In the beginning there was Mickey – the rest is history

Former President Jimmy Carter once said, “Mickey Mouse is the symbol of goodwill, surpassing all languages and cultures. When one sees Mickey Mouse, they see happiness.”

Very few people who are passionate about collecting Disney-related merchandise would disagree.

For more than three-quarters of a century, Mickey Mouse and a host of other beautifully drawn and wildly popular Disney characters have been featured on – or in – everything from watches to trains, comic books to figurines, and rocking chairs to lunchboxes.

The whole wonderful world of Disney collecting got its start in 1928 with the black-and-white short “Steamboat Willie.” Co-directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, Steamboat Willie was the first cartoon with synchonized sound. More importantly, it made Mickey a star. From those humble beginnings, Mickey went on to star in 120 shorts, winning an Academy Award in 1931 for “Mickey’s Orphans.”

On Nov. 18, 1978, in honor of his 50th anniversary, Mickey Mouse became the first cartoon character to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Throughout the decades, Mickey Mouse competed with Warner Bros.’ Bugs Bunny for animated popularity. But in 1988, in a historic moment in motion picture history, the two rivals finally shared screen time in the Robert Zemeckis film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Warner and Disney signed an agreement stating that each character had exactly the same amount of screen time, right down to the semi-second.

While Donald Duck and Goofy claimed some of Mickey’s popularity in the 1940s, a TV phenomenon renewed his luster. When The Mickey Mouse Club premiered on Oct. 3, 1955, it captured the attention of kids all over the country. The Mouseketeers, played by regular kids, became household names. The program lasted three years and 360 shows and launched the career of the most famous Mouseketeer of all: Annette Funicello.

It’s almost impossible to overstate the impact of the show. Even today, it’s difficult to find a Baby Boomer who doesn’t know at least some of the words to the Mickey Mouse Club theme song:

Who’s the leader of the club
That’s made for you and me?
M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E!

Hey, there! Hi, there! Ho, there!
You’re as welcome as can be!

Mickey Mouse! Donald Duck!
Mickey Mouse! Donald Duck!
Forever let us hold our banners high!
High! High! High!
Come along and sing a song
And join the jamboree

And at the end of the program came the soft, sincere farewell song…

Now’s the time to say goodbye
To all our company
Through the years we’ll all be friends
Wherever we may be
Mickey Mouse, Mickey Mouse
Forever let us hold our banner high
M-I-C – See ya real soon!
K-E-Y – Why? Because we like you!

Collecting Disney

The Mickey Mouse Club, like the cartoons and movies that preceded it, ensured interest in the entire Disney line, including the merchandising. Almost everyone has a slice of Disneyana sitting in a drawer somewhere, if not displayed upon their mantle. Many of these items, often dismissed as children’s toys, are not only collectible, but could also fetch a pretty penny on the collector’s market. The Disney toys, comics, and posters from the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s and ’60s comprise the lion’s share of the Disneyana; prewar Disney material is by far the most desirable.

For the beginner collecting Disneyana, it is wise to focus on a particular area. Considering the staggering variety of available material, it would be difficult for any one to collect everything. As a result, many collectors choose to narrow their scope, specializing in items from a particular period. Others may collect only items related to a specific character, snatching up everything that bears their likeness. Still others may choose a certain item to collect, selecting for example Disney watches or clocks. Regardless, there are oodles of Disney collectibles available to satisfy any niche. Disney collectibles, rare and common, can be found with little effort at flea markets, garage sales, local antique and toy shows and online, as well as through auction houses and specialty catalogs.

Determining value is a tricky process. Throughout the years, there has been a steady rise in the importance of condition, especially when evaluating comic books. Having comics officially graded and sealed in plastic “slabs” by the CGC – the first independent, impartial, expert third party grading service – ensures their condition and gives collectors a uniform grading system. Comics in high grades generally sell for a price two to five times that of ungraded comics.

Establishing value

Tears, discoloration, scratches, wear and other imperfections can greatly reduce value. A comic sold as mint for $100 could be rendered nearly worthless by a water-damaged edge. On the other hand, if done professionally, a torn movie poster can be repaired with minimal expense, considerably increasing its value. Always avoid rust on metal toys, water damaged boxes and paper, children’s books with pages scribbled in, severely cracked celluloid, and color fading from exposure to the sun.

While condition is important, the scarcity of an item plays a large role in determining its value. Ordinary items can be found most anywhere.

In recent years, the prices on common items have begun to level off. Online sales and auction sites make items more readily available on an everyday basis, limiting their value. Many items have been selling for 20 years at the same price and can be found quite regularly on the Internet. EBay may have given collectors the largest flea market in history, but knowledge in still king. If an item hits the market having not been seen in years, it is likely to generate record-breaking prices. Scarce items in near mint condition can sell for tens of thousands of dollars. Even if in lesser shape, don’t let these items pass you by. You may only see it once, so sometimes it’s best to grab it while you can.

More than 75 years after their creation, Mickey and friends have proven a hot commodity on the collector’s market, thanks to their universal appeal. While sometimes it may seem overwhelming, with a little know-how, collecting Disneyana can be a fun, rewarding experience for anyone willing to devote the time.

And while you’re collecting, keep in mind the words of Walt Disney: “I only hope we never lose sight of one thing,” Disney said. “That it was all started by a mouse.”

Other Favorite Characters

Lady and the Tramp

The first animated feature to be filmed in Cinemascope, this Disney movie is a sweet love story between a pampered cocker spaniel named Lady, and Tramp, a mongrel from the wrong side of the tracks. Once they meet, they share an adventure together and fall in love.
Collectibles include books, figures, posters and plush toys.

Davy Crockett

Frontier legend Davy Crockett was immortalized in five episodes that ran between 1954-55 on Walt Disney’s Disneyland TV show. Starring Fess Parker as Davy and Buddy Ebsen as his sidekick George Russell, the shows were a huge success and coonskin caps were all the rage with children. The television shows, Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter; Davy Crockett Goes to Congress; Davy Crockett at the Alamo; Davy Crockett’s Keelboat Race; and Davy Crockett and the River Pirates, were so popular, Disney recut the first three episodes into the theatrical feature, Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, released in 1955.

Besides coonskin caps, other Davy Crockett memorabilia includes comic books, playsets, puzzles, records and toy guns and knives.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Another animated classic based on a fairy tale, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” is one of Disney’s greatest successes and crowning achievements. Fleeing from her evil stepmother, one of Disney’s greatest villains, Snow White seeks refuge with the seven dwarfs (Bashful, Doc, Dopey, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy and Sneezy). After her stepmother tracks her down, she changes into a witch and feeds Snow White a poisoned apple, which puts her into a deep sleep and she can only be awakened with a kiss from Prince Charming.

There is a huge variety of collectibles related to this movie and its characters that includes everything from banks, figures and games to jewelry, masks and valentines.

Warman's Disney Collectibles Field GuideKen Farrell is owner and manager of Just Kids Nostalgia, an auction house and retail store specializing in pop-culture collectibles for more than 25 years.

Warman’s® Disney Collectibles Field Guide, Values and Identification, by Ken Farrell.
Retail: $12.99 
Your price: $11.04

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