Spotlight on: collecting Disney memorabilia

13 May 2010
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Read about one man's fantastic collection of Disney memorabilia ...

People are usually enchanted by Disney characters but collector Dave Dark describes his introduction to them as ‘traumatic’.

It all started when, as a little boy of five or six back in the 1950s, his aunt bought him a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse record and he became a member of the Mickey Mouse Club. Saturday mornings were then spent at the Magic of Disney at his local cinema and one particular Saturday the 1957 Walt Disney classic, Old Yella, was being shown. The tear-jerking story featured a young boy and a large yellow labrador-mastiff dog.

Dave, nicknamed Disney Dave these days, recalls: “This wasn’t a cartoon, this was a film, and in it somebody threw a brick at the dog. I thought it was real and I screamed the place down. I was absolutely traumatised. I thought the dog had been killed.”

Matters only became worse when he was taken to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in which the beautiful queen turns into an ugly old hag. “It was that face, the old witch’s face with her warts, looming out of the screen. It really disturbed me!”

With a cheeky smile Dave admits that, rather than being put off by these experiences, he became fascinated and eager to know more about this thing called Disney and all those wonderful cartoon characters.

Dave, who hails from the Black Country, collected any Disney item he could get his hands on as a boy. He says: “I’d persuade my mum to buy the cereals if there was a Disney toy in the pack. I used to throw most of the cereal away just to get at the toy.”

Like lots of boys, Dave moved on to other interests during his teen years, but he came back to collecting in his 20s when his wife Carole bought him a Walt Disney Classic fine porcelain figurine of Happy from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Shortly after, Dave bought the Walt Disney Classic figure of the Wicked Witch from Snow White, both of which he has since had signed by Disney’s Master Sculptor, Kent Melton.

These two figurines really gave Dave the drive to begin collecting Disney in a big way and he now has at least 400 figurines, mostly Disney Classic, but also all kinds of items, from cardboard Mickey Mouse ice cream tubs to original artwork.

Luckily for Dave, Carole loves Disney almost as much as he does, accompanying him to collectors’ fairs and conventions at home and abroad. Similarly, their children Rachel (21) and Louise (20) enjoyed growing up surrounded by Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and the countless other wonderful Disney characters. In fact, Dave’s interest in collecting inspired his daughters to follow suit – Piggin for Rachel and Pocket Dragons for Louise.

When shopping around for Disney collectables, one of Dave’s favourite haunts was the Castle China shop in Warwick, which specialised in Disney figurines. Some years later, when the shop proprietor was selling up, Dave took the huge step of turning a hobby into a business and gave up his haulage company in exchange for a life absorbed in Disney.

Meeting the Disney stars

In the late 1990s, Dave and Carole began going to Disney conventions in the USA, and over the years they have travelled to events all over the States and even to one on a luxury cruise liner.

“The conventions are fun-orientated with lots of entertainment,” said Dave, who now organises similar Disney themed events in Warwick, on a smaller scale. “There are usually seminars and Disney legends giving talks. Sometimes they would close one of the parks early especially so we could have lunch or dinner there.”

Through these conventions and fairs, Dave has met quite a number of these Disney legends. He was thrilled to meet Mary Costa – the voice of Sleeping Beauty in the original 1959 cartoon – while having dinner in Cinderella’s Castle in 2003.

“She picked up on my English accent and she was fantastic,” said Dave. “She spent time talking to us and showed a lot of interest in other people’s lives. The following year we were at the Disney Studios in California and I was sitting with friends when Mary Costa walked by. She remembered me from before and took me along to meet the legendary Ollie Johnson and Frank Thomas.”

As top animators, directors and story men, Ollie and Frank joined Walt Disney Studios in 1934, and spent a staggering 43 years bringing characters to life – earning them the reputation of being two of Disney’s original ‘Nine Old Men’.

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On another occasion Dave was lucky enough to meet another of these Nine Old Men, animator Marc Davy whose career spanned 60 years – 43 of them with Disney.

Dave says he has met countless other Disney people through the conventions, such as Eddie Carroll, the voice of Jiminy Cricket; Tony Anselmo, aka Donald Duck; and Bill Farmer, the voice behind Goofy, plus many others.

One legendary Disney figure Dave has developed a very soft spot for is Margaret Kerry, the original role model and alter ego for Tinker Bell. After meeting her in America, Margaret came to Warwick to do a signing and ‘An Audience With’ event, staying with Dave and his family for a week. For fun, Dave had a plaque made to go on the outside of his house saying, ‘Margaret Kerry, Disney’s real -life Tinker Bell, stayed here.’

His fascination for Disney attracted the attention of the BBC, and he appeared on the Terry Wogan and Gabby Roslyn Show a few years back.

“A film crew came to the house and the recording was shown the following day,” said Dave. “Six hours’ filming cut down to five minutes on TV.”

Another claim to fame he admits to – with a grin – is being included in the book, Men and Their Collections. “I’m on page 64, right next to the guy who collects sick bags!”

Dave’s collection

Dave’s collection is displayed on shelves and in glass cabinets around his house, and there is Disney artwork on the walls, as well as a stack of figurines in boxes.

At one time Dave admits he felt compelled to have one of everything that Disney every made. But then he realised that was just too costly – and expensive to keep up with.

“I was spending around £100 every week,” he said. “So I curtailed my collecting so that when a set of perhaps seven pieces came out, I would choose just one or two from the set that I really liked. I had to start being more selective.”

However, Dave recalls one item in particular from his collection that brought him a good return. About two years ago he bought two black and white porcelain figurines called Mickey Behind the Camera. They were about 22.8-25cm (9-10in) high, and showed Mickey in a cloth cap peeking out from behind the camera, in true Walt Disney style.  Dave continues: “I’d bought them to commemorate one of the Disney conventions I’d gone to in the States. I paid $300 each, which was about £200. I kept one for my collection, and put the other through an auction later on and it fetched £1,450.”

He admits that the one thing he really wants for his collection is a Walt Disney autograph, something he’s been trying to source for ages. Dave explains: “You can get his autograph on things such as employees’ pay cheques, but what I’m really after is his autograph and photograph in a frame. There is a price guide for autographs, and I know I’ll be looking to pay anything up to £2,600, which I’ll be happy to do, once I find what I’m looking for.”

Each figurine in the collection is important to Dave in its own way because of its associated memories, but his all-time favourite figurine is Happy from Snow White, given to him by Carole, and two pieces of original artwork, that are also the most rare items in the collection. Dave explains: “These are really special and unique as I was able to watch them being created by the artists Stephen Reis and Trevor Carlton, who are Disney Performance Artists.

“We were at the 2002 New York Art Expo and were amazed by these two guys. Stephen Reis is well known for his work on The Simpsons, and he and Trevor put on an incredible performance where they stand in front of a blank canvas, play techno music, and paint a picture of a Disney character in time to the music. The following year we had them over to Warwick at one of the Disney events we run. If I wanted to sell their pictures I suppose they would fetch around £1,500, but I’d never sell. Likewise with my signed Happy figurine – some things are just too special.”