Thursday, July 1, 2010

Lose Some, Win Some

I went to my first Munchkin Convention when I was sixteen. The Munchkin Convention was the annual east coast convention of The International Wizard of Oz Club, not a conference for little people. I had been a serious Oz and Baum collector for several years and had managed to acquire reading copies - or better - of all but one of the forty "official" Oz books. The one I was missing was Merry Go Round in Oz (1963) by Eloise Jarvis McGraw and Lauren McGraw Wagner. Published in 1963, Merry Go Round was the most recent of the forty, but there had only been one printing, and from the mid-1970s to late 1980s it was the rarest and most expensive title of the forty to buy.

By this time, I had also struck up a correspondence with Merry Go Round author Eloise Jarvis McGraw. I was reading her non-Oz kid's books and it felt glamorous to be corresponding with a real live "Royal Historian of Oz" who also happened to be a Newbery Honor author. Anyway, I was at the Munchkin Convention, I had managed to save up about $140 to spend at the Munchkin Convention's auction of Baum and Oz material, and the auction featured a very nice copy of Merry Go Round. At last! With $140 in my pocket I stood a very good chance of getting that copy. The previous two I had lost out on had sold in the $95 range.

Now don't ask me why, but many of the Oz Club's auctioneers have had hearing problems. It sounds sort of Ozzy and charming, but it was not. I held on to ALL of my $140 for that copy of Merry Go Round, which, being a very high-end item at the time, was placed at the tail end of the auction. The Munchkin auctioneer was an odd little man named Ray Powell. He looked very much like Lew Zealand (the guy on the The Muppet Show that juggled fish). The bidding was spirited and quickly rose to $130 to someone else's bid. I bid $131. There was no more bidding, I was sure I had the high bid. The gavel came down and Ray Powell handed the book to someone else! Apparently Ray never heard my bid of $131 and when I heard him say "I have a hundred and thirty ONCE ..." I thought he'd confirmed my bid of a hundred and thirty-one. I lost the book, Ray was tired and said, "the gavel has spoken," or something like that. I was devastated.

There was one last item to auction, which had not even really been put out for viewing. It was an original drawing by Oz illustrator John R. Neill. It wasn't from an Oz book, it was a multi-media (pencil, ink, conté crayon, and chinese white) drawing of a woman in a glade - a bit art nouveau, a bit deco, very pretty. Well, being armed with $131 and a lot of adolescent anger at Ray Powell, I bid like a little bull-dog. The drawing hit $90 and Ray started his count down. "I have ninety, once...."  I interrupted, "That ninety is to ME! Right?"  Ray Powell confirmed the bid was mine. In what seemed incredible slow-motion he drawled out, "Once ...  twice ... SOLD ...  to that young man!"

Thus I got my first original drawing by John R. Neill for $90. The Vice President of the Oz Club, Jim Haff, was sitting near me. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, "THAT was a much better buy than the Merry Go Round."

The drawing had been donated to the auction by Mrs. John R. Neill, whom I met and thanked after the auction. Later in the parking lot of the convention facility Judy Bieber and her father were selling books from the back of a white van. I spent my remaining money there on several Thompson Oz books that were in better condition than the copies I already owned. Judy found me a decent but ex-library Merry Go Round in Oz for $45 a few months later.




10 comments:

J. L. Bell said...

I recall Ray Powell with some fondness (not having thrown myself into auctions), but hadn’t realized the resemblance to Lou Zealand before.

Hungry Tiger Talk said...

Well, Ray of course couldn't juggle fish and he didn't have the same voice.

I should have added that Ray sounded exactly like 1930s - 40s character actor, Eugene Pallette, who played Friar Tuck in THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD.

Nathan said...

I thought for a second that Ray was the one who wrote the Muppets/Oz crossover, but I believe that's someone else. Ray wrote the Raggedy Ann/Oz crossover.

Bill Campbell said...

What a beautiful Neill piece - it's so nice to see it. Do you know if this was ever published?

Hungry Tiger Talk said...

Thanks, Bill -

I have never found if or where it was ever published. It is very reminiscent in color and technique to a lot of Neill's work for PICTORIAL REVIEW and some other pieces I have seen in the Neill families holdings. Should you find it in a magazine someday - I hope you'll let me know :)

James C. Wallace II said...

Seeing your comments about auctioneers, you may find Shadow Demon of Oz to be an interesting read since much of the early chapters take place in an auction barn and there is much exposition about auctions, auctioneers and those who attend auctions.

Hungry Tiger Talk said...

Actually my interest lies in books and original art - not auctions or auctioneers :)

Judy said...

It was a blue van!

Hungry Tiger Talk said...

Was it at least light blue?

Judy said...

Munchkin blue! Yes it was light blue and my dad drove that thing for nearly twenty years so it was pretty faded near the end. Good memories.