Oswald Stencil Set

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Dennis Emslie
Assistant Cataloger

Whenever I work with a box of vintage merchandise, I sometimes never know what treasures I will find inside. A fascinating part of my job is to identify and catalog historical Disney merchandise samples that have been preserved in the Walt Disney Archives collection for decades. Many of these items were placed under our care long before modern cataloging systems were available. It is not unusual to find a box with handwritten notes attached (many times from Disney Legend Dave Smith himself) and very little additional or contextual information.

  The Oswald the Lucky Rabbit stencil set seen here was made by Universal Toy & Novelty in 1928. The set includes six cardboard stencils with Oswald in various animated poses, along with an instruction card and eight crayons. This amazing merchandise piece pre-dates Mickey Mouse himself, making it one of our earliest examples of Disney-related merchandise history.

The Archives “Back Room” holds a sampling of original animation art, as well as art from live action films and television productions, along with a specially-curated collection of significant costume items, documents, merchandise, posters, props, and memorabilia. These treasures are kept close at hand, for security and easy access by staff as they represent important moments in Disney’s nearly 100-year-long history.


Disney Nametags

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Matt Moryc, Archivist

Beginning in 1955, Disneyland hosts and hostesses––as Cast Members were referred to then––were issued bronze badges imprinted with an identification number. These badges were worn like Disney nametags are worn today, establishing now a 60-plus-year tradition.

In June 1956, it was suggested that Disneyland employees and lessees alike wear a simple badge featuring their first name. The idea was that by identifying employees with their own name, a more personal and friendly relationship would develop between both employees and guests. However, this change was not implemented until 1962 when the first nametag was issued. The new tags were made of plastic (lighter than the original bronze badges) and were engraved with employees’ first names, supporting Walt Disney’s long-established tradition of being a first-name organization.

In July 1966, with the opening of New Orleans Square on the horizon, Disneyland’s Wardrobe Committee was concerned that the standard nametags would take away from the beauty of the new costumes being developed for New Orleans Square. Although regular Disneyland nametags were issued to the New Orleans Square Cast Members, the idea for unique nametags was fulfilled with the opening of Club 33 in July 1967. The elegant, gold on black nametag established a unique tradition that continues today.

The opening of Walt Disney World Resort in October 1971 saw a whole new series of uniquely designed nametags. Soon, both Disneyland and Walt Disney World began introducing special nametags for key anniversaries and milestones. A variety of different styles and shapes have been introduced at Disney properties around the globe ever since.

Following their debut during Disneyland’s early years, nametags have become a standard in the hospitality industry. While there have been hundreds of varieties used throughout the history of The Walt Disney Company, one thing remains constant: when Cast Members and Disney employees wear their name tags, they become proud ambassadors of Disney culture.

Our oldest piece is the megaphone Walt Disney used in the 1920s when making his Laugh-O-gram films in Kansas City. The earliest merchandise represented include a stencil set featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit—a Walt Disney character who pre-dates Mickey Mouse, as well a child’s pencil tablet—the first licensed Mickey Mouse product made in America. The Mickey Mouse watch (Ingersoll, 1933) and the Mickey Mouse handcar (Lionel, 1934) were so popular they helped save their manufacturers from bankruptcy. Mickey Mouse dolls made by Charlotte Clark were among Walt’s personal favorites.



Digitizing Favorites Like The Black Hole

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Jeff Golden
Digital Capture Technician

Digitizing material for the Walt Disney Archives is very exciting. In addition to working with extraordinary historical assets on a daily basis, I have been fortunate enough to work with personal favorites such as the animated feature Mulan (1998) and live-action film, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954).

Some past digitization projects include: a glass matte painting by Harrison Ellenshaw from Tron (1982), four “stretching room” paintings from the Haunted Mansion attraction at the Magic Kingdom Park, 1931 building plans for the Hyperion Avenue studio, set designs from Mary Poppins (1964), as well as numerous sketches and pieces of film concept art, most recently from The Black Hole (1979).

Additionally, we had the rare opportunity to image a scrapbook from Walt Disney’s grandmother. Photographing these items is technically challenging, but is especially rewarding when the finished result is completed. Working in the dark to reduce glare and reflections and ensure correct color accuracy is reminiscent of the pre-digital age when technicians worked under similar conditions with a copy stand and film processing rooms.

