Celebrating Celluloid!

Celluloid Comic Toys
from the Birnkrant Collection

Antique Toy World May 1994
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 in Japan.

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.  

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 collection together.

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 left.

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 display?

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All photographs Mel Birnkrant
Some of the toys the Walt Disney Company