The Provenance of Oz
One of the central fascinations at the center of the "Lost Art of Oz" search is that, with the exception of the artwork created by WW Denslow for THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ (much of which was gifted to the New York Public Library in 1926), all of the original artwork created for the Oz Book series was retained by the publisher, Reilly and Lee.
So in looking at what has survived and what else might be 'out there,' the game often becomes trying to determine the 'how' and the 'when' individual pieces started going AWOL from the R&L archive.
A common practice for turn-of-the century marketing of children's books was for major retailers to create prominent window displays featuring for-sale books along with pieces of original illustration. Usually oversized and drawn on sturdy Bristol Board the artwork was an easy, eye-popping and inexpensive way to draw young eyes, and publishers were happy to lend them, with the caveat (sometimes honored and occasionally not) that they be returned when the promotion was over.
A popular legend in the Oz Collecting world is that a series of original watercolors created by John R. Neill in 1910 for THE EMERALD CITY OF OZ were loaned to Marshall Field & Co., an upscale department store in Chicago, to advertise the book but were never returned, only to be discovered decades later in the company's basement.
Someone else who managed to commission an original piece of Oz artwork from John R. Neill was an impassioned Ohio based radio writer named Jack Snow. Corresponding with fellow Oz collector, Roland Baughman in January of 1942, Snow shares his great pride in obtaining it.
The original John R. Neill watercolor in Jack Snow's collection was not from an Oz book, but was later reproduced
in the Winter 1986 edition of The Baum Bugle.
So, it's perhaps not surprising that the next known documentation of original Oz series artwork being in private hands would be in a note from Snow.
In a January 9, 1947 letter to a collector named William G. Lee (no relation to the publisher), Jack writes: "I have The Land of Oz, first edition, presentation copy in dust wrapper with four original Neill illustrations." Before he was done collecting, Snow would end up with a second first edition MARVELOUS LAND in a dust jacket (which may play a part in our story later on).
Despite his passion for Oz, which extended so far as to writing two books in the series (THE MAGICAL MIMICS IN OZ in 1946 and THE SHAGGY MAN OF OZ in 1949, as well as a readers guide called WHO'S WHO IN OZ in 1954) the later years of Snow's life were marked by tragedy and economic hardship. By 1955, he had sold most of his collection to prominent New York dealers Howard Mott and Gabriel Engel.
Though it's inconclusive what became of the four original Neill illustrations from the MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ in Snow's collection, it seems likely that three of these (along with the endpapers drawn by WW Denslow for Baum's DOT AND TOT IN MERRYLAND, and 8 assorted 1904 drawings by Denslow for a short lived comic strip based on the characters of The Scarecrow and the Tin Man) were purchased in November of 1955 by Roland Baughman for Columbia University (the subject of our previous blog). The cost for the 12 drawings was $400 (about $3,782 in 2018 dollars) which shows the relative low valuing of the original artwork at that time.
A far more impressive price was placed on Snow's two first edition, dust jacketed copies of THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ, which were offered by Mott for $200 each.
One of these copies would be obtained by Oz illustrator and collector, Dick Martin. Also in Martin's collection was an original illustration from THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ, featuring Tip admiring the newly formed Jack Pumpkinhead. Across the board is a crack, almost identical to fractures in the illustrations purchased for Columbia University.
Could this be the fourth original illustration from Snow's collection?
If so, it might be the first piece of original Oz series artwork connected to Dick Martin. It would certainly not be the last, as we will explore in our next blog.
Special thanks to Cindy Ragni of The Wonderful Books of Oz, Bill Campbell and The Oz Enthusiast and
The International Wizard of Oz Club for images featured.
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Brady Schwind is a writer, director, and Oz Enthusiast on a mission to definitively catalogue the existing original artwork from the famed "Famous Forty" Oz books.