THE WORLD UPSTAIRS
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
“The World Upstairs” is more than just a way of saying “everything I overlooked, or failed to include, up till now.” This is destined to be the biggest page of all. There’s lots of showcases I already photographed that didn’t fit into any category, and others that didn’t go before the camera, yet. Here, too, are all the bookcases, cupboards, shelves, and drawers, that hold more, and more, and more.
Should I offer an overview of the whole place, or take it, case by case? There are some important showcases here, hiding in plain view. So I’ll start by going through them, one by one. To begin: here is an area that's been ignored, the corner by the Barber Chair. Before I got the computer, this was my domain. This chair was a gift from Herbert Kohl, a friend we knew in Paris. When we all moved to NYC. Herb found this in his newly rented apartment that was formerly a beauty parlor. And he gave it to us, when we were living in the empty loft on 26th street. Over the years, I have done all my best thinking, and break-taking on this chair. From this lofty perch, I could study the multitude of projects that, one after another, occupied my desk, just a dozen feet away. It provided me perspective on whatever I was working on. This barber chair was like my second home. All the creative endeavors of my life, every toy and doll design, beginning with the Outer Space Men, and all the Colorforms I made, were conceived and overseen, from this barber chair. I did everything, but have a haircut, there.
So, this is as good a place as any to begin. Here, on the corner, beside the barber chair, are three showcases that we haven’t looked at yet, and there is another, directly behind it, that we also haven’t seen.
In the bottom corner case, is something absolutely unique. If another like it has survived, I would certainly be surprised. I got this from my friend Kenny Chapman, a successful stock broker, who become an inspired “Picker.” He kept Ted Hake‘s Auctions supplied, for years. On occasion, he would show me things, minutes after he discovered them, at Brimfield, on secret excursions to his car. One time, there in the back trunk, was this incredible Easter Display. This unit has been pictured in Playthings Magazine, in an ad that made it clear that it was designed to be used with this Kruger Donald Duck doll, as part of the display. So here they are, united. My best Kruger Donald is in place. And I had a wonderful time, dying eggs to decorate with these fabulous PAAS Cut-outs that transform twenty Easter eggs into the most popular Disney Characters of their day, Mickey and his buddies, including, the Three Pigs, and others from the Silly Symphonies. They are a veritable Who’s Who of Disney, at their best moment in time. This inconspicuous corner cabinet contains a treasure that I feel it's safe to speculate, might be one of a kind.
Moving up a step, we find a showcase that contains some more toys made of celluloid, some of which, like the celluloid Mickey Boxers from Australia, are quite unique. There was a version also made for distribution in the USA that is one of the few celluloid toys that eluded me. But this version from "Down Under" is the only one like it I’ve heard about, or seen. Here, also, is a selection of freestanding celluloid figures. That Pluto, on the side, is a favorite, one that might impress, only, me. He is extraordinary, solely, because of what isn’t there. This is the only time I’ve seen him not attached to a wind up toy. He’s quite a good looking guy. Here, too, is a colorful set of picture cubes, as well as three wooden mice, two Mickeys and a Minnie on skis, a pair of pretty sand pails, and an interesting porcelain condiment set, featuring Minnie and two salt and pepper Mickeys.
Now up to the top shelf! There are some treasures here; I mean seriously! First of all, is the Second version of the French Cast Iron Mickey Bank. Obviously, the company that made the First version, which was the item that got me started on collecting Mickey, was trying to get it “right,” in an effort to please Disney. The nose, formerly a cone, has been rounded off, and the eyes have become pie-cut. All the rest, thank goodness, remains the same. with one exception: this bank is fully marked with a very legible Disney Copyright.
In the very center of the showcase is one of the rarest Mickey Toys. I have heard of only one other. Its would-be seller was convinced his was the only one. It is the Wells Brimtoy Mickey Mouse auto. Figures from this toy have been incorporated in other items that Wells made, like Mickey, pushing a baby carriage, a toy located in the lower right hand corner of the big showcase, in the hall downstairs. But these small figures, Minnie, Pluto, and Mickey, wearing driving goggles, were created for this toy. There are touches, here, that are absolutely Brilliant. The patches on the tires are charming. But it is the amazing Mickey Radiator, winking, with headlights, forming his ears, that make this toy unique.
On either side, we find two wonderful wood jointed figures, made in Torrino Italy. They are made up of many many pieces. Mickey, with his original label, is very nice, but Donald is Extraordinary. If there were more Donalds as gorgeous as this one, this place might have been “Duck Heaven.”
