[The above art – a John R. Neill drawing adapted from one of his pictures for L. Frank Baum’s THE TIN WOODMAN OF OZ (1918) – helped announce the formation of a special organization for boys and girls in 1926. Read all about it below, please!]
This month’s video blog – posted on The OZ Museum’s Facebook page last Friday – references the blizzard of Oz activity in the 1920s, precipitated by The Reilly & Lee Co. and their new “Royal Historian,” Ruth Plumly Thompson. After L. Frank Baum’s passing in 1919, Ruth was selected by the publishers to continue Baum’s tradition of a new Oz book every year, and her enthusiasm and imaginative prowess was a match for that of Messrs. F. K. Reilly and William Lee.
A prime – if petite! -- example of Reilly & Lee’s happy promotion from that era has been selected as February’s “Treasure from The OZ Museum.” It’s a metal “Ozmite Club” pin, first produced and given (free of charge) to boys and girls by booksellers around the country in 1926. There’s now no way of estimating how many pins were produced and distributed by Reilly & Lee, but we do know that all members of the Ozmite Club also received the four-page OZMAPOLITAN newspaper for that year, and we include its front page here as part of our history:
[Above: The front page of the 1926 OZMAPOLITAN, apparently cowritten by Ruth Plumly Thompson and a member (or members) of the Reilly & Lee staff. Originally an innovation developed by the publishers and L. Frank Baum in 1904, THE OZMAPOLITAN that first year was also four pages in length; two versions were circulated at the time, but according to historian Fred M. Meyer, “they were much alike . . . except for minor variations of material and a slightly different arrangement of it.” That initial issue primarily publicized Baum’s second Oz book, THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ. Roughly a year later -- on October 21, 1905 -- Reilly & Lee published a new front page of THE OZMAPOLITAN as an ad in PUBLISHERS WEEKLY; the content thereon promoted three other Baum books. As shown above, the newspaper was revived in 1926 to herald not only The Ozmite Club but the new book for that year, THE HUNGRY TIGER OF OZ. Fresh OZMAPOLITANS in 1927 and 1928 advertised, respectively, THE GNOME KING OF OZ and THE GIANT HORSE OF OZ, and the publication again appeared in 1963, 1965, and 1970. If you’d like to read more about any of these, please leave a comment expressing your interest on The OZ Museum Facebook page, and we’ll discuss them in a future blog.]
In addition to encouraging Oz activities and the purchase of Oz (and other Reilly & Lee) books, THE OZMAPOLITAN for 1926 also included such tangential items as “An Ozzy Yell” (“One two three,/Who are we,/The boys and girls/Who love O Z”) and this front-page newsflash about The Ozmite Club itself:
When “any boy or girl” joined The Ozmite Club, they received the pin referenced in the article above. The original pins were first disseminated as attachments to pieces of card stock, which also featured a letter from Ruth Plumly Thompson herself. As with the art shown at the top of this blog, her missive led off with a Neill drawing from THE TIN WOODMAN OF OZ, in which the title character and the Scarecrow were shown in discussion with Woot the Wanderer. The young boy goes unidentified on the letterhead itself; he’s possibly meant to represent a potential Ozmite, as he holds a scroll of informational paper (an OZMAPOLITAN?) in his hands.
Just below, you’ll see Ms. Thompson’s complete letter. (Please note: its full text is provided immediately after the artwork, as we felt it might be too difficult to read in the reproduction of the original card. However, we definitely wanted to share it in both forms.)
Now, for clarity’s sake, here’s the written content of the letter above. It leads off with an address -- The Marvelous Land of Oz/The Emerald City – and goes on to read:
Dear Oz Friends:
Always wear this pin as a true and loyal Ozmite.
[After that line, the metal OZ pin was attached to the card but could be easily removed. The letter continued:]
Remember! Real OZMITES will keep the secrets of the OZMITE CLUB from those boys and girls who do not belong.
Now for the secrets! There are three.
First, did you know that the letters on your pin have a secret meaning? I’ll tell you what it is –
O stands for OBEY, for OZMITES always obey their Fathers and Mothers, and their Teachers, and the Laws of their Country.
Z stands for ZEAL, for OZMITES are always zealous in introducing their friends and playmates to the fas-ci-na-ting folks of Oz. And zealous too in telling their friends how to become members of the OZMITE CLUB.
Now for the second secret! Could you ever guess why your pin was given wings? It was the Scarecrow’s doings! He said, “Let all the OZMITES have wings so that when they read in the Oz books about our adventures they can fly to the magical land of Oz.”
Now for the third secret – the OZZY WORD and OZZY SIGN! Queen Ozma orders them changed every year. This year, they are – but wait, let the Tin Woodman and Scarecrow give them to you.
[signed] Ruth Plumly Thompson Royal Historian of Oz.
