“Everybody in the world was once a child. So in planning a new picture, we don't think of grown-ups, and we don't think of children, but just of that fine, clean, unspoiled spot down deep in every one of us… that maybe our pictures can help recall,” said Walt Disney in 1938. Disney understood the enduring quality of his studio’s creations, and promoted these astonishing works with spellbinding posters - aided by a bit of marketing nous.
“During Disney’s lifetime, a film would disappear for seven years. This was important for the way the studio operated,” says Disney historian Brian Sibley. “The films were timeless and Disney himself realised that if you waited, you’d get a whole new generation of filmgoers - grandparents would bring their grandchildren too.” Disney handled each film’s visual material uniquely. “For every film, there was a new poster,” says Sibley. “They didn’t recycle the old posters. They’d be changed, sometimes they would say ‘back again’ or ‘re-released’.”
“I have always felt early animation posters are an overlooked and under-valued segment of the movie poster hobby,” says Ralph Deluca, film poster collector and dealer. “Disney posters prior to the 1950s are becoming increasingly rare and desirable; especially those from the early short series that didn’t have as wide a distribution or length of time in movie theatres as the full length features did.
“Most of the important posters from this period are either in Disney Archives or the Academy of Motion pictures collections through years of donations and acquisitions, so the opportunity to grab timeless treasures like these diminish with every passing year,” says Deluca.
All film display material was ephemeral: much was thrown away or pasted over. “So many posters didn’t survive, but they are evocative reminders of the film as well as echoing the period in which the film was made,” says Sibley. “With Disney, the posters reflect the art and advertising period of the film. In the poster for Peter Pan (1953) you can see that the styling of that poster very much has the sensibility of advertising posters of the time with very specific lettering and use of colour.”
Alongside the posters in the sale are some incredibly rare examples of original artwork, including book endpapers for the Mickey Mouse Annual, featuring the most famous Disney character of all time, who celebrates his 90th anniversary in 2018. Rian Hughes, author of several design books including the new Logo a Gogo, collects original artwork. “As I’m an illustrator/designer myself, I appreciate examining the skills of these ‘commercial artists’ up close. Many of these original pieces - produced for print - were not intended to be seen as works in their own right, and the printer’s notations etc, are always instructive. Now that everything is digital, these are souvenirs of an analogue age.”
The works gathered for sale here telegraph a palpable sense of wonder. As American poet and critic Ezra Pound said of Walt Disney in 1963, “Take the serious side of Disney, the Confucian side of Disney… you have the values of courage and tenderness asserted in a way that everybody can understand. You have got an absolute genius there.”
The Original Film Posters Online sale will be on view in our New Bond Street galleries throughout August.