On the trail of the Wizard of Oz

Fred Trust grew up in the former Soviet republic of Azerbajian, but was no stranger to the story of the Wizard of Oz. He was captivated by the tale, and after coming to the U.S., became a collector of Oz books. The Owings Mills resident loaned about 50 of his books to the Geppi Entertainment Museum for its Wizard of Oz exhibit, which also includes games, dolls and toys; it runs through January. We asked Fred to tell us about his passion. Here's his guest post:

The Wizard of the Emerald City is one of the favorite children's book titles in the former Soviet Union. However, very few people are aware of its real author and origin. The Russian writer Alexander Volkov translated L. Frank Baum's book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and also changed the names of most characters, removed some elements of Baum's novel, and added some new ones. The story was a favorite of mine as well as of many other children growing up in the former Soviet republics.

When my own children were born and I was looking for good children's books to read to them, I decided to find out if by any chance The Wizard of the Emerald City was translated from Russian to English. To my surprise I discovered that the book was initiated and originally published in this country in 1899! Although at the time I obtained an inexpensive replica of the book to read to my kids, I set myself a goal to obtain the earlier copy of the Wizard of Oz.


Through my research I quickly learned that obtaining the first edition of Wonderful Wizard of Oz would be a challenge since this title was selling for over $10,000 at that time. Diving deeply into

the process of collecting books, particularly Oz books, I learned how complicated is the process of identifying Oz book series. My biggest problem was associated with ascertaining the Oz books' true publishing year because almost every Oz title only has one original copyright year! Over the years, I purchased many copies that were printed in 1950s and 1960s, thinking they were first editions and I got great deals, only to learn later about the true first edition copies. I also learned, among many other things, that later editions never had color illustrations because those were eliminated to reduce cost of printing. Through my research I also realized that the Wizard of Oz books in general are the most valuable children’s book series from the collector's standpoint. So I decided to take a plunge and began collecting Oz books. I now have over 500 books and built a website


which became a great educational tool for many people all over the country and which also enables me to both sell and buy RARE Oz books.

In 2009, there has been a resurgence of interest in the Wizard of Oz. For example: Andrew Lloyd Webber plans to produce the Wizard of Oz play on Broadway; two animated Wizard of Oz movies are in works; MGM and Sony Pictures announced a remake of The Wizard of Oz; and Oscar nominee Anne Hathaway has signed on to star in the Weinstein Company's biography of famous singer and actress Judy Garland.

The Wizard of Oz story is so deeply imbedded in American culture that almost on a weekly basis I find some ties to it through the media. For example, in conjunction with death of Michael Jackson, it was indicated repeatedly that he played a Scarecrow in the movie "The Wiz" in 1978. The best-selling author Michael Connelly in his most recent book "The Scarecrow" uses various facts from the Oz series, such as Denslow Associates (William Denslow illustrated the Wizard of Oz title), Fred Stone (appeared in the first Broadway musical in 1902), references to a character Dorothy from Kansas, etc.

Currently, the Geppi Museum through its exhibit celebrates the 70th anniversary of 1939 Wizard of Oz movie and I was honored to lend a number of my books to that exhibit. All 40 famous Oz titles that can be seen on the display in this exhibit are around 100 years old, rare and very hard to find in this pristine condition. It should also be noted that L. Frank Baum wrote over 70 other books outside of Oz series and many of them can also be seen in the museum.