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

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Master Key

L. Frank Baum wrote The Master Key for his son Robert, to whom the book was dedicated. This tale from 1901 tells of the power of the Demon of Electricity, and the inability of mankind to make proper use of his gifts. Some of these gifts are precursors to items later found in the land of Oz, where magic is a science, after all.

Fanny Corey provided the illustrations for this book - she also illustrated Baum's The Enchanted Island of Yew. I'm not aware of any artwork surviving from this title.

I've always liked the later binding state of this book. This was produced after the publisher Bowen-Merrill changed their name to Bobbs-Merrill. The title page still reads Bowen Merrill, but the new name of the firm is on the spine. The gilt stamping of the title and author has been dropped, but I think the yellow binding makes the book look more cheerful - the original olive drab is a bit - drab.

Although Bobbs Merrill kept most of Baum's early titles available into the 1920's, this title seems to have been dropped from the lineup - I don't know why.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Art Advertising

Today I'm showing an advertising piece, offering John R. Neill's services as an illustrator. It's interesting to see what images have been chosen to sell his talent - they're all quite a bit more complex than the Oz work he was doing at this time. This seems to be aimed at advertisers looking for someone capable of creating artwork to sell their products.

The A. Rowden King company was founded around 1920 and located in Manhattan on Broadway. From what I've read, A. Rowden King (1883-1968) was also an editor of the advertising trade journal Printers' Ink, which was a very influential magazine - so it looks like Neill found himself a good representative!

This pamphlet is an accordian-fold piece, reproducing various illustrations. In the picture posted above, the image on the left is the drawing I posted yesterday from Silk Both Sides, published in Century Magazine in 1921. The center image is from From Pillar to Post, published in 1916 by The Century Company, and the beautiful drawing on the right is from Will o' the Mill, published in The Housewife in 1916. The blurb calls out some of Neill's accomplishments, stressing how well his art holds up to reproduction - a mention of his work on the Oz books is also included.

On the reverse side I've only identified one drawing, which is the upper left image of the seated Southern Gentleman - this is also from From Pillar to Post.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Silk Both Sides

Here is another beautiful John R. Neill illustration for another story by Lorna Moon. This was published in Century Magazine in December 1921. The story was titled Silk Both Sides, and deals with a woman resigning herself to spinsterhood.

I think this piece is interesting for showing the technique used to change part of the image. On an elaborate drawing of this sort, if there is an unfortunate ink blot or the artist wants to make a change, it really isn't practical to start over. In this case, Neill altered the area with the woman's face by pasting a new piece of paper over the original drawing. When printed, this would not be visible. The large board has aged over time to a darker tone than the paper overlay, making it easier to see.

The drawing has wonderful detail, and elaborate pen-work creating various textures. Even though his Oz illustrations had become much simpler, this is certain proof that Neill was still capable of working in the elaborate style of earlier Oz books.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Del Rey Grampa

I find Michael Herring's cover painting for the Del Rey edition of Grampa in Oz very interesting. The image is not taken from any specific John R. Neill drawing, and Herring has been far more accurate in his depiction of Urtha than Neill ever was. According to the text, Urtha's "...face, hands and neck were of the tiniest white blossoms, her eyes, deep blue violets, her mouth a rosebud, and her nose and brows delicately marked with pink stems." In the close up I'm showing of Urtha's face, the white petals of the skin are visible, as well as the flower eyes.

The book goes on to describe her hair made of flowering ferns, her skirt of blossoming vines, and her waist of every flower you could think of, with pansy buttons . This is one point were Herring slightly misinterpreted the text - I think by "waist", Ruth Plumly Thompson meant shirtwaist, or blouse, not just a belt around the middle.

