This is a wonderful find for collectors of W.W. Denslow, the talented artist who illustrated the true first edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. Denslow was already an accomplished poster and book illustrator when he partnered with Baum in the late 1890s. This pen and ink drawing from the 1884 book “Twenty Years on the Road” is one of his earliest pieces of surviving original art. This charming scene of a traveling salesman leaving his young wife and child was used as the headpiece for the beginning of the book, as shown in the photo that I obtained from the New York Public Library. The piece is also nice as it shows not only Denslow’s fine line art but his method, as the initial drawing is sketched in a faint underlying blue line. It shows that he modified the style of the lettering in his final version. “1/3” is marked in pencil on the side, denoting the reduction size for final print. Den was only 28 when he drew this and while fame had not yet caught him, he had already worked successfully in advertising, newspaper and trade card design.
The piece on board measures about 11 1/2” by 6 3/4” and is signed “W* D.”—one of the signatures he used during this period. It has light soiling, four pin holes in the edges, a small dent in upper left margin, and an ink smudge at the right on the saleman’s hand. The rear has a yellow sticker with a number on it. The Twenty Years on the Road booklet, extremely scarce, was published by the Philadelphia firm Baker & Hayes and is in Greene & Hearn’s W W Denslow checklist.