Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Martinizing History - the Story of a Poster


NYPL poster - click to enlarge.
I was recently offered what was believed to be an original poster from the 1903 Broadway Wizard of Oz musical (see below). As a plus, this poster had come from the OzCot Lodge owned by Harry Baum (L. Frank's son) and Harry's wife, Brenda. What fun provenance! From the seller's description I thought it was going to be another copy of a well-known Wizard of Oz poster at the New York Public Library (seen at left). Indeed, I've had a black-and-white photocopy of the NYPL poster for over twenty years, which used to hang in my studio in San Diego. Oddly, the poster I'd been offered was mounted to a piece of green-painted plywood with a wooden frame around it. Hmm... that's kind of curious.

The original NYPL poster is quite large - approximately a foot wide and about four feet long. This poster has been reprinted in a number of scholarly publications. It is reproduced in Mark Evan Swartz's Oz Before the Rainbow (2000) and in Allan Eyles's The World of Oz (1985). It is an interesting poster, being essentially line art printed in green on white paper. A little more color was added by printing two boxes of type in red and adding red fields of color behind the portraits of the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Dorothy at the top. The words "WIZARD OF OZ" are printed in overlapping green and red resulting in a rather unattractive brown color. The poster is also very time specific. Directly under the words "WIZARD OF OZ" it says "Now in its 23d Week of Phenomenal Success."

Although the poster I was recently offered (see below) is identical in size to the NYPL poster, it has several oddities. The first is that it was printed in black and white, NOT green and white with red enhancements. Well, I reasoned . . . maybe the show's producers decided to print this poster more cheaply as the show progressed in its run after "its 23d Week of Phenomenal Success."


The Poster that was offered for sale.

I asked the owner of the poster (and long time Oz Club member) Mark Frederic Dereng for a more detailed photo and on receipt found a most curious thing. The black-and-white poster had exactly the same date as the green-and-white NYPL original: "Now in its 23d Week . . ."

Detail of the poster that was offered for sale. Courtesy of owner Mark Frederic Dereng.

Why? Why on earth would the producers have produced a green, red, and white version AND a black-and-white version for the same week of advertising?  I noticed that there was another significant difference between the two posters. The NYPL version has the names of the characters printed in a typeface similar to "Courier." It looks a lot like a typewriter font. It's actually rather ugly and the lettering is crooked in places and is a detriment to the NYPL poster. The offered black-and-white poster had the character names hand-lettered as white text against a black background.

Character Lettering from original NYPL Poster.
Character Lettering from black-and-white version.

The ABC version.
On the one hand, the white-on-black lettering seems an improvement of the boring and ugly typeface of the NYPL poster. On the other hand, the new lettering got me kind of worried, as it really looked a lot like Oz illustrator Dick Martin's lettering. It is also forced in places - such as the crude way the black wraps around Sir Dashemoff's foot. Hmmm . . .

This poster is said to have belonged to Baum's son, Harry. Could that be confirmed? I asked friends who had attended the old OzCot conventions in the 1960s if they recalled the poster being at OzCot. One long-time friend quickly replied: he had first seen the poster in the December 1962 issue of American Book Collector and then on exhibit at OzCot in 1963. He attached high-res scans of the poster from the magazine. (The American Book Collector version of the poster can be seen at right - click to enlarge.) They matched the poster I had been offered. The poster's provenance as belonging to Harry Baum was now verified.

I received several phone camera photos of the poster I had been offered. In every way the photos match the American Book Collector version of the poster.

But that black-on-white lettering really looked so Dick Martin-like! And Dick helped procure the graphics for the 1962 American Book Collector. Had Dick modified the poster for reproduction in the American Book Collector and then, perhaps, given his photostat to Harry Baum to adorn the Ozcot Lodge? My friend had verified that the poster was at Ozcot by June 1963 - but had Harry Baum owned the poster for sixty years or six months?

As I mentioned up above, once that lettering started shouting Dick Martin, the entire history of the poster became suspect to me. You see, Dick Martin often tweaked, altered (and sometimes completely invented) graphics back in the late 1950s and '60s, usually to make them reproduce more easily.

