Over the Rainbow: Wizard of Oz memorabilia

wikicollecting

wikicollecting

2015-06-26 10:43:13

From L. Frank Baum’s original books, to the powerhouse of the 1939 film and numerous spin-offs, The Wizard of Oz has captivated thousands of collectors.

With the release of Oz the Great and Powerful this week, a new film eager to once again enchant an audience in the magical land of Oz, Wikicollecting takes a trip down the Yellow Brick Road to examine the collector’s interest in all that is Oz.

Books

It all began with a children’s novel written by L. Frank Baum, published in 1900, called The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

The book was incredibly successful, the Harry Potter of its day. In 1902 the story was made into a Broadway musical which further propelled it into the affections of American children and adults alike.

This success, in addition to hundreds of letters Baum received from delighted children, led him to pen thirteen further Oz books – a fact that surprisingly, not many people are aware of, other than Oz book collectors.

The novel tells a somewhat different story to the 1939 film that truly cemented Dorothy Gale and Oz in American popular culture. Notably the ruby slippers were in fact originally silver shoes (turned red for the film to shine with the new Technicolour), as well as other dissimilarities in conceit and plot.

Many die-hard Oz collectors focus on the books as opposed to the film memorabilia, and consider the novels vastly underrated in comparison.

First editions

First editions of L Frank Baum’s first Oz book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), have become extremely valuable. A signed copy sold for $152,500 at Christie’s in October 2002. Their status as one of the favourite children’s books of all time will ensure that they continue to appreciate in value as an investment grade collectible.

Luckily for the majority of collectors with less ready money, there are thirteen other books to choose from. First editions of some of Baum’s other titles can be found at more affordable prices, just a few hundred dollars, or sometimes even less depending on condition.

These include The Land of Oz, originally published as The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904), Ozma of Oz (1907), Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz (1908), The Road to Oz (1909), The Emerald City of Oz (1910), The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1913), Tik-Tok of Oz (1914), The Scarecrow of Oz (1915), Rinkitink in Oz (1916), The Lost Princess of Oz (1917), The Tin Woodman of Oz (1918), The Magic of Oz (191) and Glinda of Oz (1920).

Later editions can be just as charming if you don’t have the big bucks to spend. However, editions of the books printed after 1935 never have colour illustrations which can put some collectors off.

Numerous officially endorsed Oz spin-off books have been published by other writers, most notably those of Ruth Plumly Thompson and John R Neill. A collector of Oz books may extend their collection to include these works as well.

Some really useful information relating to the Oz books can be found on the website: http://rareozbooks.com.

Film

In 1939, MGM forked out for their most expensive production ever, to make The Wizard of Oz into a movie. It was technologically groundbreaking at the time, employing exciting Technicolor and special effects.

Surprisingly, the film was not an instant success, despite positive reviews and two academy awards.

Telecasts of the film began in 1956 and these airings became an annual tradition. As the American public were getting used to having televisions in their homes, The Wizard of Oz was a regular family film that they would see. This made it the most watched motion picture in history, and it was raised to icon status. It gained a huge following that continues to this day, and is widely considered one of the greatest movies of all time.

The film’s fame overshadowed that of the books, and many collectors became enthralled with Judy Garland’s Dorothy Gale, rather than L Frank Baum’s.

As a result, Wizard of Oz film memorabilia ranks among the most desired collectible items in the US.

Film posters and lobby cards

Original Oz movie posters are rare, and inevitably becoming more rare as the delicate materials succumb to the test of time. They can fetch thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars at auction in good condition, so are really considered among investment grade collectibles.

Original lobby cards are a similar story. These were sometimes used as insulation, so there could be hundreds hiding in the walls of ex-projectionists and cinema employees, waiting to be found.

Foreign posters and lobby cards can be very rare and sought after. An Italian release poster for il Mago di Oz achieved $10,000 at Profiles in History in 2009.

