Wizard. It's more or less a collection of short stories, loosely tied together by taking place in the same magical land. These may well be some of the stories Baum's mother-in-law, Matilda Gage, heard him telling the children, and advised him to write down.

The book was originally named Adventures in Phunniland, but that was changed for publication. In 1903, Bobbs Merrill reprinted this title as The Magical Monarch of Mo. This is another example of the re-packaging Baum titles went through over the years. Oddly enough, each edition of the book has some illustrations that do not appear in the other.

I was surprised to find my copy of A New Wonderland at a local antique shop. It took a moment to register when I saw it, as it was so completely unexpected. I can't say it was a steal, as the seller apparently knew what he had, but I was glad to find a copy - it's a difficult book. I haven't heard of any artwork surviving from this title.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Del Rey Road

The cover for the Del Rey edition of The Road to Oz is once again based on a full page John R. Neill drawing. This is the smallest of the Oz cover paintings by Michael Herring. 

I find it odd that he was very inconsistent in his choice of materials and sizes for these pieces. Most of the Baum covers are painted on a rigid board similar to foamcore. Other pieces are painted on masonite, stretched canvas, canvas board, and stretched linen. The sizes range from this piece at 14.5" x 24.5" to pieces that are 24" x 36". I would have thought it simpler to have one size and one material to work with for the entire series, but that's just me. I suppose, since they were not all being done at one time, he worked with what he had on hand, or in the method he was currently comfortable with. The variety does add another level of interest to the pieces. 

 This is a straightforward adaptation of Neill's drawing without any major changes. On the painting, the Oz banner has been dropped a bit lower than in the drawing. When viewing the painting in person, you can see that the banner was originally painted higher, then painted out and lowered. This was done so that it would not intefere with the Oz in the book title. The jagged rocks have been added to the foreground, and due to the proportions of the painting, the composition is not as tight as that of the drawing.

As with all the paintings in the series, the image was cropped for the printed cover.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Mother Goose in Prose

L Frank Baum's first published children's book was Mother Goose in Prose, in 1897. This was also the first book illustrated by Maxfield Parrish. As the name indicates, it is a collection of nursery rhymes that have been re-written as short stories.

This was the first non-Oz book by Baum that I read. I was given the Bounty reprint edition in 1974. This was during a resurgence of interest in Parrish, and I believe the illustrations were the main reason the book was reprinted. When I eventually bought a first edition, I was amazed at the difference in size. The original printing is quite large, giving plenty of room for the Parrish illustrations. Later reprints all shrink the book down to a more standard size.

Pettijohn's Breakfast Food offered Mother Goose in Prose in parts, if customers mailed in labels. On the right is an ad with this offer. I believe these paperbound sections are quite rare today.

I'm not certain if any original artwork exists from this book - I think it might. I do know that Maxfield Parrish signed 27 sets of proofs of the illustrations, which were sold as portfolios. Only a handful of complete sets survive, although individual prints have been on the market lately.