Mickey Mouse Memorabilia
By Karen Parr-Moody
America’s favorite mouse, Mickey, has squeaked and scampered through eight decades, launching more collectible products than his illustrated antics would have suggested at the time of his Roaring Twenties debut. Long since he first charmed its way into the national subconscious, his memorabilia continues to warms hearts as holiday gifts, as they surely will in 2010.
Born of the pen of Walt Disney during a transcontinental train ride, Mickey Mouse made his first public appearance in the animated film Steamboat Willie, released on November 18, 1928. In 1933, during the depths of the Depression, Ingersoll-Waterbury made the first Mickey Mouse watch, in both pocket and wrist styles. The wristwatch was sold at the Chicago World’s Fair, retailing for $3 ($50.47 in 2010 money). GasLamp antiques dealer Tony Phipps has one of each early model, seen in the photos at right (price available upon request; Booth B-211). He says these watches now fetch anywhere from $250 to $600, depending on the condition. Phipps has had both of these watches serviced, rebuilt, cleaned, and re-oiled by a master watchmaker, which is critical to having one of these watches in working condition.
Phipps bought his first watch years ago at a St. Louis antique shop. “I saw it in a case and thought it was cool,” he says. “Now I’ve got several from every time period.” His collection numbers to the hundreds, and on a day-to-day basis, he wears a replica of an early model (his wife also wears a Mickey Mouse watch). His booth doesn’t stop at Mickey Mouse watches, though; he has other Mouse memorabilia.
Since 1933, thousands of watches have emerged, from humble plastic models to those encrusted in diamonds. Makers have included Seiko, Lorus, Chopard, Bradley, and Fossil.
“It’s very fascinating,” says Phipps. “Everyone I talk to seems to have a story about having a Mickey Mouse watch. I think Mickey Mouse is everyone’s fantasy creature. Who doesn’t like Mickey? They’ve built an empire around the mouse, with Disney Land, Disney World, and the movies.”
What child of the Fifties doesn’t recall The Mickey Mouse Club, the American TV show populated with a cast of effervescent teens? It inspired a generation, along with merchandise, including the Mickey Mouse Club watch. Phipps sells a model of this fun watch in his booth (photo, left; $44.99).
In more recent years, the popular watch company Fossil has put together box sets of “Limited Edition Fossil Mickey Mouse Collector’s Item” watches, shown at right (Fossil watch and toy, $105; Booth B-211). These include a wooden train pull-toy, which hints at the Mickey Mouse merchandising history; after watches, Lionel Trains was another company that got in on the Mickey bonanza in the 1930s. At this time, Lionel introduced the Mickey Mouse wind-up handcar toy, which, to its surprise, sold so quickly that the firm could not keep up with demand.
Even though Disney was a marketing wunderkind in the 1930s, that era pales in comparison with where merchandising eventually went. Phipps’ booth offers more evidence of past products, including this charming cookie jar, featuring Mickey Mouse in a straw hat (photo, left; $56). This look references back to how Mickey dressed in full regalia on the MickeyMouse Club for the “Fun with Music Day” on the program (each day had a theme, including “Circus Day” and “Guest Star Day”). His garb included a striped coat, straw hat, bow tie, chaps, and a cane, naturally.
Eighty years seems like a long time for a cartoon Mouse to remain in generations’ hearts. But he has become part of the fabric of the American story, the best friend of every child, and surely a favorite gift to be found under the Christmas tree this year.