In 1970 we moved to an enormous schoolhouse in the Hudson Valley. The photograph below, which was assembled yesterday from three separate photos that I rediscovered while researching this story, conveys the most complete impression so far, of the wall of collectibles as they were displayed in our apartment in New York City.
Living in the country proved to be tough going. Battling everything from hostile neighbors to lack of heat was both daunting and time consuming. Thus, three years later, most of the items in the above photo remained hidden, still sealed in the boxes they were moved in.
The larger of the three enormous rooms that made up our new home had become a sort of studio. This was the single room that the nun from whom we bought the house had been living in. I set up my little work table in one corner, shown here, before and after: Mouse Over!
All photographs © Mel Birnkrant. Some of the images © the Walt Disney Company
Meanwhile, my passion for collecting continued unabated. And many of the items that I already had in NYC were soon duplicated. I used these duplicates as currency to effect inter-collector trades for rarer things. Most of the new treasures I acquired, during those three years, were stored in one of three enclosures. The first was an antique dentistís cabinet. Here it stands, looking quite lonesome in another corner of the large room I called my studio.
This was not the way to properly display the various items Iíd acquired, but it served to protect them. Even though, they were all crammed in, with no apparent rhyme or reason, the cabinet kept them clean.
The second enclosure was an old refrigeration cooling chest from a local florist shop. It was originally intended to keep the fresh blossoms fresh. Over the course of those three years, it too, became crammed full.
Last of all, was this curious cabinet that was, at one time, intended to hold stacks of large white collars on vertical rods, which I removed. With glass shelves cut and held on pins, it became a safe resting place for some of my more vulnerable treasures. At the same time, most of the objects from the great wall in New York City remained in their sealed boxes, stacked out of sight, in the hall closet.
So thatís the way that things stacked up in the summer of 1973. Sometime in June, I got a phone call from an advertising agency. I have no idea how they discovered me. The congenial man who called me explained that they had been hired by Bamberger's Department Store to explore the possibility of putting on a kind of Mickey Mouse Christmas Show to celebrate Mickeyís forty-fifth birthday, and attract holiday shoppers to Bambergerís Department Store in Newark, New Jersey. What a crazy Fantasy! At that point in time, Downtown Newark was undergoing a highly publicized series of race riots. And it appeared to be a downright dangerous place to visit. Certainly, not someplace I would want to risk my Mickey Mouse collection, or, for that matter, my own safety .
Although, the voice on the phone was personable and quite likeable, it was plain to see that the caller knew nothing about Mickey. The purpose of his call was to ask if I would lend Bamberger's my Mickey Mouse Collection. It didnít take much consideration on my part, to tell him that I would not be interested. Nonetheless, in the course of the conversation, I volunteered to help him out by inviting him to the schoolhouse for a crash course in Mickey Mouse. A few days later, he showed up with a crowd. I had very little to show them; other than the above makeshift showcases, crammed with recent acquisitions, and a carousel tray of slides, chronicling the collection that was now packed up, as it was displayed in NYC. Then, I opened the closet door to reveal a wall of cardboard cartons that held everything; and that was that! They left, thanking me profusely, and asked if I would permit them to study the situation and allow them to make me an offer. I knew in my heart that I was bound to turn them down, but I liked the people very much, so I left the door open to hear from them again.
A few days later, the art director called, excitedly. The whole concept of "old" and "new" Mickey had been a revelation to them. They never realized that there had been a transformative moment, in which Mickey's, once perfect, early image became downgraded, the moment when he lost his pie-cut eyes and much of his geometry! And they were hotter than ever to put my collection on display. And, thus, they offered me $3,500 for the privilege. Although, the offer struck me as fair and generous, I thought about it a few seconds, and politely declined. The huge process of unpacking everything and subjecting my cherished treasures to the dangers of Newark New Jersey, at that time, simply wasnít worth it to me. I offered him the names of several of my collector friends, John Fawcett, Al Horen, and Ernie Trova, and suggested that Bamberger's should contact them.
And, that, for the moment, was the end.