It's often possible to sell kid lit based primarily on illustrative content, and for this, eBay is usually the best choice,
in part because the Title field is perfect for calling attention to collectible illustrators. Many first editions featuring these
illustrators sell for major amounts of money and aren't likely to be found at an FOL (Friends of the Library) sale. There is still a market for later editions and ex-libs, however, as well as for spin offs that contain their art work - think mugs, ties, tote bags, posters, advertisements and the like.
While on an illustrator hunt, it's a good idea to spend time among the fairy and folk tale section of an FOL sale since almost
every illustrator of note eventually produces a fairy tale and a Christmas book. Melville Dewey, for reasons known only to him,
classifies these in the 398s, so you won't find them among the picture books. Remember, librarians cull by 1 of the 10 major
Dewey Decimal categories. 398s are tossed in with worthless A Day in the Life of a Fire Fighter and Homework is Fun books. Eccentric Melville also lumped all the holiday books in the 394s, and these are another gold mind for collectible illustrators.
Smack dab in the 394's you'll find (if you are lucky) books illustrated by Tasha Tudor. Now 91 years old, she is responsible for 100 books, some of which are in print and many of which aren't. Keeping up with what's in print and out of print is almost impossible, and completists want all versions of her books, be they reprints or originals. This is good news for booksellers.
Tudor specializes in soft, glowing watercolor pictures that evoke 19th-century America. Children have rosy cheeks, curly hair
- and love one another. Click on the
rare books link on her website, and you will see a list, with cover scans of her books.
Rumor has it her family buys up out of print copies of her books on eBay, has her autograph them and then resells them on their website.
She's also created cards, stationary, porcelain figurines, prints and other collectibles, all which are good candidates for eBay. I've never encountered any of these at a thrift store, but they do surface at estate and garage sales. Tip: Any 3-D object with a literary tie-in has eBay potential. (Beatrix Potter, of Peter Rabbit fame, has reappeared in many incarnations. English Bone China Nursery sets imprinted with her familiar animals are always a sure seller.)
Another very collectible illustrator is
Wilkin is best known for her Little Golden Books, but she also did some work for Random House. I normally stay away from Little
Golden Books - it is a very specialized market - but various Eloise Wilkin books will sell. Her adorable, chubby cheeked toddlers
are instantly recognizable. She also did a number of religious books and collections of prayers, so you'll often find her in
the 200s (religion books). Worth noting is a double flashpoint book - The Tune is in the Tree by Betsy Tacy creator Maud Hart Lovelace, illustrated by Wilkin. You'll be $100 richer if you stumble across this at a library sale. Tasha Tudor books also surface in the 200s.
Helen Sewell is the original illustrator of the Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
In addition to these, she also wrote and illustrated her own books and illustrated many by other authors. Interestingly, most of her work consists of black-and-white line drawings. She has two distinct styles - one with soft, rounded lines, the other very stylized, WPA in appearance.
Any of the Little House books (since they are a double flashpoint) will garner the best prices. Her works are long out of print, so when they do surface they are often in shabby condition. Don't let that deter you.
Arthur Rackham is another artist whose work abounds in the 398s.
He contributed to numerous fairy tale collections and appears in such classics as Alice In Wonderland and
Peter Pan as well. Again, a quick search on eBay will bring up many examples of his work. Note that there are many, many reprints, some of rather dubious quality.
Among the Shabby Chic, Martha Stewart and Victorian rose cottage crowd,
Jesse Wilcox Smith (1864-1935), enjoys a vast following.
Once again, you'll find round, rosy cheeked children who haven't a care in the world. She illustrated over 60 books, many of them classics, and is also known for her Good Housekeeping cover illustrations. Look also for prints, posters, calendars and so on. Many of her works have been reprinted numerous times, so do your homework; and don't represent your copy as a first edition unless you are certain it is.
Maxfield Parrish, another turn of the
20th century illustrator and a contemporary of Jesse Wilcox Smith, also illustrated many classic works, including Mother Goose and Eugene Fields poetry collections.
Like Smith, Parrish also did prints, posters, calendars and magazine covers. Anything by Parrish, be it old or new, has eBay potential.
Both Parrish and Smith were students of
Howard Pyle, who founded the
Brandywine School of Illustration.
Pyle is best known for his version of Robin Hood, which is still in print today.
He also illustrated a version of King Arthur and produced some memorable paintings of pirates. Through Pyle authored some books, none of them are the least bit memorable - it's
only the illustrations that count. Caveat Imperator - Robin Hood is in the public domain. A search for Pyle on eBay brings up many versions, some of which do not include his illustrations. Leave all of these behind; it's the illustrations you want, not the text!