from the Birnkrant Collection
Antique Toy World
by Doug and Pat Wengel
AT LEFT: Mickey Mouse Skater. Seven inches of
ecstasy. Possibly the most exquisite of all Mickey toys.
This image, perhaps more than any other, captures and
highlights the wonder of celluloid toys. The windup
mechanism is completely enclosed in his right shoe. Made
Once upon a time... a young artist found
a cast iron Mickey Mouse bank at a Paris flea market.
Thus began a 35 year love affair for Mel Birnkrant
collecting comic character treasures. Encouraged--and
indulged--by his wife, Eunice, Mel has built his
collection piece by piece into the finest character
collection in the world.
This article will focus on his
fabulous celluloid toys. The toys pictured are from 4
of Mel's 137 showcases and represent 4 or 5% of his
total collection. This give you some appreciation of
the breadth and scope of his collection.
Mel and Eunice have restored an old
brick schoolhouse and have created a showplace for
the collection that most museums would envy.
Mel has a special love for the
beautiful celluloid toys. Because celluloid is an
almost perfect medium to capture delicate detail, an
amazing variety of these toys were produced. Mickey
Mouse and other Disney characters, in particular,
were produced in this wonderful material.
AT LEFT: Mickey
and Minnie Cyclists. Note the sideways arrangement of the
ears. When seen in profile, one ear is behind the other
on both toys.
Besides capturing vivid detail, celluloid
had the other great attraction of being very economical
to produce, much cheaper than manufacturing toys of
lithographed tin. One unique quality of celluloid is its
light weight, which enables certain toys to exist that
could not exist in another medium.
For instance, the Mickey skater where
the weight of a tiny windup motor in one foot holds a
seemingly massive figure aloft without tipping. The
acrobat toys fly through the air with the greatest of
ease, which is only possible because they are as
light as a feather.
That is why there is such a glorious
variety of toys produced in this medium. We are sure
there are still more out there waiting to be found!!
In fact, Mel's favorite, the Mickey skater, pictured
on the front cover, was added to his collection
within the past six months.
With all the marvelous toys in Mel's
collection, it sometimes takes several looks at a
grouping of toys to appreciate them all. We hope
these images will give you some sense of the
enjoyment Mel has had in putting this magnificent
Mickey twirls on an unusual carousel
along with the Mickey Boxers. And yes, that is Mickey
dancing with Donald Duck. Mickey is also dancing with
Betty Boop. We are sure that Minnie would not
approve. Note the English Boy Scout Mickey at the
Four celluloid gems from Mel's
collection featuring Mickey Mouse. A walker, Mickey
pulled by Horace Horsecollar, the Mickey skater and
crawling Mickey. The two German tin toys, whose
showcase they share, aren't so bad either.
In addition to all the Disney
characters, Betty Boop and many other characters can
be found among the celluloids. Among them are Felix
the Cat, Popeye and his friends, Scrappy, Henry,
Little Orphan Annie, and Charlie McCarthy.
The Greatest Show on Earth! A
veritable Circus of Celluloid toys! One of the most
desirable is Mickey and Minnie on the elephant. Mel
has three of them. The dancing couple windups are
great. There seems to be a lot of changing partners
going on! Minnie is dancing with Donald and with
Elmer Elephant. Donald is also seen wearing a
stunning pink ball gown and dancing with Elmer. Also
note the Mickey Drummer windup at the top center of
the large grouping. Can you find Mickey's box in the
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