Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Craig's Bookshelf: The Little Wizard Series

Some of the rarest of all the Oz books are the six titles published as the Little Wizard Series in 1913. L. Frank Baum's publisher Reilly & Britton aptly described these volumes as "Oz books in miniature." They measure just 7 by 5 1/2 inches and were released as part of a marketing push to promote the revival of Baum's most popular series.

Three years earlier the author had tried to end the series with The Emerald City of Oz, but his readers would have none of it. Unlike Baum's full-length Oz book, The Patchwork Girl of Oz, also published in 1913, each of the Little Wizard Series books was just 29 pages long. The books also were intended for a younger audience than the regular Oz books.

The titles are:

The Cowardly Lion and the Hungry Tiger
Little Dorothy and Toto
Tiktok and the Nome King
Ozma and the Little Wizard
Jack Pumpkinhead and the Sawhorse
The Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman

Part of the reason these books are so scarce is that there was only one printing. (They were later reissued by Reilly & Lee as the "Little Oz Books with Jig-Saw Puzzles" in 1932, and then again as Jell-O booklets circa 1933. They are most commonly found as part of the Rand McNally Company's "Wonderland of Oz" series of 1939.)

One of the more unusual features of these books is that the text is printed in blue. Each volume has numerous color illustrations, including a two-page spread at the center of the book. I love Neill's artwork, which is why I am posting a couple of images of the two-page spreads for your eyes to feast on. (But keep reading, as there's more text below the illustrations.)

Another reason the original printings are scarce is that they are extremely fragile. The books are bound in paper-covered boards, which are not nearly as sturdy as the cloth bindings of the regular Oz books. Also, the text sheets are bound into the boards with staples. Combine these features with several generations of rough handling by small children and you can see why it's hard to find these books in decent condition a century after their publication. They are almost always missing chips of paper along the spines, and the text blocks are often detached.

Even though my own copies are in considerably better-than-average condition, at first I was literally afraid to handle them. It was just too easy for pieces of the brittle paper covering the spines to break off. That's why I sent the books to Sophia Bogle's Save Your Books for restoration. Here's what she did.

First, she stabilized the spines by covering them with extremely thin, color-matched rice tissue paper.

Second, she made polyester film covers for each of the books.

Third, she constructed a slipcase with two inset panels featuring art from two of book covers and a spine label designed by Marcus Mébès. There's also a ribbon pull, which makes it safer and easier to remove the books from the slipcase.

Needless to say, all the materials are archival quality and acid free. And the repairs to the books - using rice tissue and rice paste adhesive - can be reversed without doing any damage.

To the right is an image of the spine label. I'm really happy with the work that Marcus did. The spine is a kind of modified cover of The Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman, but with the name of the Little Wizard Series instead of the title of that particular book. Below the series title is a cropped version of that book's cover art showing the Scarecrow and Nick Chopper clasping hands. Then there's a list of the titles of all six books. The names of the author and publisher and the date of publication are all designed to emulate the look and feel of the books. The design elements are superimposed over an orangey-peach background that matches the cover of that title. Of course, the Little Wizard Series books were never actually issued with a slipcase (as far as anyone knows). Even so, I like to imagine that mine is a good approximation of what it could have looked like if there had been one.

I feel much better knowing that my precious little books are safely housed in this sturdy, beautiful slipcase that Sophia custom built for me!


Sam A M said...

I wish the Books of Wonder edition had used the six separate covers as Colour Plates/Frontispieces, or Chapter Pages, for the stories.

Craig Noble said...

I agree, Sam. The covers to the Little Wizard Series books are very attractive.