Friday, June 03, 2011

The Bradford Exchange reprints Oz!

I'd say volume one, but I won't make any promises to do them all.

For some reason, there's a big push to get Oz books in either the first edition (understandable) or resembling their first editions. This makes sense, as the original editions are quite colorful and gorgeously designed. When The Wonderful Wizard of Oz began to reach later editions (as The Wizard of Oz or the short-lived The New Wizard of Oz), color plates were dropped, and the original color scheme was simplified and eventually dropped, also causing a large number of illustrations to be cut. (This is one of the reasons why the book quickly saw new illustration.) Reilly & Britton (later Reilly & Lee) also had to drop color plates from reprints of Oz books, sometimes cutting a few, and with Captain Salt in Oz, color plates were dropped from their Oz books altogether.

Dover Publications was one of the first publishers to attempt to present the Oz books with their original illustrations. I have not seen all of their reprints, but I know at least one of their editions of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz had an incorrect color scheme. The color plates were gathered into groups, and so were not in their original positions. Other Oz reprints were reprinted in grayscale, and sometimes the color plates would also meet the same fate. Also, the original covers might not even be used.

Books of Wonder teamed up with William Morrow and Company in the 1980s and began to publish new editions of the Oz books, very close to the original editions and they were mistakenly marketed as "facsimiles." Sometimes the copyright pages were altered to accommodate information specific to that edition. Other alterations have been made, such as the original endpapers of The Marvelous Land of Oz being dropped. Some alterations in the text of The Patchwork Girl of Oz were made and an illustration was deleted from it and Rinkitink in Oz in light of politically correct sensibilities. The metallic green ink used in the color plates of The Emerald City of Oz proved to be too expensive and was replaced with green ink and gold glitter. In at least the first three Oz books, the original dust jackets were not reproduced. Later, when Morrow was taken over by Harper Collins, they began reprinting and issuing this line of Oz books under their own imprint. Instead of a faux cloth binding to simulate the original cloth binding and stamping, the books switched to a slick casebound. When their Wonderful Wizard was reissued for the centennial anniversary, it was made taller to match the other Oz books.

And up until now, this has been the nicest set of Oz books for fans who are not interested in collecting antiquarian books.

The Bradford Exchange has begun to offer "The Complete Wizard Of Oz First Edition Library Book Collection." Never mind the redundancy of the last three words there. To be honest, the title sounds more impressive than it should. They are, of course, not offering first editions of all the Oz books, but replicas created by Charles Winthrope & Sons. Considering the first installment was only $20 plus a roughly $7 shipping fee, I, and a number of other Oz fans, decided to check it out.

Now, my experience with a first edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has been extremely limited. I do not own one, but Peter Hanff did show one to me when I attended the Winkie Convention last year. He didn't offer to let me hold it, and frankly, I didn't ask or expect him to. So, my almost novice eyes didn't see a problem with the interior at all at first. The cover looks very nice, and the artwork is definitely stamped on and not just printed on. Fellow Oz blogger Bill Campbell seems to share the same opinion.

The biggest qualm I have right away is the dust jacket. It is a completely new design. To be honest, I have not seen the original dust jacket for Wonderful Wizard. Fred Trust has a photo that suggests the same cover design for the cover was carried over to the jacket. This new jacket is underwhelming. It looks like they used a landscape image that was never meant to be used for the purpose of being printed, because it's blurred and looks pixelated. A yellow brick road is clearly Photoshopped on, because it is much clearer. I can't see the Emerald City on the front as seen in the promotional photographs, as it shows an image of the front cover. On the back is a list of the 15 books they will be reprinting: Baum's fourteen Oz novels and the Little Wizard Stories collection. I am rather surprised that an attempt was not made to create an historically accurate jacket, as this line is aimed at collectors and not your regular fan who would likely be satisfied with the readily available Books of Wonder edition.

David Maxine of Hungry Tiger Press is far more critical of the interior, sharing his views on Facebook in comments on a photo I posted of my copy.

The colors of the textual illustrations is pretty far off—much too acidy and bright. But the real disappointment is the color plates. They are just BAD! They are grainy and have a bad gray overcast to them—the light blues are all dingy gray and they are badly over sharpened in Photoshop. It's a big shame. The color plates CAN be reproduced well—without that much effort.

