Disneyana, Part I

by Judith Katz-Schwartz


When Walter E. Disney first created his little mouse character in 1928, the world could not have known what would ultimately happen. He hoped the character would last for a few more black and white cartoons. No one could have foreseen that this rodent would grow into a cultural phenomenon of worldwide proportions, and that the name of Disney would become a household world for children of all ages.

The original Mickey Mouse (aka Steamboat Willie), born in 1928, wasn't a very nice guy. He amused himself by torturing other animals. At one point he squished a goose to make it honk! The American people responded to this behavior with condemnation. Disney was no fool. He altered the character to make him good, adventurous and smart -- what everyone thought of as "human". After that it was a straight ride to the top for Mickey.

Right from the beginning Disney could see that there was gold in merchandising his character, and the others that soon followed. Mickey's and his friends' images appeared on everything from toys to clothing to watches. Indeed, even today the Mickey Mouse watch is one of the most sought after and pricey of the vintage Disneyana collectibles.

Once Mickey was established, he needed a mate, and Minnie was born. She was little more than Mickey with a skirt and high heels, a two dimensional character. Accordingly, she never achieved the intense popularity Mickey enjoys even today--with the possible exception of feminist Disneyphiles.

In the 1930s, considered the golden age of Disney collectibles, our mouse went through several metamorphoses designed to make him less ratlike and more likable. This was because many of the early Mickey collectibles, especially those manufactured in Europe, were frightening to children (A little aside here. Why is it that the same people who are frightened to death of live mice think Mickey is adorable? I don't know. It might be for the same reason that people who are afraid of rats think squirrels are cute. After all, a squirrel is just a rat with a bushy tail). Since the Disney organization maintained strict control of the design of products manufactured by their licensees, these European versions of Mickey were declared too realistic and not benign enough. As a result, these early foreign items are rare, highly desirable and enormously costly in today's market.

Early items can be identified by the characters' features. Mickey and Minnie were "pie-eyed"; their eyes were white ovals with black pupils. Each pupil had a 'slice of pie' removed. Donald Duck also had a different appearance in those days. His bill was much longer and pointier than it is today. And Goofy wasn't even named Goofy. He was called "Dippy The Goof".

As more characters were added, the business of Disneyana mushroomed into an empire. Walt Disney moved along on the path to the major economic force his dream has become today

Next, we'll talk about Disney feature films, and their effect on the collecting market. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Your comments, as always, are welcome. If you have something to say, write to me.
If you like, I'll subscribe you to a free short weekly email newsletter that will help you end the week with a chuckle. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~




Any questions? E-mail us at

2001 Judith Katz-Schwartz. All rights reserved.