As the interest in animation art grew, many small dealers sprang up across the country to compete with the pricey auctions and the “official” Disney-licensed art galleries. For a while in the late 1970s, one could pick up one of the dwarfs from Snow White from a small dealer for about the same price you could pick up a latter-day Winnie the Pooh from a small (but officially sanctioned) gallery; about $300.
Today it seems that most private collectors are hoarding their Disney cels and are no longer interested in trading or selling, save to the most prestigious auction houses. Today the serious collector who does not have the savvy to bid through the mail at a Christie’s auction, is left with the choice of either paying high prices for medium-grade Disney through one of their officially licensed galleries (ex. $195 for a cel from The Great Mouse Detective) or from an exorbitantly-priced limited edition portfolio of recreated cels from Disney classics. (ex.4 recreated cels using original drawings and matching paints with original colour from Cinderella: $1695.
Into the fray has entered Chuck Jones (the genius behind the Warner Brothers cartoons) who has his own animation art merchandising programme offering cels from later Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, and his TV features for as low as $55 on up to $400. Jones, as well as his older and equally famous Warner Brothers associate, Friz Freleng, also offer special limited edition cels of Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig etc. in the $300 and $400 range.
Collectors can also find cels from favourite TV cartoon shows at prices ranging from $25-$50 but these are generally through the small dealer mail order or found in shops in the Los Angeles area. For my money, some of the cels from the Melendez productions of Charlie Brown TV shows are current best buys. The cels are bright and colourful and are so true to the Charles Schultz newspaper cartoon strips as to be almost better than the originals. Again, these are found through small dealers and through the mail. They can be as cheap as $20 for a single cel of Peppermint Patty and as much as $50 for a two-cel set-up of Charlie Brown and Snoopy.
My own odyssey of collecting animation art seems to have followed the aforementioned history. I continued my association with Stu Reibord who went out of his way to be helpful. It was through Stu that I was able to make contact with several animators and Disney artists. I began to advertise in comic journals and soon was joining a network of collectors and private dealers.
Having written several articles for American Classic Screen magazine I decided to approach the editor with a new proposal:
since I was going to be in the Los Angeles area, would he be interested in an interview with famed Disney animator (and one of the nine old men) Ollie Johnston. Ollie was as gracious and kind as I had heard and, although American Classic Screen ended up not running the article (it later appeared in a copy of Animator), it did give me an opportunity to visit two collectors who had become dealers themselves: Harry Kleiman and Russ Wolkoff, both of whom worked a mail order business out of their homes. (Kleiman today runs Collectors Paradise, which is an expanded mail order business of animation art, while Wolkoff continues to run a sporadic mail order business out of his home.
Harry and Russ were both more than accommodating and I was eager to see their collection which contained gems from Snow White, Pinocchio and Fantasia. I purchased several cels over the course of the next few years from Harry, (including a beautiful White Rabbit), and several from Russ, (including two matched cels of Jaq and Gus from Cinderella peering out from candles. The latter I bought for $50 a piece and the former for several hundred dollars).
Slowly but surely, I began to make contact with the network of dealers and collectors (most of whom were combined) around the country. They included a cousin of Harry Kleiman, Arnold Kowan, in Los Angeles; a high school coach who ran a shop and mail order business in Seattle: Dennis (no last name ever given) who ran Dennis’ Books, and collector/dealers from as far away as Canada.
There are any number of art galleries that are licensed to handle the Disney art programme including many of the Circle Galleries. Gallery Lainzberg in Cedar Rapids, Iowa differs in that it deals exclusively with animation artwork. The director, Edith Rudman, puts out an impressive and colourful catalogue of officially licensed artwork from Disney, Chuck Jones, and other smaller studios. She also does special orders on older animation artwork. She is not cheap but is friendly and helpful and her matting of the artwork is truly outstanding in bringing out just the right colours.
Russ Cochran’s Comic Art Auction, a primarily mail order business, deals not only with animation but is strongly into newspaper comic art. His catalogue, which comes out quarterly, is impressive. It reprints a great many newspaper comic strips for sale and is of interest to collectors as well as those who wish to bid for the art work. Lastly I would mention Jerry Muller of Museum Graphics in Costa Mesa California. Jerry also runs a mail order business and, until recently, a gallery as well. Jerry has mounted an impressive travelling show of comic and animation art which has toured quite a few prestigious art galleries here and in the United States. Jerry is consistently fair and generous and one can find quite a few good bargains here.
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Printed in Animator Issue 22 (Spring 1988)