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Classic Disney Postcards 1930-1955

by

Tom DeLuca

     Walt Disney would always say, “It all started with a mouse!”
    
     Mickey Mouse made his debut in Steamboat Willie on the big screen at the Colony Theatre in New York City on November 18, 1928.  For five years the fledgling Walt Disney Productions had waited for a “star” to give them their big break. It was the uniqueness, boldness, and irresistible charm of Mickey Mouse that quickly endeared him to his audience.

     Although Disney first introduced his cartoons in the United States, he also sold them into the European theatres for financial reasons. The large U.S. movie studios controlled the fee structures paid for short subjects run in this country, so Disney went overseas with Mickey to raise additional needed revenue to cover expenses and to further develop and innovate his production. He was an even larger hit there, quickly making Mickey Mouse a worldwide sensation. Mickey would star in 120 different cartoons, most of which were shown through 1942, when World War II would put a huge damper on the international movie business.

     Classic Disney postcards, as defined by this author, are those cards issued prior to the 1955 opening of Disneyland, which began the Theme Park Era of cards. They comprise the first twenty-five+ years of Disney postcards and can be further sub-divided into the Early Classic, Early Film, and Later Classic Periods.

     THE EARLY CLASSIC PERIOD (1930-1937)
   
      Picture postcards quickly made the European scene in 1930 shortly after Mickey arrived. The earliest cards were licensed to the British publishers Inter-Art Co. and Woolstone / Milton and the German publisher W. Hagelberg. Remember that the Mickey Mouse of 1930 was a little edgier and mischievous, plus a lot less “politically correct” than the image we’ve grown to love over the years.

(Figure #1) An evasive Mickey avoids Minnie and the issue of marriage and children in “I’m not a marrying man !“. Minnie also made her debut in the first cartoon with Mickey, but was always his girlfriend and sweetheart. 
(Figure #2)  Mickey boasts a little of the Disney success with a “re-painting effort” of his contemporaries in film, Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin. The card is titled “Accept no Substitutes !”, this card inscribed for the German market. Both of these cards were British produced.
(Figure #3) We would never think of Mickey Mouse drinking a bottle of wine on the street almost passed out from imbibing, but this 1930 German Hagelberg card passes commentary on the foolishness of Prohibition in the United States at the time. Note that this card was produced for the French language market. 
(Figure #4) The more romantic side of Mickey is depicted in this “She loves me, she loves me not” card in the courtship of Minnie. This is a very typical example of the early Hagelberg series’ of cards in either tan or white backgrounds and various languages.
(Figure #5)  The love affair continues in this “Romeo and Juliet” reminiscent card published in Italy by Ballerini & Fratini. One recurring theme that many Disney postcards portray is the use of musical instruments, as the proper music was so important to Walt in the creation of his cartoons.
(Figure #6)  Also very important to Disney were the lucrative marketing contracts possible for products depicting Mickey and friends. This German 1930 dated real photo card shows a toy Mickey doll, continuing his romantic escapades, by whispering sweet nothings into the ear of Olga Tschechowa, a very popular young actress.
(Figure #7)  Pluto, Mickey’s trusty dog, is racing the happy couple off to the 1935 Brussels World’s Fair and Exposition on this Belgian card. Another recurring theme in Disney is the depiction of so many animals, as Walt cared deeply for them, influenced by growing up on a farm in his childhood town of Marceline, Missouri. 
 (Figure #8) Mickey shows off his golf swing in this 1936 French card by prolific Disney postcard publisher E. Sepheriades of Paris, France. Sports themes are, as you might expect, some of the most popular and difficult cards to find.
 (Figure #9)  Walt always had a fascination for transportation, and especially trains, so don’t think it odd that Mickey and the gang should “express” birthday greetings in this locomotive related card. Printed circa 1937 in Great Britain by yet another extensive Disney publisher, Valentine & Sons, Ltd., this card has a wonderful embossed border, typical of the many birthday type cards made in Disney themes to target the child audience.

 

THE EARLY ANIMATED FEATURE FILM PERIOD (1937-1953)

     Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs   premiered on December 21,1937 in Hollywood, California. It was the first animated feature film and changed movie history forever! Using over 750 artists in the three years of painstaking production on the film, Disney critics thought the film project pure folly, which would bankrupt the company at a total cost of $1.4 million. It became the highest grossing motion picture ever at the time, finally putting Walt Disney Productions into financial stability and enabling Walt in 1940 to build a state-of-the-art motion picture studio in Burbank, California.

     Snow White began the period I define as the Early Animated Feature Film period of postcards, including such favorites as Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941), Bambi (1942), The Three Caballeros (1945), Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), and Peter Pan (1953).

