Harold and Sandra Darling founded Green Tiger Press in 1969 as a greeting card company whose products featured their collection of images from vintage pre-1940 children’s books, calendars, paintings, and posters. These illustrations (which now number around 10,000) became the aesthetic basis of Laughing Elephant, the company’s book publishing division.
The success of Green Tiger’s stationery products allowed the Darlings to begin publishing gift books in 1972. Their first title, All Mirrors Are Magic Mirrors by Welleran Poltarnees, was soon followed by the nostalgic illustrated books of Cooper Edens, including If You’re Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow, which has sold over one million copies since 1979. In 1983, when Green Tiger published a book based on Jimmy Kennedy’s popular 1907 song The Teddy Bear’s Picnic, illustrated by Sandra, an accomplished artist whose professional name is Alexandra Day, it became an instant hit. (Sandra is also the author/illustrator for the Good Dog Carl children series, which is published by Simon & Schuster and Farrar, Straus and Giroux.)
In 1986 the Darlings sold Green Tiger to Simon & Schuster, but they maintained their stationery line. When they moved to Seattle in 1993, they founded Laughing Elephant Publishing to produce and distribute both gift books and paper products. The Darlings reacquired the Green Tiger name three years ago, and the press continues to publish a range of adult and children’s books. Its current bestsellers include Sandra’s The Fairy Dogfather, the Shaped Books series for kids, and cookbooks such as Let’s Bake a Cake and Easy as Pie.
Laughing Elephant, which publishes eight to 10 titles annually, is distributed to the trade and gift markets by Ingram Publisher Services; it previously had its own commission reps. “We began in the book trade, but eventually sold to gift stores,” said Harold, “and that’s a significant part of our business today.” Despite the growth of digital greeting cards, Harold said that the company’s stationery sales to gift accounts are “great,” perhaps because IPS has such a strong presence in that market. IPS has also been instrumental in bringing Laughing Elephant into the digital age, helping to select the titles that become e-books and handling the digital conversions.
Image licensing is also an area of growth for the company. Laughing Elephant has been partnered with Corbis Images for many years, and Laughing Elephant just signed a contract with 1,000 Museums, which licenses to art institutions internationally. “Almost all of our images are out of copyright,” said Harold. “But we add to or correct them, so they become new editions of old pictures and can be licensed.” In 1993 the company’s annual sales were in the $100,000 range. “But we eventually grew to well over $1 million annually—until the economic crash [of 2008],” Sandra said. “Corbis has helped us rebuild our resources since then.”
Laughing Elephant is a family business, and many of the Darling’s seven children work at the press. This, in part, explains Laughing Elephant’s longevity; but for Harold there is more. “It’s the power of images,” he said. “We’re one of only a few to mine and rediscover this area of vintage images. And we design our books and paper products with sincerity and truthfulness to be visually stunning, imaginative, and creative.”