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The Cowardly Lion of Oz 1923| First Edition Identification Guide

The Cowardly Lion of Oz (1923) is the seventeenth in the series of Oz books created by L. Frank Baum and his successors, and the third written by Ruth Plumly Thompson. It was illustrated by John R. Neill.


Thompson - Cowardly Lion of Oz 1923 first printing
The Cowardly Lion of Oz 1923 first printing

The story opens with Mustafa of Mudge, a turbaned desert monarch with blue whiskers, who collects lions. Mustafa demands one more lion — he already has nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine and a half lions, but there are no more lions in Mudge, and Mudgers are forbidden by Ozma, on penalty of death, to travel beyond the desert borders of Mudge. However, when Notta Bit More, a clown from the circus in Stumptown (somewhere in the humdrum backblocks of the United States of America), and a serious-minded orphan boy called Bobbie Downs (but renamed as Bob Up, by the cheerful Notta) drop into Mudge together, this seems to Mustafa to be his chance to send a non-Mudge person out to bring the famous Cowardly Lion to be the ten thousandth lion in Mudge. Using a magic ring, he enchants Notta and Bob and compels them to set out on a quest to capture the Cowardly Lion.

Meanwhile, in the Emerald City, the Cowardly Lion believes that he has depleted the reserve of courage imbued in him by the Wizard (as told in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz). The mischievous Patchwork Girl, Scraps (who was first introduced in an earlier Baum-written title), misdirects the Lion into thinking that he can replenish his courage by eating a courageous man. Since the Lion dislikes the notion of harming anyone, he resolves to do the deed as quickly as possible, and so embarks on his quest to find, and eat, the bravest man in Oz.

Unbeknownst to the Cowardly Lion, he is being hunted by Notta Bit More and Bob Up. Accidentally, the three meet each other. Concealing their objective from the lion, Notta and Bob resolve to trick him into going to Mudge.

The three adventurers fall into a trap and are transported to the unexpected and unhappy Island of Un, which floats in the sky. The feathery, bird-headed people of Un are all thoroughly “unish“, or negative: unfriendly, unkind, ungrateful, and so on. The travellers meet a remarkable bird called Nickadoodle who tells them that if they remain on the isle of Un, they will grow feathers and become bird-like creatures themselves. Together, they escape the Island of Un in a flyaboutabus, which is a flying machine fitted with whirling feathered wheels.

The Cowardly Lion, Notta, and Bob become fast friends, and reveal their secret plans to each other. The Cowardly Lion rejects his former plan to eat a brave man, and the travelers separate, the lion making his way to Mudge to appease Mustafa and prevent him from using his magic ring against Notta and Bob. Notta and Bob set out for the Emerald City to appeal to Ozma for help.

The Cowardly Lion encounters Crunch, a stone giant, who joins him. Together they reach Mudge, where the giant transforms the Cowardly Lion into a stone statue to keep him company. However, Notta, Bob, Ozma, and the Wizard of Oz arrive and reverse the giant’s transformation. Ozma takes away Mustafa’s magic ring and order is restored.

The Cowardly Lion of Oz First Edition Book Identification Points

Please refer to the gallery for detailed images of binding(s) and dust jackets.

Ruth Plumly Thompson - The Cowardly Lion of Oz 1923 First Edition Identification Guide
YearTitlePublisherFirst edition/printing identification points
1923The Cowardly Lion of OzReilly & Lee Co., [1923]First edition. Illustrated by John R. Neill, 291 pages.

Textual points: The book is made up of 16-page gatherings except for a terminal gathering of 8 pages. Pictorial self­-endpapers in black and white.

Color plates: 12 full-color inserts, some tipped in, some bound in: tipped-in plate facing title page; bound-in plates facing pages 32, 49, 96, 113, 144, 161, 208 , 225, 256 , 273; final plate tipped in facing page 280. Plates are on stock coated only on the printed side.

Binding: deep emerald-green or drab-green (textured) cloth, with pictorial paper label in colors and with a non­standard ampersand, &, instead of the usual & in the publisher’s imprint on the spine: “Reilly   |   & Lee”.

A secondary binding on first-state sheets has been observed. It is in very dark green cloth, with the standard ampersand, &, in the spine imprint

Size of leaf: 9 by 6 5/8 inches. Thickness of volume: varies between 1 3/8 and 1 1/2 inches.

The Cowardly Lion of Oz appeared with the Canadian imprint of the Copp, Clark Co., Limited, of Toronto. Except for the publisher’s imprint on the title page and spine, it is identical with the American first state, bound in deep emerald-green cloth. One color-plate copy, apparently man­ufactured in the bindery, has the Canadian spine imprint and a cancel Reilly & Lee title page.

Later Printings

All subsequent printings with color plates have the standard ampersand on the spine and a terminal gathering of 24 pages. The earliest of these re-imposed copies is bound in very dark green with plates coated only on the printed side. Later copies bound in medium green have been seen with plates coated only on the printed side and with plates coated on both sides. Around 1935, the color plates were discontinued.


The Cowardly Lion of Oz First Edition Dust Jacket Identification Points

First edition binding(s) and various dust jacket printings identification.


  • Wikipedia
  • Bibliographia Oziana – Haff, Greeme, Martin. 2002

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