Two small drawings followed Ms. Thompson’s sign-off. In one, the Scarecrow was shown with his first two fingers slightly spread, their tips pressed to his mouth. A cartoon balloon to his left indicates that he’s saying “OZZZZZZZZZ,” and a caption offers “THE OZZY SIGN.” The Tin Woodman holds one finger to his mouth in the second illustration, as if indicating that the Ozmite secrets must be kept; above his cartoon balloon is the legend, “THE OZZY WORD,” which the balloon gives as OZMICKADUC. A final notation at the bottom of the card reads, “Now tear up this letter and don’t tell anyone our secrets.”
Fortunately, one prominent Florida Ozmite did NOT follow those last instructions, and we owe her major appreciation for much of today’s surviving information about the Ozmite Pin and Club of 1926. Mary Scott (1908-1989) was a beloved and rapturously participatory member of The International Wizard of Oz Club who, back in the day, “put aside my [Ozmite] Club material . . . in my old cedar chest.” Fifty years later, David L. Greene and Dick Martin published THE OZ SCRAPBOOK (New York: Random House, 1977) and referenced the Club and its “secrets,” which – as they described them – “were so secret, no copy is known to survive.” This spurred on Mary to hunt for what she knew she had saved, and the artwork reproduced here – and the basic background about The Ozmite Club – comes from the paperwork she retained.
[Above: In this photo, Mary Scott and your much-younger-then blogger were deep in Ozzy communication at an Oz Club convention in the mid-1980s. Mary was -- as my mom used to admiringly term the most delightful and lively friends of her teenage years -- “a bird!” An indefatigable attendee at diverse Oz Club Conventions from the 1970s deep into the 1980s, Mary enormously contributed to the joy and well-being of the organization and also served as a common-sense, no-nonsense member of the board of directors. (During a 1982 National Public Radio interview for their “All Things Considered” program, she exulted, “I live 364 days a year for coming back to the Club. It’s the friendship, the excitement, and – I think – just being together with other people who are interested in Oz.”) Mary herself was no less interesting than Oz. She began a show business career when barely a year old; it encompassed – quoting Irving Berlin -- “everything the traffic will allow,” including vaudeville and dancing with a snake (!). Somehow, this was perfect prep for her later work as president of a philatelic organization and a church. God bless her – and if you enjoyed any of this material about The Ozmite Club, you have Mary to thank.]
When I first saw The Ozmite Club pin at Wamego’s OZ Museum a while ago, I wondered if somehow it was the one that long ago belonged to Mary Scott. However, it turns out that theirs has its own remarkable history of preservation – unintended as that conservation might have been by its original owner! We turn now to the Museum’s savvy curator, Chris Glasgow, for the fascinating back-story of their meant-to-be treasure:
“The pin here at The OZ Museum was found on a 2018 metal-detecting expedition by a gentleman named Steve Cox, who is known in the antique silver trade. He was exploring areas in Arizona and had received permission from a local man to check out the field in his back lot.” According to Chris, Cox later acknowledged that the area yielded “several silver and bronze pieces, which he recovered at the time,” but the Ozmite pin “was pretty dirty and encrusted when he found it, and since it was not silver, Steve almost threw it away. He decided to clean it up some, due to its unusual shape. Then, when he saw the ‘OZ’ on the pin, he got excited and called me!
“I’ve since researched the background of the Ozmite Club and these badges,” Chris now offers and notes that, per her best investigations, “Of the thousands [of pins] given out to kids by Reilly & Lee, there have only been six or seven of these [discovered], including ours -- over the last sixty or so years. They are definitely rare, so I arranged the purchase [for the Museum from Steve Cox]. The few that have been found have been principally sold through Hake’s Auctions, at prices ranging from $1500 - $2000.
“There’s no clue as to the original owner of this piece, [but] personally, I love the connection to the first American book club for ‘children only’ OZ enthusiasts. [Given] the limited time frame of The Ozmite Club, and the joy boys and girls would have had, being able to boast about being a member of an ‘exclusive’ club for Oz, and showing off their ‘badges’ to friends and all . . . that must have been great!”
My heartfelt gratitude to Chris for sharing the very specific and jubilant tale of this month’s Treasure from The OZ Museum – and my decades of appreciation to Mary Scott for her lifelong Ozian passion and capacity for friendship. Her saga about the Ozmite Club first appeared in the Oz Club’s magazine, THE BAUM BUGLE (Winter 1978) and also included the text of six additional mimeographed sheets she received from her local bookseller, “a most delightful woman [at] the ‘Top of the Town’ bookstore on the top floor of a tall (ten-floor) building in Bradenton, Florida.” Those additional half-dozen pages were written by someone at Reilly & Lee and provided (among much detailed instruction) information on the purpose, organization. and operation of – and the “sound psychology” behind -- the Ozmite Club. While there’s not room here for all of that, we can show you one of the actual membership application forms:
While I wouldn’t want to travel back to 1926 and permanently stay there, I think many of us Ozzy adherents wouldn’t mind a quick jaunt that included the opportunity to visit a trusted bookstore. Just give us, please, enough time to fill out our forms, collect our pins and OZMAPOLITANS, and foregather at an Oz party . . . where we’ll greet fellow fans with the OZZY SIGN and a hearty:
Article by John Fricke