I also have a preliminary sketch for this painting, which differs from the finished piece. Urtha appears much less human, in a slightly different pose, and there is a much more elaborate garden background that was dropped for the final image. Grampa himself is pretty much identical to the finished cover!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Surviving Oz Art

I am aware of approximately 170 surviving pieces of published Oz artwork by John R. Neill. There are also a number of unpublished pieces, sketches, etc. I know that's not a complete number, but even if it were doubled - which seems unlikely - it would be a far cry from the amount of work Neill did for the series. He illustrated 35 Oz books, plus the Little Wizard series. Early advertising for the Oz books states that each book has over 100 illustrations - some have quite a few more - so out of over 3500 pieces of art, the number of surviving pieces is really quite small.

One of the largest archives of remaining Oz artwork was sold through Books of Wonder in 1984. Their Art of Oz catalog contains pieces that had remained in the publisher's files until that time. I still drool over some of the pieces in that catalog!

Illustration art was not considered of much value, in the not so distant past. I've heard stories, whether true or not, of Oz illustrator/author Dick Martin pulling artwork out of dumpsters after Reilly & Lee was bought by Henry Regnery Co. While it's difficult to believe that anyone would simply dispose of such wonderful things, it was common practice. Fortunately not everything was destroyed, so there are still original pieces to be enjoyed today.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Here I have two John R. Neill drawings of Urtha, from Grampa in Oz. You could say that Urtha was the original flower child, seeing as she's made of blossoms! Neill didn't really capture this aspect of the character - she appears as his standard fairy girl, although strands of flowers do trail from her.

The first drawing is a basic portrait, and the second illustrates a point in the story when Urtha is floating in an underground lake. These illustrations are simple and effective, but not nearly as elaborate as the work Neill produced for the early Oz books.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Grampa in Oz

Grampa in Oz was the Oz book for 1924. By this point Ruth Plumly Thompson had settled in as L. Frank Baum's successor, and been accepted as the new Royal Historian of Oz. Most of her stories followed a simple questing formula, with a couple groups of characters searching for various things, and eventually joining together.

I have a couple original drawings for this book, by John R. Neill. Neill's artwork helped to bridge the gap between Baum and Thompson, and I think it played an important role in the continued success of the series.

The piece on the right is a drawing of Prince Tatters, the hero of the story. He has just won the hand of the Princess of Isa Poso - unfortunately, the hand is all he won, and he is quickly disposing of it! The Princess, who is made of ice, has already grown a new one.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Feckless Maggie Ann

John R. Neill did a lot of magazine work during the golden age of illustration, when there were many magazines filled with illustrated stories. This type of publication doesn't really seem to exist anymore, at least not at a mainstream level.

Feckless Maggie Ann was written by Lorna Moon and published in Century Magazine in April 1922. Neill illustrated a couple of stories by Lorna Moon (what a name!), dealing with rustic Irish folk. I find her stories a bit depressing, although I suppose, in a certain sense, they might be considered uplifting. This piece shows a dockside scene, and is a nice example of Neill's use of both bold and delicate line. It was published in the magazine as a full page illustration.

This was the first piece of Neill artwork I purchased, 20-some years ago.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Denslow Designs

W. W. Denslow did book covers for Rand McNally in a number of different styles. The two examples shown here are both simpler designs, although still striking. Both use basic graphic elements from the stories to create covers.

In the case of The Strange Story of My Life, the animals shown hint at the various countries and nationalities in the story. For Whoso Findeth a Wife, story details are shown in the letter, crown and necklace.

These are not as exciting as some of the other covers Denslow created, but they do catch the eye. I particularly like the large block of orange on The Strange Story of My Life - it grabs your attention!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Del Rey Cowardly Lion

Michael Herring takes us into the sky, in the Flyaboutabus, in this cover painting for the Del Rey edition of The Cowardly Lion of Oz. He's taken elements from a couple different John R. Neill drawings, and combined them into a dramatic image with a real sense of soaring through the air. Herring's paintings all have a very theatrical appearance, very much like a stage tableau.

This is another large (2' x 3') painting, and the detail on the small figures is quite nice. The cropping on the printed version of this piece clips the tail feathers and removes some of the sense of open sky - but the effect is still good.