There is also a pair of French ceramic banks, a German pot metal Mickey, standing on a drum that is a bank, some tiny precious pot metal figures of Barney and Spark Plug, and then.....
The Bonzo Orchestra, a wonderful wooden Bonzo Band! I discovered these twelve figures, at Atlantic City, well displayed, in plain sight. The price made me walk away, and return a dozen times. In the end, as you can see, I bought them, and have always been so glad I did. Stuff, like this, all 12, all perfect, happens, only one time, in a lifetime.
Here, beside the chair, is a showcase full of Amazing things that sort of gets ignored. It is packed way too full with treasures, overlapping. From left to right, I’ll mention some. The little wooden Mickey, carrying a brass ashtray is commercial, not homemade. Behind him, is a Mickey Mouse tin flute with the finger holes formed by the mouths of various characters. That Mickey car is very rare, with the original tiny Mickey in the rumble seat. Behind it, is a French jointed doll, and behind him, is a portrait of Mickey, carved into a lump of coal. Santa gave it to me, the year that I was Naughty! Then there are several excellent wooden dolls and toys. And, in the back of all of this, is a marvelous set of Mickey Mouse German Party “Crackers” for celebrating New Year’s Eve .
In the center, is an amazing topless tin toy that does a belly dance, one of the first adult toys? In front of that, on the ledge, is an lyrical Mickey ornament, cut out of steel and made up of many levels, welded together. Mickey, pulling a cart, is one of the very first Mickey toys, circa 1930. Behind it, is a mint Lenci Mickey doll. There is a group of other things that include a radiator ornament, adapted into a lamp, a Mickey chocolate mold, several purses, and a book of handkerchiefs.
There are many other Mickey cases, up here, that we missed. This one is sort of Mickey Mouse and Felix mixed. This is another place, where too many great things are all crammed in together. In the upper corner, is a doll made by the Character Novelty Company. This is a special edition Mickey, made only for the 1939 World’s Fair. You can see that, by that year, he had already lost his pie-cut eyes. Hanging from the ceiling, is a weird German Mickey Jumping Jack, covered in nasty looking rabbit fur, Yikes! In the center, is another of the very early dolls that Borgfeldt arranged to have made, right at the beginning of Mickey’s history. And, behind that, is a perfect pair of dolls, sewn from the Charlotte Clark Simplicity patterns, along with the pattern, itself, and their special trunk. They are really too nice to be hidden.
Speaking of “hidden,” hard to see is the Mickey gumball machine, with a perfect decal. There is also a tall drinking glass, advertising Mickey Beer! We talked about the canister for the Mickey gasmask, on the page of Mickey Masks.
A little lower down, in the case above, we see a cardboard figure, made by John Fawcett, and in front of that, a small black and white Mickey doll, holding a saxophone, made in Europe, and a Felix doll that is simple, but appealing. He, almost, looks homemade, but he is manufactured. Then is a 9" wood and composition Mickey, the rarer version, with yellow pants. He is admiring the first Felix doll, in like new condition, as well as a more fuzzy one, made by Chad Valley. There is also a composition Mickey candy container, with a nodding head, made in Germany, and two porcelain Mickey jars. Looking deeper, we find a Happy Knack Tea Set, and a perfect pair of “Ink-D-Cator” fountain Pens, in both variations.
I can’t resist a close up of this powerful face, a few deft brush strokes tell the story.
This doll reminds me of the Felix Parade Balloon, as it looms over the bystanders, on this ordinary small town street. Truly, this is a dreamlike vision. He is escorted by a entourage of pre-Mickey mice, and followed by a boy, riding a bike.
Now, we head around the corner, to where all the extra stuff ends up. Along the cabinets, at the top, are many cases that we missed, like this, that is dedicated to the kind of characters one might find in story books. Right in the center, is the original model for the Wild Things doll. I always liked this one best. So, after taking him apart to do the art, I sewed him back together again. The others, alas, are still in pieces. On the left, is "Annie Rooney," another doll sculpted by Joseph Kallus. He did the small bisque on the lower right, as well. Then comes "Uncle Wiggily", and, in front of him, are "Quacky Doodles" and "Danny Daddles," characters created by Jonny Gruelle. These wooden dolls were made by Schoenhut, Then is Ray Bolger, as the movie Scarecrow, and two Harrison Cady Bugs. Tucked into the middle of this group, is the Cat in the Hat, a snap-together model, toned and tinted by yours truly. On the right side, are some early dolls of Raggedy Ann and Andy, and their friend, "Uncle Clem." Here. too. are Dagwood and Alexander Bumstead, and a strange hand puppet baby, known as, "Buddy."
