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

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!