Friday, June 20, 2008


Here are a pair of pastel landscapes by John R. Neill. The first is a simple piece, showing a bit of unidentified countryside with some of his typical fluffy clouds, while the second is a more elaborate drawing. The original mounting board on the second piece is labeled and dated "Beach near Avon, N.J. Sep 1922".

Both of these pieces show Neill's characteristic use of blue, particularly a bright cerulean blue. This tone pops up in many of his color pieces, often paired with a sienna brown.

Neill clearly enjoyed working in pastels. I was not aware of this but it doesn't surprise me, now that I realize how many different mediums he employed.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Cowardly Lion of Oz

The Cowardly Lion of Oz was published in 1923. With characters like Bob Up and Notta Bit More, not to mention Mustafa who "must have a" lion, Ruth Plumly Thompson kept the tradition of puns in the Oz books alive. This is particularly true in her character and place names!

The books were now credited to Thompson, but the covers always had an additional credit for L Frank Baum. It's interesting to see how John R. Neill dealt with the amount of information he was required to place on each Oz book cover.

I think the color plate on the right is a particularly humorous picture of the Lion - for a coward, he looks amazingly fierce! The photo below shows two first printings, one in jacket and one without. From the previous title, Kabumpo, through the end of the series, the copies shown are in first state dust jackets - some showing more wear and tear than others!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Ozzy Postcard

I just purchased this postcard, and have to admit I'm pretty thrilled with it. It dates from the early 20th century, during a period when postcards were at the height of their popularity, and in fact were a bit of a craze. This appears to be a family photo that was printed as a card, not a commercially produced postcard - I have some vintage family photos that were printed the same way. Here we have a very dapper boy clutching his pre-1919 copy of Ozma of Oz.

The boy is very smartly dressed, and appears to come from a fairly well-to-do family. In fact, he looks a lot like something from a Denslow or Neill illustration, particularly Nip from Neill's Nip & Tuck comic page. I especially like the fact that it's a boy with an Oz book rather than a girl.

It's impossible to tell exactly what printing of Ozma he's holding, but it's definitely a Reilly & Britton copy, as the cover changed to a paper label for the Reilly & Lee printings. Notice that the dust jacket is missing - of course!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

In Other Lands

In Other Lands Than Ours was a collection of letters written by Maud Gage Baum to commemorate the European trip she and L. Frank took in 1906. The book was privately printed in 1907 in a small quantity - this is #18 of an unspecified number, and contains the bookplate of Charles Horton, to whom it was presented at Christmas 1907.

The book is an interesting read, particularly due to various incidents on the trip that L. Frank Baum made use of in Aunt Jane's Niece's Abroad. There are several photos, some shot by L. Frank, and some showing both he and his wife. The book itself would originally have had a slipcase.

I ran across this on a shelf of inexpensive signed books at a used book store, tucked in among a number of much more recent, and to me, far less desirable titles. Needless to say, I snatched it up!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Novels for Adults

L. Frank Baum wrote several novels for adults, all under various pseudonyms. His first, in 1905, was The Fate of A Crown, under the name Schuyler Staunton, followed by Daughters of Destiny (1906) using the same nom-de-plume. The Last Egyptian (1908) was published anonymously. These are fun escapist stories set in exotic locales. I would suppose they were published under false names to protect Baum's reputation as a children's author.

The Fate of a Crown deals with revolution and romance in Brazil, Daughters of Destiny deals with intrigue and romance in the Middle East, and The Last Egyptian deals with robbery and romance along the Nile. These stories are very enjoyable, with some interesting plot twists. Having just re-read The Fate of a Crown, I'm struck again by Baum's ability to create strong female characters, and his tendency to use women in a far less passive role than many other writers of the time.
Tamawaca Folks (1907) was a different sort of book - this time a satire on Baum's friends and neighbors in Macatawa, Michigan. The Baum family had a summer cottage there called The Sign of the Goose (bought with the earnings from Father Goose, His Book). For this title Baum used the name John Estes Cooke. I don't have a copy of this book yet, but hope to eventually add one to the collection.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Del Rey Kabumpo

Michael Herring's cover for the Del Rey edition of Kabumpo in Oz features several of the main characters from the book. I think he goes a step too far in this piece, as he pretty much reveals the end of the book on the front cover - not always the best thing to do!