Below this case, we find one that is loaded with odds and ends, many of which relate to “Scrappy.” Here are a couple of Scrappy dolls, and the Scrappy theater, along with the display unit to advertise it. Here, too, are a pair of composition Dumbos, each with different ears. They were created by Kallus, of course. In person, they resemble Betty Boop, with big ears and a trunk.
Moving right along, here is an upper showcase, dominated by Siberling Rubber toys. This is the Original store display. These rubber toys have a limited lifespan. Thus, it is harder to keep the display filled, these days. There is also a variety of paper novelty noisemakers, made in Spain. And two of those nice Mickey dolls, one felt, one velvet, made in France.
Now, we pull the camera back, to capture the entire showcase, and all the stuff, on the lower half. This is sort of a catch all. It is dominated by the big squared off Mickey Mouse, in the center, made by John Fawcett. And in the far lower corners, are the two copies of the Hestwood Marionettes, reproduced by Bob Baker. All the rest of this odd conglomeration of objects is old, except for a Lars Mickey, dressed as Steamboat Willie. The Donald Duck marionette is one of the very first made by Pelham Puppets, in their heyday. On the right side, is a Mexican jointed Mickey, with a rather disjointed expression on his face. Front and center, the fabulous Mickey Mouse Comic Cookies box that forms a house, is the best item in the case.
In the far corner of the wall cases, is one that is sort of hard to get to. It is located underneath the Brownies and Kewpies. The upper one of the two shelves, is dominated by an early fuzzy Mickey doll, in black and white, made in Germany. He is surrounded by images, all made of soap. The stuff on the shelf below, is, pretty much, self-explanatory. The two Fisher price paddle toys, Donald and Pluto, are unusual, in that they are mint, with all the labels. The Wade Heath tea set is in a fabulous box. Like the Chein sand toy set, beside it. The cover folds back, and stands up. Both the Mickey Mouse and the Silly Symphonies tin lithographed flashlights are in the lower right hand corner.
I can’t look at this showcase, without remembering a story about a dealer couple, who were prominent in the toy community, specializing in Comic toys. They had never visited my house, or, for that matter, ever sold me very much. Through a series of circumstances, involving a good friend from France, who went to Brimfield with them, they finally visited here, on the way back. While my friend, in awe, said he had to sit before the wall, downstairs, made dizzy by it all, and drink it in. The other two toured the entire house, in silence, stone faced, whispering to each other frequently, but without uttering a word, to me. They finally saw it all, not making a sound. And we, somehow, ended up upstairs, in the corner, by this obscure showcase. At last a reaction! The wife suddenly lit up like a Christmas tree, and, crowing like Mary Martin in Peter Pan, announced, in a sing song school yard tone, “We have something you don’t have!”
“Oh?” I asked, “What is that?”
She trumpeted triumphantly, “We have the battery to that flashlight!”
I replied, “So do I. It’s inside!”
There is one other compartment on this wall unit that we should see; It features art supplies . The totality of the case is, more or less, filled up with the large spectacular Mickey Mouse Art Set, mint and complete with all its “stuff,”inside, including, crayons, paint, pictures to color, and full color coloring guides.
The most interesting thing about this Art Set is, actually, the insignificant looking green line drawings of Mickey and Minnie on the platform. These images are exquisite, very iconic, and well designed. They could have easily been used everywhere. Marx Bros. had an extensive line. Yet, they only appear here. The Minnie was used one other time on the side of the Marx Bros. Jack in the Box. But the Mickey was never used, as far as I have been able to discover, anywhere, but here. This set is rare. I just might be the only one aware of this image, today. This is the kind of visual trivia, with which I fill my head. I also managed to fill this space with enough copy to fit this photo of the Jack in the Box. It occupies a small showcase of its own, upstairs.
Also, in the Art Set showcase, is a selection of Mickey Coloring books, some of which are rare. The small one, on the left, was the first. This display case, is one of the only instances in Mouse Heaven that any artwork of my own appears. Those are the original quick sketched prototypes for a toy called “Peg Pals.” Mickey Minnie and Pluto were directly adapted from the Waddle Book. Here, also, are Boy Scout Bookends, and a matching lamp, with a Mickey Mouse light bulb.
Now, we come to an area that I don’t know how to handle or explain. It has become so crowded it looks insane. It once looked great. All along the back, against a 25 foot long window that looks down into the other half of the house, was a lineup of all the early Disney pull toys by Fisher Price. They are still there, everything form the first Mickey push toy, to the windup Donald Duck. But, now, they are next to impossible to see, let alone dust. Here, too, is a whole village of Christmas Houses by Charles Ponstingl, and anything else that needed to sit on a surface that is horizontal. I’ll try to take some photos. It reminds me of my father’s garden, overgrown with excess.