There are a few other oddities. The front endpaper has removed the white muzzle and white eyes from the Cowardly lion making the drawing a lot less lifelike. I can't imagine why this was done, unless it was reproduced from a state of the book I've never heard of before. Also, facsimile or no, I personally think leaving in printers errors like the ink blobs on the moon (in the color plate depicting Boq's party) is dumb! Denslow hated it and had the ink smudges fixed. Who is being served by reproducing defects and typos?
I must agree with his points. He mentioned he accurately reproduced the relevant detail from a color plate on a CD cover. The color plates, to me, have an odd look about them, whereas their reproduction by Books of Wonder and in the centennial edition of The Annotated Wizard of Oz are clean and natural.

As for retaining printer's errors, I agree as well. This is not what the author, illustrator or publisher intended to happen, and I should not be surprised if all three would request these errors be corrected. (Maxine noted above that Denslow objected to two blobs of black ink appearing on a color plate.) An included letter from publishers Robert Graham proudly indicates errors that are retained. I must ask the question: why? Unless you are attempting to sell me a forgery of the first state of the first edition that I can pass off as such, I would prefer an edition that reflects what the creators wanted you to see. It is especially baffling that Robert A. Baum and Paul Bienvenue are mentioned to be involved with this reprint endeavor, yet the errors remain.

I have neglected to mention that with the set is three bookends. (Three? Yep...) These are included in the second and final shipments of this Oz reproduction series. Frankly, as a fan of the books, I don't really care about these. Collectors of Oz memorabilia have expressed the desire to get the bookends without the books. And if I follow through on this, yes, I'd be interested in selling these bookends to such a collector. The bookends depict the Tin Woodman and the Lion, the Wicked Witch and a Winged Monkey, and the Scarecrow and Dorothy. Bogglingly, the designs for the characters do not seem to be based on Neill, Denslow, or MGM. (The Wicked Witch has two eyes and her skin has a greenish hue.)

My question is, though, do I want to continue with this series given the jump in price (with shipping, the later books will cost about $57 each) and these baffling choices in how to reprint the first editions? John R. Neill's artwork displayed an even more elaborate use of color than Denslow, making the jump to full watercolor color plates in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz and The Emerald City of Oz. If this is represented poorly, when the more affordable Books of Wonder edition has reproduced them just fine, then I may very well be dissatisfied at this expensive edition. For $50 each, I'd better be getting a nice edition! (A friend who ordered when they were first announced has confirmed that the original endpapers of Marvelous Land are retained.)

I have also not mentioned my troubles in ordering the set. It took me awhile to decide to purchase the set, and I placed my order online, as that seemed the easiest way to do so, as well as the only way. An order confirmation e-mail appeared, and also e-mails trying to sell me a women's jacket arrived in my inbox. (... Women's jacket? HELLO!) Attempting to check order status online, my order was not listed in my account.

A poster to an e-mail list I'm on explained that this was because the orders were actually being handled by the Bradford Exchange Press, and not the Bradford Exchange themselves and suggested that you call them up. I did so and was assured everything was going fine. Then the estimated time for the shipping came and went without a deduction to my bank balance, which I monitor closely. I attempted to call again, only to make the baffling discovery that my order was no longer on file, and they suggested I try ordering again.

This time, my bank account was billed about three business days after the order was placed... and then I got a mysterious refund. I called them again and was informed that the initial stock had sold out and they were awaiting a second batch. This was about May 6th. I resisted calling again, and eventually saw another billing for the price. This was May 25th. I received no shipping confirmation, which a representative had told me I would receive. My copy arrived on June 2nd.

I suppose that if I had ordered early enough the first time, I would have been all right, but the fact that the Bradford Exchange doesn't seem to clearly communicate the order status unless the customer contacts them is a little odd, considering how online purchasing has advanced in the past decade. Just about every eBay and Amazon purchase I've made has had clearer communication, a great way to ensure customer and merchant relations that has become so common, we often take it for granted. For me, $57 a month is going to be a big investment, and I want to know when it will be billed.

