An incredibly rare original sculpture by the beloved
children’s author Dr Seuss is heading for auction at Profiles in History this
week.

The strange sculpture depicts the fake taxidermy head of one of Seuss’ surreal creations: the Mulberry Street Unicorn.

Sculpted and hand-painted by Seuss in 1939, the work is one of only five originals known to exist, and comes with a pre-sale estimate of $22,500 – $27,500.

Dr Seuss created his imaginary taxidermy animals using plaster, wood and oil paint, combined with real horns and feathers sourced from the Springfield Zoo (Image: Profiles in History)
Dr Seuss created his imaginary taxidermy animals using plaster, wood and oil paint, combined with real horns and feathers sourced from the Springfield Zoo (Image: Profiles in History)

Today Dr Seuss – real name Theodore Geisel – is regarded as
an icon of children’s literature, having sold more than 600 million books
around the world.

But before he became known as a children’s author in the
late 1930s, Geisel was a cartoonist and illustrator who found success with a long-running
advertising campaign for the bug spray Flit.

Away from the high-flying world of advertising, however, he also had a secret hobby: fantastical taxidermy.

Geisel had grown up close to the local zoo in Springfield,
Massachusetts, and was inspired to draw animals (both real and imaginary) from
an early age.

Geisel’s father worked as the public park supervisor with
access to horns, skins and feathers from zoo animals that had died of natural
causes, and he later sent them to his son in New York to use as reference for
his illustrations.

But Geisel went one step further, and began to combine them with plaster, wood and oil paint to create sculptures of imagined animals which he called The Seuss System of Unorthodox Taxidermy.

Dr Seuss, working on a sculpture of the Mulberry Street Unicorn (Image: Profiles in History)
Dr Seuss, working on a sculpture of the Mulberry Street Unicorn (Image: Profiles in History)

His creations included the Tufted Gustard, the Two Horned Drouberhannis, the Goo-Goo-Eyed Tasmanian Wolghast and the Mulberry Street Unicorn, and were displayed on the walls of his home.

In an article in his home town newspaper, Geisel’s sister
Marnie described the unusual collection:

“They have a charming apartment on Park Avenue, New
York, but it is so filled with his animals that I am apt to have a nightmare
whenever I visit them.”

When his debut children’s book ‘And to Think I Saw It on
Mulberry Street’ was published in 1937, Geisel’s sculptures were exhibited in a
New York bookshop and attracted so much attention that he decided to sell them.

He began advertising them for sale via mail-roder in Judge
Magazine, where he worked as a regular cartoonist, describing them as
“rare and amazing trophies for the walls of your game-room, nursery or
bar”.

An original magazine advert for Dr Seuss' sculptures, which were available by mail order (Image: Profiles in History)
An original magazine advert for Dr Seuss’ sculptures, which were available by mail order (Image: Profiles in History)

The Mulberry Street Unicorn was one of three sculptures
available, alongside the Blue-Green Abelard and the Tufted Gustard, and it was
described in typically whimsical fashion:

“Although he has contacted strange and perplexing wild life
in all parts of the globe, Dr Seuss frankly admits that the habits of the
unicorn leave him absolutely baffled.

“‘The Unicorn’, writes Dr Seuss, ‘seems to do nothing but just sit and think. About what, nobody knows. One can only eliminate certain thoughts as improbable, such as thoughts about xylophones, zippers and Zog of Albania.’”

Today it’s estimated that around 30 of the original sculptures
have survived, five of which are of the Mulberry Street Unicorn.

The example on offer this week was a personal gift from
Geisel to his friend and fellow artist Phil Dike, who worked as an art director
at Walt Disney Studios on classics such as Snow White and Fantasia.

The creatures in the Seuss System of Unorthodox Taxidermy have
since been recreated as modern, limited-edition sculptures which are highly
sought-after and collectible in their own right.

But the rare opportunity to own one of the hand-painted
1930s originals could have Dr Seuss fans choking on their green eggs and ham.

The Profiles in History Animation and Disneyana auction
takes place in Calabassas, California on October 18.



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