THE BISQUE PYRAMID
All Photographs and Copy are Coryright MEL BIRNKRANT
Some of the imagery is Copyright The Walt Disney Company
THE MEL BIRNKRANT COLLECTION
A Guided Tour of
This Pyramid of Bisques illustrates one of the conundrums of collecting: In the Beginning ... You see one incredible object and say, Oh! If I purchase that wonderful thing, and take it home with me, it will look wonderful, and I will be happy! And you do. You set it in a special place, and it glows! And you are happy. Then, one day, you see another wonderful thing, and you say to yourself, If I acquire this as well, Iíll place it beside my other special thing, and together they will look twice as great. So you get that too. But when you set it down next to your other incredible thing, there is a surprise in store for you. I might better say, a disappointment, for try as you may to convince yourself otherwise, you realize, somewhere deep inside, that rather than the two, together, shining twice as bright, each one is glowing half as brightly as the first one did, alone. That doesnít alter the fact that you still want them both!
Welcome to Collecting! That's what it's all about. And thatís, essentially, the situation I find myself in, now, surrounded by a thousand objects, each glowing one thousandth as brightly as that first object did, in the beginning, half a century ago.
ON the other hand, I believe that when this multitude of dimly glowing objects are combined, they radiate a glorious light, as cheerful as the luminescence that emanates from store windows at Christmas time, or the enchanted twinkling of a thousand fireflies on a summer night. As a totality these objects glow with the magic of a Christmas tree alight, amid a million sparkling flakes of falling snow. Therefore, when youíve got too many treasures, and you love collecting too much to stop, there is no place left to go, but up. Keep adding items to the top. And if you believe that the totality of a collection can be greater than the sum of all its parts, chances are that, one day, the collection, itself, will be regarded as a Work of Art.
In the beginning ... around 1968, the beginning of Mickey Mouse collecting, and the beginning of Flea Markets in the USA, Disney bisques would turn up frequently. Collecting Mickey Mouse bisque figurines was fun, and relatively inexpensive. And, like all the stuff that surfaced, then, each was an exciting ďnew ď discovery. As the number of collectors grew, the list of newly discovered bisques grew too. Collectors were slowly assembling a picture puzzle, one piece at a time, until, eventually, almost all the variations that are known today were found, and the picture was complete.
My friend Bernie Shine, out in LA was into compiling lists of bisques. He recorded all their serial numbers, (usually found incised in the clay) and, like a detective, tracing any missing numbers, he mapped the terrain of the bisques domain. In my case, discovering them remained a lot of fun, but owning them became a pain, more ridiculous than gratifying. I had passed the point where displaying them, all lined up on shelves, appeared attractive, and a new word entered my bisque related vocabulary: ďrepetitive.Ē Except for the biggest most spectacular ones, most of mine ended up, crowded together, at least, temporarily, on the floor of one big flat showcase, and the effect was that of a crowd of comic characters packed into Times Square on New Yearís Eve. Only the the tops of their heads, and the figures placed along the edge of the case would show. Needless to say, they ceased to glow.
Therefore, when the Great Wall was constructed, I asked my friend and carpenter, Bill Maxwell to build a Pyramid, on which each could be seen again. And all these individual treasures, which, while discovering and collecting them, appeared to be newsworthy, became just so many square feet of hand painted unglazed clay. Like the individual offset dots on a printed page that grouped together make up a bigger picture, they became the building stones in a single curious object, a Pyramid of Bisques.
On the very pinnacle I placed this glorious 9Ē Mickey that was an early landmark on my collecting journey. I found him for the, then, outrageously high sum of $20, a few minutes after my friend Richard Merkin and I snuck into the Madison Square Garden Show, in 1967. In the years, since then, mint examples of him have appeared; I let them pass me by. Barring an earthquake, this Mickey will always be top mouse on the pyramid for me.
These days, with a big new Mickey Mouse doll showcase in place, I can no longer simply stand in front of the pyramid and take a photograph, head on. The one above was taken with the camera actually resting on the top of the Big Mickey case, itself, and looking down. That is my least favorite camera angle if one prefers to see their subject matter as monumental. To experience the Pyramid from ground level it had to be shot at an angle. Here is that view from either side:
Can one stand before the great pyramids of Egypt and single out a single stone as particularly interesting? I donít think so. But, in spite of that analogy, there remain several special areas on this pyramid that continue to excite my eye, and a few pieces that, after all these years, retain a certain rarity. At this point in time, I donít think there is a single one that is absolutely one of a kind. But there are many that still seem special to me, areas and groupings that I find, especially, pleasing.
I always loved this little group of three, Horace Horsecollar, Betty Boop, and Clarabelle Cow. They represent a trio of perfect harmony. My art-trained eye informs me that they are, most likely, all three, the work of one sculptor, circa 1933. Betty and Clarabelle strike the identical pose. The fact that Horace and Clarabelle form a set is obvious, but they gently cross the species line to include Betty Boop. Who was it, I wonder, that sculpted all these images? There is a certain similarity the unifies the figurines on this pyramid. Could all, or most of them, have been the work of a single unknown artist in Japan?
Here is a Betty Boop and KoKo the Clown toothbrush holder that is something of a rarity. I have heard of, possibly, one more of these. At Betty and KoKoís feet you can catch a glimpse of some bits of colored cellophane. Would you believe that, at one time, bisque figurines, like these, were used as a means of selling candy? I, myself, can remember them, dispensed in vending machines, with small cellophane wrapped bundles of candy strapped to their backs. Two of the three pigs, below, still have their original candy intact. in this photo, you can just see their hats.
It was great fun collecting bisques, but like the Comic Nodders, they became a dead-end street. I reached a point where my entire set of known variations was as complete as it is ever going to get. There are a few other Disney bisques that are interesting and rare, but, with no space left on the pyramid, I have had to place them elsewhere. They are in what I refer to as the Tall Tower. Iíll point them out when we get there.
While shooting these photographs, a curious thought occurred to me. Like the Great Pyramid of Giza, or the Temple of the Sun at Machu Picchu, both of which tourists have been known to climb, what would it be like to climb the Pyramid of Bisques? Standing at the foot of it, and looking up, it might appear like this.
And so, thatís it! After half a century of collecting these, they donít amount to a hill of beans. They form a Pyramid, instead.