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Illustrators Rule!

Buying and Selling Children's Books Series

by Guusje Moore

#99, 16 July 2007

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 Eloise Wilkin.

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!

N.C Wyeth, father of Andrew Wyeth, is another of the Brandywine illustrators.

He illustrated some 112 books, including Treasure Island, The Yearling and Robinson Crusoe. Wyeth, like the others, also used his talents to produce posters, calendars and advertisements.

All of the art by the Brandywine artists is instantly recognizable - diaphanous maidens with flowing hair, streams of golden sunlight, nature at it's most perfect, exuding a Pre-Raphaelite aura. Even a battered copy illustrated by a Brandywine artist will sell - and may work well as a breaker book. Since many Brandywine illustrations appear in poetry books, a quick spin through the 800s or the poetry section would also be in order. Look for Mother Goose books in the 398s, which is also where you'll find their fairy and folk tale efforts.

Edward Gorey, an illustrator who rose to prominence thanks in part to the PBS series Mystery, has an avid following.

Early on, Gorey worked at the Doubleday art department, illustrating books by other authors, and created dust jackets, most notably for children's author John Bellairs. Collectors will snap up books with Gorey dust jackets. In fact, this is one case where an ex-library copy of a book may be preferred, providing the dust jacket is protected by a Mylar and is absent a call number label. And do note in your auction if the dust jacket is pasted down or cut in any manner. Books with Gorey dust jackets will show up in the children's fiction or children's chapter book section of an FOL sale. If I run out of space in the title field when listing at eBay, I'll drop the author's name in favor of including "Edward Gorey." He is usually much more important than the beleaguered writer.

Gorey's art is instantly recognizable, being slightly gothic or darkly Victorian in appearance. There are many Gorey spin offs - T-shirts, tote bags, mugs, stationary and so on - all of which are good fodder for an eBay auction.

I always check the mug sections of thrift stores for those with literary tie-ins. You'd be amazed at how many there are. A true devotee of an illustrator will want as many examples of their favorite's work as possible. Granted, most don't sell for vast sums, but a minimal investment of a quarter or so can be parlayed, with little effort, into a $10 or $20 sale.

Everyone knows Dr. Seuss of Cat in the Hat fame, but not everyone knows that he got his start writing and illustrating advertisements and also did some propaganda and political cartoons during World War II.

He's responsible for coining the phrase "Quick, Henry, the Flit," which appeared in ads for 17 years. If you come across ca. 1930s issues of The Saturday Evening Post, flip through them for his artwork. It's pretty easy to spot if you are familiar with his children's books. You can find many examples of his work on eBay.

Another, more obscure artist, Boris Artzybasheff, illustrated an eminently forgettable 1928 Newbery award winner, Gay Neck, which is now more noteworthy for its art than its content.

He also did numerous covers for Time magazine, wrote and illustrated The Seven Simeons, and illustrated a version of Aesop's Fables which is highly collectible. Copies of Aesop's Fables are cataloged in the 398s, right along with the fairy and folk tales, and occasionally you'll find them in the fiction or short story section.

Generally speaking, you'll find copies of Heidi, Black Beauty, Treasure Island and other children's classics in the children's fiction/chapter books area. Always take the time to open the book and check for the illustrator. These sorts of books are easy to spot; often they are thick and appear in unattractive library bindings.

A few tips: Books with glossy illustrations are usually the most desirable. Also, in your auction description, it is helpful to specify how many illustrations are in color and how many are in black and white.

These days more and more FOL sales being overrun by groups of Scan Locusts. The children's section, however, is one area they tend to ignore - not enough bar codes! At your next FOL sale, wander over and peruse the kid lit. And always remember that you can't always tell a good seller by its cover, especially if you come across an ugly, buckram library binding.

Questions or comments?
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