(Figure #10)  As the seven dwarfs march home, singing their happy tune of “Hi-ho, hi-ho”, Disney once again taps into the inner child in all of us and how happy most people are to head on home! This real photograph card is reproduced from the original movie cels, and published by Valentine & Sons, Ltd.
(Figure #11)  This British black and white real photo card shows the cast of Harry Benet’s stage production of the movie. This card is actually hand-signed on the reverse by the cast with their real and character names. As you might imagine, vintage Snow White cards are very popular, and with several hundred different cards known, a challenge as well!
(Figure #12)  “Star light, star bright-- May I have the wish I wish to-night!” A lonely Geppetto wishes that Pinocchio were a real boy in this 1940 Valentine’s card, as Jiminy Cricket looks on. “Many film historians describe the film as the most beautifully realized and technically perfect of all the Disney animated features.”
(Figure #13)  Dumbo, the baby circus elephant with the large ears, and his friend Timothy grace this 1950 card from the French publisher Superluxe. Part of a set of 24 numbered cards, this publisher was known for producing several long series’ of postcards.
(Figure #14)  This 1953 card depicts Bambi and his Mother soon before one of the most memorable and saddening scenes in animated film history. Part of a set of 25 numbered cards, this is also a French Superluxe card. The French publisher E. Sepheriades also produced these long sets in this time period, and several different printings are found.
(Figure #15)  The Latin-themed musical, The Three Caballeros,evolved from Walt’s South American Goodwill tour. During the war years, there was little chance for the film market in Europe, and the Disney studios were primarily converted to making instructional films for the US war effort. During this time, Walt and his family traveled several times to South America and his affinity for the culture and music resulted in several films with a distinctive Latin flair. This 1944 card is one of the earlier postcards actually published by Walt Disney Productions in the United States.

THE LATER CLASSIC PERIOD (1938-1955)

       This later group of postcards focuses on not only Mickey Mouse, but also the entire contingent of the many characters spawned by the Disney cartoons, films, comics, and promotional products. By this time, Mickey had evolved into the happy and carefree guy we know today. Donald Duck, first introduced in 1934, had grown immensely in popularity, even surpassing Mickey in the 1940’s and early 1950’s. The cards reflect happier times and upbeat themes, especially as World War II was resolved. The artwork and publishers became much more standardized due to Disney more carefully protecting its licensed characters and their appearance. The colors of the artwork on the cards became more diversified and range from the much brighter and vivid to the soft and pastel with the more improved production processes.

(Figure #16)  A poignant scene showing Mickey and Minnie sharing a hug at the beach under the evening light, this white-bordered card is very typical of the period. Published in Great Britain by Valentine & Sons Ltd., this 1943 issue is one of over a hundred different similar style cards of this time period.
(Figure #17)  Donald Duck, together with his posse of nephews, Huey, Duey and Louie, are announcing to Walt Disney’s Comics readers that they were given a gift subscription on the reverse of this card. Printed by K.K. Publications in the United States for Disney, these early-mid 1950’s cards were often tossed out after being read.
(Figure #18)  This Belgian produced postcard by Coloprint, featuring an Easter egg hunt on a greetings card, shows off wonderful pastel colored art. This style of Coloprint card began in the early 1950’s and continued into the early 1960’s. They are an extensive group of a few hundred beautiful cards covering most holidays and greetings occasions, and using various languages and type styles.
(Figure #19)  One of the most popular series of Disney cards is the Tobler chocolates series, printed in France by Georges Lang, starting in the early 1950’s and continuing into the early 1960’s. These cards are rarely found postally used, as the cards were given out as advertising cards in each box of chocolates. The postcards are very bright and colorful, each portraying a different character from the many Disney films and cartoons. The cards were issued over the years in different series or groups, thus many characters have been repeated in the different printings. This card, depicting Mickey as the ever-popular star of the show, is one of well over a hundred different and memorable characters portrayed on the Tobler chocolates postcards.
(Figure#20)  This last card is a very prophetic one indeed, published in 1938 by Valentine & Sons, Ltd.  A personal favorite, an ever-optimistic Mickey is holding the “Golden Key” to the “Castle of Happiness” in the distance. It’s as if Walt Disney drew this one himself, as “the mouse that started it all” holds the key to the castle, which resembles Sleeping Beauty’s castle at Disneyland! It’s as if Walt knew then, that this Golden Key would be used to open the world to his new Theme Park experience called Disneyland. And fifty years later, in the Golden Anniversary year of Disneyland, Walt Disney would be smiling, along with the millions and millions of appreciative people worldwide.

Bibliography:

Disney A to Z, the Updated Official Encyclopedia, by Dave Smith
Walt Disney, An American Original, by Bob Thomas

 

 
 
 

 

All Contents Copyright (c) 2006

 

Last Update: August 12, 2006 6:48 PM