Collecting Walt Disney Collectibles
by Carl Rich.
The diversity of Disneyana available to the collector is both staggering and, at the same time, marvelous. There are myriad areas of specialization available for not only the types of items but also time periods and price ranges. Each offers the collector rich opportunities for fun, immersion in our shared popular culture history, the creation of a wonderful assemblage of objects and, with wise selections, the potential for financial appreciation.
The golden rule of collecting is simple — collect what you enjoy. Along the way, educate yourself by enjoying shows, auctions, publications, conventions (most notably the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention) and fellow collectors. Just this past year I purchased at the same convention a Walt Disney autograph. Disney’s cancelled check was matted with a photo of Disney himself. I since purchased a glass and wood frame and the autograph is now a proud monument on the living room wall.
When a purchase is made, the collector is putting his knowledge and instincts to the test. He is operating in a marketplace created by people with a shared interest in owning a particular object. Because Disneyana has a forty-year track record of being collected by “modern day” collectors, many items have established values. For vintage collectibles, as opposed to new creations designed for collector appeal, the rules of supply and demand are important, but actually secondary to the critical third factor of condition.
Supply, or rarity, is an assessment of availability. Before eBay, what was once considered difficult to find and valued at thousands of dollars is now listed on the internet every week. That same item is now a dime a dozen and cost less than $40. However, other rare items have popped up from time to time and people are unaware of them even existing. Both eBay and the internet have effected price guides for Disney collectibles but also added new merchandise people did not know existed. One-of-a-kind posters and ad art now go for huge sums of money — not bad for an item that wasn’t even known to exist or cataloged in a price guide.
Rare items without he support of much collector interest will stay at low to moderate prices. Other much more available items, immensely popular with many collectors, achieve high dollar values. One example is the 1934 Mickey and Minnie Hand Car Toy by the Lionel Corporation. Beware of something marked “only one of ten known to exist.” Rarity increases value but the demand creates the value.
Various survival rates also apply. Vernon Kilns figurine meant to sit on a display shelf is more likely to survive undamaged than a wooden pull toy with paper labels designed for the active four year old. Some items, such as gum wrappers or toy boxes, were frequently discarded immediately after purchase. Unused wrappers, sheets of collector cards and labels without any adhesive can add extreme value.
Comic books can be purchase through thousands of venues. Many certified and graded in hard, clamshell cases. Understand the grading for which the number applies before asking the price. If you prefer reading material and not collecting material, buy the cheapest price at any condition. But for an investment, grab the earliest issues possible that have been certified and graded.
Unauthorized reproductions turn up from time to time. In order to avoid being cheated, you need to do your research. Sadly, there are vendors who intentionally defraud and collectors unaware of the item’s unauthorized status can spent money on items that are not genuine. Avoid Disney memorabilia from the 1930s, 40s and 50s that have recently been framed in glass, or shrink wrap, because this can hide a multitude of problems. A generous layer of grime or highly reflective glare may obscure the image enough to hide what proves to be a photocopy, color laser copy or printed reproduction. Reproductions of Disney cartoon posters from the 1930s have been reproduced and sold in battered vintage frames under dusty or dirty glass.
When you collect a Disney item of the past, you become the custodian. Consider preserving what you have. Sunlight will fade the color over time. A glass case will limit the amount of dust that will settle on the item. Remove any adhesive price tags as quickly as possible. The longer they are in place the most firmly they adhere. Inked pricing can bleed through and stain the item. In most cases, a few drops of adhesive solvent will do the trick. A new item on the market called Goo Gone is superb. Be careful you do not remove any surface or paint. Don’t write your purchase price on the item. If the seller did so in pencil, consider leaving it before damaging the item. A pencil mark is minor. Record keeping should be done in a notebook or computer, not on the item itself.
Mylar bags are recommended for acidic paper items such as comic books or magazines. Pin-backs may go into glass-covered “butterfly” mounts. Remember that boxes create pressure so consider using plastic bins. Three dimensional objects are best stored on shelves in closed cases to protect them from accumulating dust and particularly tobacco smoke residue. Collectibles in the home face their greatest threats when stored in attics and basements or any location that receives direct sunlight. Also dangerous to many printed items are fluorescent lights, which may fade colors very quickly. Extreme temperatures play a role.
These are just some of the basics in collecting Disney memorabilia (or any memorabilia for that matter). Just remember to go with your heart. Do not be too eager to buy an item just because it looks good. Try to reject three items for every four that comes along. Always get a second opinion and value that second opinion. Find a friend who can give you advice on what has value and what doesn’t. And above all else… if the offer is too good to be true, it probably is.
History of Walt Disneyland 1955