Below is an example of a 1903 Wizard of Oz poster Dick Martin "invented." It is printed in The Musical Fantasies of L. Frank Baum (1958). The Tin Woodman and Scarecrow drawings are Dick Martin trying to be Denslowesque. The poster is based on nothing I have ever found in my very in-depth research into the show.

Dick Martin's poster from MUSICAL FANTASIES OF L. FRANK BAUM.
To top it off, Dick Martin pulled the photos of Montgomery and Stone from the cover of their Chin-Chin sheet music circa 1914!

Sheet Music from CHIN-CHIN (1914).

But let's look at Dick Martin's lettering on his "invented" poster:

Dick Martin lettering circa 1958.

It is very similar to the white on black lettering of the poster I was offered. Using letters from Dick Martin's invented poster from Musical Fantasies, I pieced together most of a name to use for comparison. I chose General Riskitt as an example, as he has more letters in common than the other names:


In my opinion the clear similarity in lettering style clinches it. The black-and-white version of the poster I was offered seems to have been heavily modified by Dick Martin. It is, in my opinion, a modified photostat of the NYPL original, which, you'll recall, was printed in green and red and celebrates the 23rd week of the run. Here's what I suspect Dick Martin did and some of the reasons why.

Dick Martin certainly knew how important the 1903 show was to the history of Oz and its impact on Baum's life and career. Including a poster in the ABC article would have been a good idea. I suspect Dick chose this poster as it was line art and would reproduce well in the black-and-white magazine. So it seems Martin obtained a photostat of the poster from the NYPL. A stat would have reproduced the line art beautifully - but there was a catch. Red ink reproduced as black in many photostatting techniques and indeed still does on many photocopiers. My physical copy of the NYPL poster (the one that used to hang in my studio) was made by taking the poster to the NYPL copystand and simply making a few photocopies. The red ink went totally black, obscuring the drawings of the Tin Woodman, Dorothy, and the Scarecrow. Note, too, in the image below the sort of ugly original Courier typeface of the names "Imogene, the Cow" and "The Cowardly Lion." Why do I point out the ugly Courier type? Because I think the typed names are what Dick Martin found to be so ugly - on an otherwise handsome and reproducible poster - that he felt he ought to redo the lettering for the reproduction in the American Book Collector.

Photocopy of poster at NYPL showing how the red ink copies as black.


You can see the red ink reproducing as black is a problem. To get around this, Dick probably traced the obscured sections from the original, then cut out the black rectangles and redrew the three character faces. Martin's redrawn versions are much cruder than those on the original NYPL poster. He has also added the names of the performers in his distinctive lettering style.

NYPL original on left, redrawn version on right. Click to enlarge.


NYPL original on left, redrawn version on right. Click to enlarge.

Note especially the bottom of the picture of Dorothy. Dick Martin has only left the part of the vegetation that is not overlapping the red because that part of the vegetation was obscured in the photostat and he'd apparently not traced it in such detail as to preserve the entire image.

NYPL original on left, redrawn version on right. Click to enlarge.

Here's another example: the title THE WIZARD OF OZ was printed in both red and green - producing a rather ugly brown. But the original NYPL poster is not in perfect registration and the title lettering is quite unattractive. But in a photostat of the NYPL poster, both red and green will reproduce as black so the text of THE WIZARD OF OZ is thicker and blobbier. You can see below that the Martin version of the poster for American Book Collector is reproduced directly from the NYPL version of the poster, as the shape of his lettering matches the shapes of the combined red AND green inks. I have digitally prepared a version of the word OF showing only the green ink. If the offered poster had been printed in 1903 the printer could have simply used the green printing plate with black ink and gotten a crisp, accurate reproduction of the original typography.

Comparison of the word "OF" - NYPL version, Martin version, then NYPL green ink only.


 If the show's producers had wanted to do a black and white version of the poster in addition to the green, red, and white version, all they really had to do was use black ink on the green printing plate (and move the red text block over to the new plate). There is ZERO reason to redraw the sections backed by the red unless you're working from a black and white photostat of the green and red poster. It is the incredibly time-consuming workaround to achieve a clean drawing that most proves the poster a 1960s era creation by Dick Martin.