Anyways, I've laid out my case here. If you want to try your luck with the Bradford Exchange, be my guest. I would like to own a Marvelous Land with the original endpapers, especially as my Books of Wonder edition has seen so much love, the binding cracked on my last re-read, so I'll see how the Bradford Exchange Press handles that one.

Now, if only someone would cash in on that dust jacket debacle and offer a set of substitute jackets...

5 comments:

Russell Potter said...

As an Oz fan of many years -- I bought my first early-edition Oz book in 1981 -- I was intrigued by this series, and decided to subscribe. The first volume arrived today and it is quite gorgeous; I don't notice any points -- aside from the blobs -- in which it's not at least as lovely as the Books of Wonder edition, which I also have (or had -- I gave all these to my daughter a few years ago). And even though Denslow objected, I welcome the reproduction of those little errors, the publisher's points which correspond to the ones noted in the Bibliographia Oziana. No book is born perfect -- but I prefer a reproduction of it as it was, when it first arrived. My only complaint is that the embossing on the front cover is slightly misregistered, but other than that it's a truly gorgeous volume. Years ago, I collected Oz first editions -- The Road to Oz was a special treasure, with its colored papers -- but I had to stop, as the market got much too expensive for humble collectors. These edition at least so far appear to be the answer to my Ozonian prayers -- they have all the look of the firsts, all the heft. As to the newly-designed dustwrappers, am throwing them away. Even when I collected actual firsts, DJ's were so scarce that I never knew what they were meant to look like; in any case they were rarely as lovely as the binding cases they protected.

Lucas Hughes said...

I agree with you 100%. They are absolutely beautiful editions. I had the first 4 books in the Books of Wonder editions but when I saw the Bradford/Charles Winthrope collection I knew I had to have them. I have been absolutely enthralled with them. My kids love me reading them to them. I have yet to complete my collection. I have 10 of the 15 so far. I honestly don't know why sites like "The Hungry Tiger" tear these books apart in their harsh reviews of them. It just goes to show that some people aren't happy with anything. Everyone wants to be that "harsh" critic about everything like they are a "Simon Cowell" of some sort... These books rock and look great with the books ends...thats all I know..

Jared said...

Lucas, David Maxine of Hungry Tiger Press, as a customer and a collector of antique Oz books, has every right to criticize these editions. I myself stopped after the third book. Please refrain from criticizing him here further or else I will have to delete your comments.

Anonymous said...

"Lucas, David Maxine of Hungry Tiger Press, as a customer and a collector of antique Oz books, has every right to criticize these editions. I myself stopped after the third book."

Jared, Lucas of your blog comments, as a reader and a human being, has every right to criticize a reviewer whose writing style delights in the negative, apparently finding NOTHING positive to mention. I myself was put off.

"Please refrain from criticizing him here further or else I will have to delete your comments."

Lucas' comments didn't seem any worse than David Maxine's own style, but as the blogmaster you do have the right to censor whoever you please, I suppose. :)

Jared said...

Anonymous, I am unsure why you are worked up over a comment that is two years old.

Let me tell you something, me deciding not to publish a comment is not censorship. This blog is my platform. The comments section is a secondary one I have open at my discretion, as long as posters follow my guidelines. Note that it clearly says (and has for a long time): "We welcome civil conversation in the blog comments. Attacks on people, ANYONE, will not be tolerated."

For more on censorship vs. comment moderation, see here: http://www.bhagwad.com/blog/2011/politics/is-moderating-blog-comments-censorship.html/

While David's reviews of the Bradford editions were harsh, the truth is that when you can get better-produced books for less on the mass market (the Books of Wonder/Morrow/Harper editions), you might well be upset with paying over $60 per volume. Particularly when they claim to be "exact replicas." Print quality was found to be lacking, color plates blurrier than what non-digital printing processes from over 100 years ago were turning out.

People like David and I (and I suspect you as well) have to pay bills and buy food and such, so when we're putting up more than I spend on groceries for two weeks for a book promising to be high-quality and find it lacking, we might well be expected to be upset.

If you have no standard to compare the book to and have the spare cash, then you might be fine with a sub-par and overpriced reprint. But with the possibilities of today's technologies, Bradford's editions were inexcusable.