Last month, our column ended by commenting on a pie-eyed Mickey Mouse. It started us thinking about the origin of comic characters and how several have become ultra collectible.
We begin with Richard F. Outcault, considered to be America’s first cartoonist. Outcault became famous when he created a big-eared, bald street kid in a yellow gown. That alone is funny, but his antics as a slum rambunctious kid of all kinds of trouble became a comic strip that readers couldn’t wait for every Sunday.
It all started in the New York World newspaper in 1894. The Yellow Kid was in such demand that William Randolph Hearst hired away Outcault from the World and over-exposed the Yellow Kid. Therefore, it was a short-lived comic strip, last published in January 1898.
So, like so many collectibles, supply and demand sets in, with Yellow Kid books, dolls, and cartoons (if original) are widely sought by cartoon collectors.
Outcault was not finished as he did a 180-degree turn and created a mischievous well-to-do boy named Buster Brown, dressed in jaunty Little Lord Fauntleroy-style, with his dog Tige. The strip was very popular, and the Brown Shoe Company later adopted Buster as its trademark.
In 1904, Outcault sold advertising art licenses to 200 companies and reportedly earned $75,000. The strip, books, and allied advertising are highly collectible.
On the heels of Outcault’s success came Grace Wiederseim, a freelance artist who created the Campbell’s Kids in 1904. Divorced in 1911, she married William Drayton and was more recognized as Grace Drayton, the most successful female cartoon artist of all time.
Once more, because of a shorter exposure, items identified with Grace Wiederseim are of greater value.
Drayton went on to create Dolly Dingle paper dolls, Dolly Dimples, and the Pussycat Princess. Because of her popularity, several museums featured displays of Grace Drayton’s creations.
When attending antique or collectible shows, it is quite rare to find any original items of Outcault or Drayton, as reproductions or new items have found their way into the marketplace. Buyers beware!
In any event, research and enjoy the effort of these two pioneers.
Jerry Glenn is co-owner of Reminisce in Bluffton, where sports collectibles are bought and sold.