So, in my opinion, that's it - Dick Martin modified the poster, fancied up the lettering of the character's names, and after he was finished with his modified artwork, he presented it to Harry Baum as a decoration at Ozcot Lodge.

But to end on a more up note, I'd like to explore a bit more history in how the original poster came to be. The source of the artwork for these posters is a drawing printed in the February 2, 1903, New York Evening Telegram.

Original version of artwork in February 2, 1903, New York Evening Telegram.

This artwork was drawn by Henry C. Coultaus (1862-1923), a cartoonist for the New York Evening Telegram, who specialized in drawing illustrations for that paper's Drama section.

Cartoonist Henry C. Coultaus (1862-1923),

Coultaus's Wizard of Oz illustration is for the paper's "What the Playhouses Offer" listing. Note that in this original version of the artwork it is the names of the actors that appear under the character drawings - not the names of the characters themselves.

Quite probably, the Wizard of Oz's producers were taken with the newspaper artwork and asked to turn it into an inexpensive poster. But those actors names! Some of them were not even with the show anymore by the 23rd week when the poster is first known to have appeared. And besides, the cast changed frequently enough that there would be little accuracy or even point in saying who played whom. So the producers modified the original design - probably having gotten a photostat from the Evening Telegram and (perhaps in a rush) they painted out the actor names and simply "typed" the character names onto the Evening Telegram's photostat.

This is interesting, I hope, and not too confusing: the newspaper version is about HALF the size of the poster as it was eventually printed. If the "typing" to replace the actors' names with character names was done on the paper's photostat by an actual typewriter it would explain why the Courier lettering of the poster looks so much like it was done with a typewriter - it was! At first, I'd assumed it couldn't be because it was too large to have come from an actual typewriter - but blowing up the newspaper sized stat (with normal typing on it) would result in the oversize courier font found on the poster.

I really do wish the offered poster had been genuine. Owning an original poster from the show is still a dream of mine. And you know, a large 56-year-old photostat, mounted on green plywood, created by an official Oz illustrator, and from the personal collection of Harry Baum isn't a bad thing! But it's not the hundred and sixteen year old poster I had so very much wanted it to be.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Original Art by John R. Neill!

Greetings! We now have a sister blog called "The John R. Neill Collection" which is connected to our new sister website called JohnRNeill.com. I'm very excited to announce that we will be offering a fine collection or original artwork by John R. Neill for sale! CLICK HERE to see our first offerings


These wonderful drawings, paintings, and illustrations which we are offering for sale come directly from the family of John R. Neill (1877-1943). After his death, Neill's second wife, Margaret Carroll Neill (called Moy by the family), carefully preserved and treasured her husband's art work in Neill's final home, "Endolane," in Flanders, New Jersey.

Mrs. Neill died in 1984 and the Neill archive was distributed among Neill's three daughters, Natalie, Annrea, and Joan. This youngest daughter, Joan Neill Farnsworth, dutifully preserved her share for many years, making it available to researchers and scholars as needed.  Joan died in 2011 and the Neill archive was split, yet again, between Joan's four children.

The wonderful pieces offered here are all from the collection of one of the granddaughters of John R. Neill. Each piece of art sold at johnrneill.com comes with a letter of provenance. This is a rare chance to own one of Neill's original drawings. We will be featuring some of his exquisite pen-and-ink work, sumptuous paintings, original magazine art, and of course some very rare Oz material. Keep checking our store - more drawings will be added weekly.

One of the treasures of the collection is this magical rabbit painting from Pictorial Review! Click here to see the sale page.

"The Bunny Band" Original painting by John R. Neill $10,000.00 SOLD!

We also have some of Neill's exquisite pen-and-ink work such as this jaunty illustration of a dapper young couple out for a ride in their sporty automobile. Click here to see the sale page.

"Out for a ride! Pen-and-Ink by John R. Neill $1250.00


There is much more to see at our online gallery store so come on over and explore this wonderful collection! We hope, too,  that you will find much enjoyment in owning a piece of original art by one of America's most extraordinary, but under-rated illustrators from the golden age of illustration.


Come check it all out at