The Disney story hardly needs to be retold. Walt Disney was an ambitious man born at the start of the 20th century with a talent for animation and an eye for opportunity, whose intellectual property would go on to shape the world. In the century since the start of the Disney corporation, alongside its media empire and recreational kingdoms, the company has produced incalculable volumes of merchandise and memorabilia. Collectively known to fans as “Disneyana”, Disney collectibles span a wide range of vintage and contemporary articles and show no signs of becoming less popular any time soon.
It’s difficult to imagine the scope of Disneyana as the term is used to refer to any and all collectibles that are in any way connected to the Disney Corporation: from animation celluloids right through to a Pepsi logo once sewn on a Disneyland cashier’s jacket… The cheerful little face of Mickey Mouse alone has adorned everything from dolls and rocking horses to trash cans and ashtrays.
Disneyana can be loosely split into three overarching categories, which we’ll examine below:
- The movie memorabilia, primarily from their animated features. This includes animation cels, production sketches and faithful Disney produced replicas.
- Theme park memorabilia which range from props and signage to exclusive merchandise sold in the many Disney Parks.
- Miscellaneous merchandise, toys, collaborations, and memorabilia centered around Walt Disney himself.
1. Movie Memorabilia – Production Cels, Sketches and Replicas, primarily from animated features
Perhaps the most obvious coveted pieces of Disneyana are production celluloids (cels). Historically, animation required thousands and thousands of individual animation cels—named for the transparent celluloid sheets—for even a short cartoon let alone a feature film. Each cel was hand drawn and painted by the Disney animation team, painstakingly photographed and then linked together to create beloved masterpieces like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Unfortunately, very few of these cels from Walt Disney’s personal heyday (the 1920s to the 1960s) survive today. Why? Nobody responsible had any inkling that these would become highly prized collectors’ items. Therefore most were either washed to be reused, or simply destroyed.
But that doesn’t mean that none survived. Each surviving original production cel is a one-of-a-kind piece of art and is priced accordingly. An authenticated cel of good quality, featuring popular Disney characters or famous moments, can reach a high price at auction. For instance, a cel of Snow White and the Evil Queen/Old Hag sold for $15,000 in 2014 and some cels can even fetch close to six figures – though it’s much rarer for those sorts of cels to come to auction.
Minor characters from less popular films and shorts will cost much less, towards the lower thousands and upper hundreds.
If that’s not in your price range, or if you’re more interested in a specific Disney moment, there are official limited edition recreations issued by the Disney company. These are serigraph cels – created by silkscreening layers of color onto celluloid. Print runs range from a thousand to ten thousand for such cel recreations, making them far more accessible than an original cel. Usually these are originally sold by Disney and available widely from auction houses. Limited edition serigraph cels sell for around one hundred to two hundred dollars.
But cels aren’t the only way to get a piece of Disney films. If animation is your passion but cels aren’t your style you can look into production drawings: character sketches, model sheets and rough layouts. The prices vary between animator and project but you can often find them at lower prices than the original cels they inspired.
And if you prefer live action, there are many props from Disney feature films to be found at auctions all over the world. But movie props aren’t the most coveted props in Disneyana collections; that distinction belongs to the theme park Memorabilia…
2. The Wonderful World of Disney Parks Memorabilia
No one does a theme park like Disney. Disneyland and all the subsequent theme parks have created a fandom of park devotees that spans generations, each with their own unique Disney memories and collections. Every piece of park history is valuable to someone. There are the obvious collectibles such as ride props and retired animatronics, and there are even people who collect the unsung heroes of that Disney magic: ephemera such as napkins and brochures from throughout the parks’ history.
The biggest thing to pay attention to when purchasing Disney Park props is the phrase “park used”. A replica might look nice but it will never be as valuable as a piece bearing the wear and tear of actual use in a Disney Park. “Park used” pieces are also much rarer as they’re made in limited quantities for practical use and only sold to second hand sellers by the company itself. But in exchange for the higher price, you get a truly unique object that once delighted people in their millions, now retired to the comfort of your private collection.
One of the more popular and unique Disney Park Disneyana collectables are park signs. These range from signs for attractions and park shops to ride warnings and even old employee parking spot signs.
Original signs range widely in price depending on the attraction – a Haunted Mansion sign sells for a lot more than the label on the recycling bin—from below one hundred dollars to several thousand. One of the most expensive Disney Park signs ever sold at auction was a park used Splash Mountain exit sign sold by Potter & Potter Auctions for $10,800.
But some collectors dream bigger than a sign; they want a piece of the ride for themselves. The rarest and most expensive collectibles are ride parts: cars, props and, the coveted of all, animatronics. These items come up rarely.
Recently vehicles from Tomorrowland’s PeopleMover, Space Mountain, and even a massive Nautilus submarine from the long gone but not forgotten 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride have made appearances at auctions. Full animatronics from It’s A Small World and The Tiki Room come up for sale with some regularity owing to how frequently updated those attractions are and how small the figures are. But a human sized animatronic rarely leaves the Disney Vault—animatronics are costly and easily reconfigured into new attractions. With limited exceptions, in 2019 an A1 frame animatronic did go to auction with a hefty $90,000 price tag.
If you’re looking a little smaller, Disney pins are always in style. Enamel pins have boomed in popularity in recent years but Disney was already ahead of the curb when they started Disney Pin Trading in 1999. There are thousands of Disney pins featuring beloved characters and park attractions. While sold at the parks for low prices, the second hand market for discontinued pins is explosive and continues to grow every year. The most sought after pins aren’t the ones sold in parks, however, they’re the service pins given to employees for 45 and 50 years of service. The 50 year badge features Steamboat Willie and a small inset diamond. Understandably, there aren’t many in circulation.
3. Merchandise Beyond the Parks and Films
Outside the world of theme parks and films there are many other pieces of Disneyana that may strike your fancy. Disney has collaborated with so many companies over the years that it’s likely that a crossover with Disneyana and something you love already exists. There are the original Donald and Mickey Pez dispensers that usually sell for a few hundred dollars. The first editions of the Disney comics that started in the 1940s. The countless unique releases of their film classics in every format imaginable and the many, many toys. Most lauded of all the Disney toys is one of the very first, the Mickey Mouse doll created by American seamstress Charlotte Clark.
Of course, the fervor extends to Walt Disney himself. His autograph on its own or with his typical Mickey Mouse drawing, regularly sells for over fifteen thousand dollars. But it doesn’t stop at the signature. People collect all sorts of bits and bobs tangentially related to his life. You can even buy authenticated pieces of the old wooden garage he started his company in or tiny parts of his famous 1:8 scale backyard railway. The key to authentic Walt Disney collectables is Phil Sears, the leading expert in Walt Disney’s signature and the man who’s name you should look for when purchasing a Walt Disney signature.
But Disneyana does not end in vintage memorabilia. If you’re looking for the Disneyana of tomorrow it’s in the collaborations of today. Disney works with every luxury brand imaginable. You can find a Swarovski crystal version of Buzz Lightyear. A Gucci necklace with Donald Duck. An Estee Lauder rhinestone encrusted Aladdin compact. If you can dream it, it probably exists or it will soon.
Hopefully this guide has tickled your imagination to the possibilities of your Disneyana collection. There is so much well-preserved vintage memorabilia, and the company continues to generate more. With a keen eye, you can find the perfect piece of Disney history for your personal collection.