Wizard of Oz Never Loses Appeal

Wizard of Oz Never Loses Appeal

LiveAuctionTalk.com:  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of PBA Galleries.

The Cowardly Lion, Tin Man, Scarecrow, Wicked Witch of the West, Dorothy, Toto and the Wizard of Oz, all these characters have become part of American popular culture.  For many grown-up kids it’s a favorite childhood fairytale.  And if you haven’t read “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” then you’ve probably seen the 1939 movie starring Judy Garland.

Stunt, dwarf, or destroy the imagination of a child and you have taken away its chances of success in life.  Imagination transforms the commonplace into the great and creates the new out of the old. 
— L. Frank Baum

In an era before talking pictures, radio and television, the book’s author, L. Frank Baum, became the J.K. Rowling of his time.  He began his storytelling at home with his sons.  It wasn’t long before Baum developed a reputation for storytelling.  And his wife encouraged him to write his stories down. 

After publishing a few books with mixed results Baum released “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” in 1900.  The book quickly became a bestseller. 

Baum was always reluctant to say just how he discovered the Land of Oz.  So he invented a story he told to nosy newspaper reporters about sitting in his Chicago home one day and telling a tale to his sons and their friends about a magical faraway place.  One little girl asked if the land had a name.  Baum glanced around the room and spotted a filing cabinet.  Under the drawer labeled H-N he saw O-Z.  The place he told the little girl is called the Land of Oz.

This probably wasn’t a true story but it made for good newspaper copy.      

It seems like “The Wizard of Oz” has always been around.  Universal.  With its own life force.  Before Baum brought Dorothy’s story to life America had no modern fairy tale to call its own. 

Baum couldn’t say where the story actually came from either.  He felt he had simply discovered the Land of Oz rather than invented it.  He saw himself as a vessel through which the tale was delivered.   

“Stunt, dwarf, or destroy the imagination of a child and you have taken away its chances of success in life,” Baum said.  “Imagination transforms the commonplace into the great and creates the new out of the old.” 

That’s what Baum succeeded in doing with “The Wizard of Oz.”  He took our imaginations to new heights and left us there with his characters to roam around in the landscape.  The book is a transforming force, transforming language itself.   

Originally, Baum didn’t think of the book as a series but as a free-standing fairytale.  In the end he found himself serving the Land of Oz for the rest of his life.  He went on to write 13 sequels to his first Oz book.

“It is a long journey, through a country that is sometimes pleasant and sometimes dark and terrible,” Baum said in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”  Sounds a lot like life. 

On Oct. 6, PBA Galleries, San Francisco, featured a selection of Oz books in its Fine Literature sale.  

L. Frank Baum and The Wizard of Oz Series

Ozma of Oz; first edition; fourth printing; illustrated throughout in black-and-white and color; Chicago: Reilly & Britton; circa 1917;  $1,800. 

Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz; first edition; second printing; in scarce jacket; illustrated with 16 color plates; Chicago: Reilly & Britton; circa 1911;  $3,000.

Little Wizard of Oz Stories; first combined edition; second state; very rare dust jacket in first state; six volumes in one; illustrated with color plates throughout; Chicago: Reilly & Britton; 1914;  $4,800.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; first state of the first edition; first binding; 24 tipped-in color plates; illustrated by W.W. Denslow; cornerstone of any Oz collection; Chicago: George M. Hill Co., 1900;  $22,800.   


Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her LiveAuctionTalk.com website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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Frank Rinehart Photographer Extraordinaire

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