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Barry'd Treasures
Page 1 of 2

by Barry Allender (archives)
February 20, 2001
Our newest column tackles the world of collectibles. In his debut he looks at animation art.

Barry'd Treasures

Disney Animation Cels

Disney animation cels are what Picasso or Van Gogh is to painting except, instead of canvas, animation is done on clear plastic sheets. They are not cartoons but works of art just like the paintings.

Cels are short for celluloid, which is a clear plastic material on which an animator draws a character to show one frame of an animated film. Disney uses 24 frames to film one second of screen time. This is done to show clarity of the image and great color. Back in the 1930’s at the Walt Disney’s Studios cels were only intended to last long enough for production use. After that they were washed and used again or were thrown away, so having an animation cel from that time is very rare.

Before 1940, which included movies such as Snow White and Pinocchio, cels were made of nitrocellulose which is a very unstable flammable material. Starting with Fantasia cels were made with cellulose acetate which is considered a very safe substance. In 1937 in San Francisco. Courvosier Gallerys and Disney made a majority of cels available to the public. These included Snow White, Dumbo, Pinocchio, and Fantasia. These cels were matted with fine paper and backed with wood veneer. At that time these cels sold for about $5. Today these pieces could bring $3,000 to $5,000 a piece.

In 1955, the year Disneyland opened, in a section of Tomorrowland there was a area now long gone called the Art Corner which sold Disney animation cels from films such as Lady and the Tramp and Sleeping Beauty with prices starting at about $1.25. To think, you could own a hand painted piece of art that was actually used in a Disney animated feature for such a small price. Hand painted backgrounds were around $5 dollars. If we only knew, for those of us that were around then, you could have borrowed about $200 dollars and you might be comfortably retired right now!

In 1961 xerography (copying) was used heavily for the first time in 101 Dalmatians. It was also used very sparingly in the 1959 Sleeping Beauty. This process eliminated hand inking and saved a lot of money. This process continued all the way through the mid 80’s when computers took over and cels were eliminated completely.

Now Disney animation is done strictly for retail sales only. Cels can be found at any Disney Store nationwide for a few hundred dollars. If you are looking for a production cel, which is a cel that was used in a Disney animated feature, you will have to contact a fine art gallery. A few of my favorites are Fantasies Come True, S&R Labs and Creative Moments. Expect to pay a thousand dollars and up for vintage ones anything from 1937 to 1967.

The most desired Disney cels are of the villains and heroes, especially the villains as there are fewer cels of them made per feature. The best cels are the ones that are facing forward, full figured (head to toe), have there eyes open, and of course a great expression on there face also helps. Also, any cel that has been autographed on its mat by the animator that drew it will command a very high premium. Cels autographed by Walt Disney are very expensive as his autograph alone may bring a $1,000 to $1,500. If you are looking for a Walt Disney Autograph, PhilSears.com is the best authority on Walt Disney Autographs and has many fine examples for sale.

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