Key costumes and props include Davy Crockett’s coonskin cap (1954), the ring that turned Tommy Kirk into a shaggy dog (1959), Mary Poppins signature carpet bag (1964), and the magic bedknob from Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971). Prop storybooks that represent the classic fairytales are special treasures, from the relatively simple storybook that started it all: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) to the elaborately bejeweled Sleeping Beauty (1959).

The artifacts in the “Back Room” are lovingly known as our “crown jewels,” not only for their historic importance but also because they continue to inspire the artists, filmmakers, and Imagineers who create the Disney magic of today—and tomorrow!

Art Preservation, Protection, and Access

There is nothing closer to the heart of The Walt Disney Company than art, from the earliest crude animation drawings of the 1920s, to the evocative concept paintings that inspire Imagineers to create whole new worlds for Disney Parks and Resorts.

Although there are specialized art libraries across The Walt Disney Company, the Archives’ collections include thousands of examples of original art representing all business eras and projects. There are even sketches and cartoons drawn by Walt Disney while he was in high school! The Archives has animation cels and drawings (some from the very earliest Company projects), along with art for film and theme park projects (as well as the final printed posters for attractions, themselves). There is original art for covers of record albums and home video products, publishing art, and concept and visual development works representing hundreds of live-action films (think story sketches for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Swiss Family Robinson, and costume designs Mary Poppins).

Art mediums can be extremely fragile, so it is necessary to “house” most items in specially-designed archival portfolios and storage boxes. Oversized metal cabinets with extra-wide drawers called “flat files” allow large movie and theme park posters, as well as blueprints, set designs, and large conceptual works, to be stored flat, instead of rolled or folded. Exceptionally fragile works, such as glass matte paintings and multiplane background paintings, warrant an additional level of care, and are enclosed in custom-built crates to help house them in the safest possible manner, while still allowing for research access.

Archivists sometimes will wear white cotton or nitrile gloves while handling any original art, depending on the stability of the work in question. Each piece is carefully inspected prior to rehousing or being placed into storage. It may need light conservation and cleaning to avoid further damage – sometimes a process that takes hours, or even days, to accomplish safely. As art is removed from storage for use in a given project (publication, feature film use, etc.) or for an exhibition it is again examined carefully and its condition recorded. Art displayed in an exhibit may be mounted or framed using conservation quality materials, again, to ensure the safety and longevity of the work itself. The department uses archival quality mat boards and window mats to support most pieces, while the glass or acrylic used to protect the work meets museum-standards for clarity and protection against light damage. Objects like these typically will remain in their protective frames when returned to the Archives, and are kept in specially-designed, light, humidity, and temperature-controlled environments. This helps prolong the remaining life of the historical material as much as possible. Like humans, works of art react to the environments around them, and we certainly do our best to provide our cherished works the best “home” possible!


Donald's Award

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Nicole Carroll
Assistant Archivist

Animation is the corner stone of The Walt Disney Studios. It began with Steamboat Willie in 1928 and continues to this day with films like Frozen 2. Before the digital era, characters such as this Donald Duck were painted by hand on clear, celluloid sheet (“cels”) during the animation process. To create a single frame, cels were then placed over backgrounds and photographed. A six to eight minute short sometimes required 4,500 to 12,000 cels!

In Donald’s Award, Walt is aware that his ill-tempered duck is often the “problem child” of his family of cartoon characters. Hoping to inspire a more congenial personality, Walt promises Donald a “Good Conduct Award” if he behaves himself for one week. Predictably, Donald continues down a path of mischief and Walt must call for reinforcements.
Airing in 1957 as part of the television series Disneyland anthology program, Walt had originally created the series to help finance the construction of Disneyland Park – approaching both NBC and CBS before ABC signed on to ultimately produce the series. Disneyland featured a wide range of material including: Walt’s televised announcement of plans for Disneyland Park, behind-the-scenes segments focusing on the company’s feature films, first appearances of beloved icons like Davy Crockett, and cartoons starring Disney favorites like Donald Duck, himself.


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