Late 1940s and 1950s posters are also collectible, and can be picked up for a few hundred dollars.

Many reproduction Wizard of Oz movie posters were made in the 1960s. These must not be mistaken for originals, but might be worth collecting all the same, as they will doubtless become more rare over time. Any reproductions will be more valuable with the addition of autographs by the film cast, especially Judy Garland.

Film props and costumes

Back in the early days of Hollywood, studio bosses were naive about memorabilia. They didn’t take much notice when film props and costumes were roughly handled, and after their purpose was fulfilled, they turned a blind eye to pieces being taken by employees.

This resulted in a great amount of memorabilia squirreled away by early Hollywood employees coming to auction over the last few decades, and into the public domain.

This was true of the Wizard of Oz, most notably the story of the ruby slippers.

It is thought that six or seven pairs of ruby slippers were created for Judy Garland to wear in the film. Of these, five are known to survive. These have seen increasingly high prices as the pairs materialised at auction over the last few decades. In 1970 a pair sold for $15,000. In 1988, for $165,000. In 2000 for $666,000. Last year, a pair were offered with a $2-$3 million estimate. The sale was halted as a group of stars including Leonardo DiCaprio and Steven Spielberg donated money to place them in the hands of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

In 2011, the iconic blue cotton pinafore dress worn by Judy Garland as Dorothy achieved $1,119,300 at auction.

The Judy Garland related Wizard of Oz items are considered the most valuable, as here two areas of collecting intersect. Yet props and costumes relating to other characters also see high prices at auction, the film being so iconic that everything will retain some nostalgic value.

Examples include the Wicked Witch’s hat, sold for $200,000 in 2010, the Cowardly Lion’s paw, sold for $25,850 in 2000, and the horse drawn carriage that carries Dorothy and her friends into the Emerald City sold for $40,250 in 1995. Even props of unnamed characters such as Winkie guard spears and Munchkin costumes also possess iconic status for collectors. When it comes to Oz film memorabilia, everything is desirable.

Rare vintage memorabilia

There are a number of items of rare vintage memorabilia relating to Oz, whether the books, the 1902 musical, the 1939 film, or any of the other early derivatives. Here we list a few.

  • Early games based on the books, such as the 1921 Parker Brothers Wizard of Oz game, and the 1905 Parker Brothers Wogglebug game inspired by L. Frank Baum’s Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz, of which there may be only six in existence
  • 1939 Scarecrow Doll by the Ideal Toy Company, based on the book character rather than the film
  • Early chalkware character string holders, with holes in the mouth for string to pass through
  • 1939 Wizard of Oz soap figures
  • Ephemera from the 1902 Broadway musical
  • Autographs of L Frank Baum
  • Advertisements that date back to the early 1900s using the popularity of the books and Broadway show to advertise a product, such as the 1929 Oz poster advertising the American Seating Company chairs using the characters to illustrate how your posture would be improved
  • 1939 movie song sheets
  • 1939 cardboard Halloween masks issued by the Einson Freeman Company based on the movie characters – worth upwards of $100 each
  • Vinyl records of the stage musical
  • Vinyl records of the film soundtrack
  • Signed photos of the film cast

On a budget

If you are a collector on a budget, newer items will inevitably be more affordable. The 50th anniversary of the film in 1989 saw widespread production of Oz memorabilia, and anything after this date will be available and affordable, if not quite as likely to appreciate in value. Examples include but are in no way limited to:

  • Collector’s items such as ornaments, display pieces, figurines that theme themselves around Oz. The older they are the more valuable, in general.
  • The Mattel Dorothy Barbie doll, and other Mattel Wizard of Oz characters such as Ken as the Cowardly Lion
  • Music Boxes
  • Teapots
  • Cookie jars
  • Snow globes and water globes
  • Trading cards
  • Christmas tree ornaments
  • Wizard of Oz collector plates
  • Buttons, badges and pins
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