It's a fun painting featuring Kabumpo, Wag the rabbit, Prince Pompa, and Peg Amy the wooden doll. The overall image isn't based on any specific illustration by John R. Neill, although the characters are based on his concepts. Kabumpo himself is taken from a Neill illustration early in the story. Herring was less dependent on Neill's work for the covers of the Ruth Plumly Thompson titles.

The composition of this piece, with the large block of yellow wall at the top and the characters in the lower portion of the canvas, is obviously designed to provide background for the book title. The cover for Royal Book has a similar division. Most of the Herring paintings are not quite as divided as this, making use of sky and clouds to fill the areas that end up being obscured by type.

Not to be political, but I had to laugh when a relative of mine, with no Oz knowledge, was intrigued by this piece - he did his best to interpret it as a Republican elephant barring the way and shutting out a band of Democratic travelers. Not an interpretation I would ever have thought of!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

H. M. Brock

Here's another bit of a stretch for a connection - but I think it's fun. In 1947, the English publisher Hutchinson Books published an edition of The Wizard of Oz with 5 color plates by H. M. Brock. (The book also included the text illustrations by W. W. Denslow.) I don't have a copy of this edition, but I do have a 1919 poster designed by Brock for the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, home of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.

The poster is for a revival of The Sorcerer, one of the earlier operas, and pictures the sorcerer himself, John Wellington Wells. I've always thought that this could just as easily be an image of Oscar Z. Diggs, the Wizard of Oz. I think it looks like a blending of both Denslow and John R. Neill's version of the man - with a little bit of Frank Morgan from the MGM film tossed in for good measure!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Kabumpo in Oz

Kabumpo in Oz, from 1922, introduces what I think is one of Ruth Plumly Thompson's best Oz characters, Kabumpo the Elegant Elephant. Kabumpo would appear in a number of Thompson titles, and fits right in with the various Oz celebrities.

Several of the main characters from the book are shown on the cover, including Wag the rabbit. Wag is another of John R. Neill's wonderful baggy-pants rabbits - the same sort that Neill created for the series of Easter postcards that I believe were being printed at this time.

This book contains one of my favorite Oz color plates - the image of Ruggedo as a giant with the Emerald City stuck to his head. This illustration sort of sums up the Ruth Plumly Thompson Oz titles for me - somewhat chaotic and bursting in unexpected directions!

Thursday, June 12, 2008


L. Frank Baum wrote two alphabet books, The Army Alphabet and The Navy Alphabet, both published in 1900 by the George M. Hill Company. I have a copy of the Army, but so far the Navy has eluded me. As always, it's a matter of the right book at the right price at the right time - a tricky combination to line up!

Both of these titles are large books, bound in paper covered boards. As usual with this style of binding, copies in good condition are difficult to find - the covers suffer a lot of wear over the years.

I think the illustrations by Harry Kennedy are reminiscent of the early work of Maxfield Parrish - the illustrator of Baum's Mother Goose in Prose. (A new edition of Baum's Mother Goose book was published the following year by the Hill company.) I don't know of any surviving artwork from these titles.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Book Ads

A number of Reilly & Britton books contain ads for the Oz series as well as other L. Frank Baum titles - usually at the back of the book. These ads can be fun to read, both for the information given, and the selling points that are called out.

These particular ads are from a couple different printings of Children's Stories That Never Grow Old. Who knew that the point of the Oz Toy Book was "to keep fingers busy and hearts happy"? I also like that the Twinkle Tales have been "adopted by many school boards for supplemental reading".