Beneath this counter, on floor level, is a single isolated showcase, just the right size to hold the medium sized version of the Mickey Mouse folding Cardboard house. They even made one of these, big enough for kids to get in. Included here, are two pairs of color coordinated felt dolls, made by Borgfeldt, early on, as an alternative to the more expensive velvet ones, like Steiff, which they imported too. Carrying out the color theme, are a pair of orange and green Felix the cats, wrestling, and a celluloid Mickey baby rattle that matches the color scheme. Minnie holds some “Mickey Bucks;” they are also the right shade of green.
The closed cabinets, on either side, are filled with games and novelties, enough to do another website. When I finish this, I might.
Now, to the cabinets, on the other side, where a few games are on display. Starting at the top, which is hard to reach, and hard to see, we find an English game based on the cartoon “Fishin’ Around,” and a set of French Mickeys to knock down. Their box translates into English as, “Mickey Goes to War!” There are also two of the earliest Mickey games, "Let Them All Come," in editions made in Germany and England. Then, there is an English cut out lamp, and a toy from the Three Caballero’s era called, “Sloties.” I used to love these, as a kid; the Disney gang reduced to simple abstract shapes. I have seen modern art, directly akin to this. Also, here, is a tin washing machine, one of the few examples of American Mickey imagery, lithographed on tin.
The next shelf down, is funny folks, which we have seen. And, then, we come to a shelf that has, among other things, art supplies and novelties, and many things that one does not often see, like the Mickey Mouse White Board in the box, without which it would be just a white piece of board. And a mini Mickey paint set, a Mickey Mouse bedtime candle, featuring a plaster holder, with a sleeping Mickey, and several pencil boxes, pencil holders, and bottle caps. In the front row, are three of the original school notebooks that were the first Mickey items Disney ever licensed. On the left, is a smaller version of the gummed Paper Cinema, and, on the right an extraordinary item, Mickey Mouse Gummed decorations. These are absolutely stunning! If I had more room on this huge page, I would scan and post them here.
Now, as we continue, I’ll throw this in, just because it exists, my little Beatles collection, the new dolls and the old banks, and a nice Blue Meanie mask. The McFarlane figure sets are really great. I have all of them, saved, and stored away.
At one time, I had a lot of Japanese tin toys, Line Mar and the like, but I weeded them out, over the years, and kept only those that related to the circus. Here they are, in one show case, with the fabulous Cut-out Circus, designed by Vernon Grant, “The Singing Lady Circus.” Like the Orphan Annie circus, it was a premium. I probably should have included these tin toys, along with Comic Windups, but this page, is for catching many things I missed. I sure don’t mean to minimize them. Their design and ART is Great!
Last of all, on the way down the secret back stairs, is another big Mickey case. In it, are a few extraordinary things; extraordinary because they are so perishable, a tissue paper Mickey kite, an advertising sign for Mickey Mouse balloons, and a Mickey Balsa Airplane, complete, in the fragile original box, with and extra set of printed wings. This flew, powered by a rubber band. Here, too is a delightful wooden pull toy of Mickey riding on a bike, commercially made. Here too are several Marx bros. targets, and the Ring Toss game, as well as an original Mickey Mouse beanie.
Now, we have looked in nearly every nook and cranny, and, chances are, you still have no idea what it’s like upstairs. So, if I can squeeze them in, without the computer going crazy, its fighting me over the size of this page, here are a few views of the entire room. Step right in, and look around! This should give you an idea how all the pieces of this giant jigsaw puzzle fit together. Each object has its proper place.
Moving down a shelf things get more interesting. I simply love that table tennis game. The cover is simple, honest, clean, and great. Check out the Mickey Ping-Pong ball! On either side, are several examples of items, using identical imagery, targets, tidily winks, and a shooting gallery that all look the same. On either end of the case, are the board and box for the English Ludo game
On the top shelf, on the other side, is another Table Tennis game. This version is life size, the real thing! It is played on a Ping Pong table, and the net is cleverly made with cardboard cut-outs of Mickey and Minnie, who look like they are holding it. There are pictures of Mickey on the paddles, but alas no Mickey face on the ball. To the left of that, is the same game, made in Japan. And, on the right side, is the American made Ski Jump Game, as well as a really ugly Mickey Doll, made in Australia.