It’s a small world after all: Vintage Disneyland memorabilia
This week in 1955, Disneyland, Walt Disney’s vision of a magical kingdom where dreams come true, threw wide its doors and welcomed the enchanted public.
Within ten years, the park had seen 50 million visitors come and go. It soon became an American landmark, and the seat of one of the biggest entertainment empires in the world.
Disneyland was vastly influential when it opened, both in setting a clean, tidy, landscaped and entertaining benchmark for other amusement parks, and to American family culture, offering novel experiences that bonded parents and children. This was the dawn of the family amusement park, the golden age of animatronic ride attractions, and Disneyland was the unmistakable pioneer.
In these early days, Disneyland was about fun, education, celebrating America, and showcasing the latest technological advances. Its purpose was to provide out of the ordinary, magical experiences, to allow families to immerse themselves in the world of Disney and imagination. Fans wanting to come to the Walt Disney studios were disappointed with the dull reality of a working studio. Disneyland was the solution, an idealised space, all that fans could ever want from a visit to the world of Disney.
Some believe that nowadays, Disneyland has lost its original goal, as Disney pledged at the opening, to be ‘a source of joy and inspiration to all the world’. It has become all about merchandise: selling plush toys and souvenirs.
Seeking ‘the real Disneyland’ is a bit of a contradiction in terms, as Disneyland is all about escaping reality. However, those seeking memorabilia that truly characterises the spirit of Disneyland must surely return to the park’s roots – the early memorabilia of the 1950s and 60s.
The birth of Disneyland
Prior to World War II, Walt Disney used to take his young daughters to a carousel ride. Like the other parents, he had to sit on the sidelines with nothing to do, and wait for the girls to tire themselves out. Unlike the other parents, in Walt this triggered the idea for a large park full of rides, games and attractions, in which adults and children could have fun together.
His initial idea was for a modest 8 acre park, but as his plan grew, he soon realised that wasn’t big enough for what he wanted to create. Disney envisioned rivers, waterfalls, a castle, and trains to carry thousands of visitors around sprawling lands comprising a whole kingdom. Not such a ‘small world’ after all.
The war put the brakes on his dream, but he took it up in earnest during the 1950s. Construction began in 1954, and the park was opened a year and $17 million later, across 160 acres of former orange groves in Anaheim, California. During the construction, television shows documenting Disneyland’s growth were aired to entice customers.
The park was made up of five different areas or ‘lands’. These were Adventureland – an exotic, tropical jungle, Frontierland – a celebration of Americana evoking the pioneer days, Fantasyland – the place where dreams could come true, and Tomorrowland – showcasing the marvels of the future, the scientific and space ages. The last was Main Street U.S.A, which greeted visitors when they first arrived. This was a nostalgic collection of buildings, modelled on the small towns of Victorian America. Other lands were added in later years, but these were the first.
The park’s opening day was a disaster. A small number of invitation only guests, 6,000 or so, were invited to view the park on ‘Black Sunday’, July 17, 1955. Due to the hype that had escalated, 22,000 uninvited guest turned up as well with counterfeit tickets. The unfortunate circumstances continued with 110 degree heat, a plumbers strike that meant the water fountains weren’t working, the ladies’ high heels sinking into the freshly laid asphalt, and a gas leak that closed three of the lands.
The next day, Monday 18, 1955, Disneyland opened to the general public. The rest is history.
Types of vintage Disneyland memorabilia
The spirit of Disneyland surely exists in Walt Disney and his associates’ original plans for the park if nowhere else.
In 1953, Disney, along with artist Herb Ryman, drafted a prospectus for Disneyland to show to three potential investors in New York.
This contained typed pages with descriptions of the proposed different lands, as well as a colourful birds-eye view illustrated map hand coloured by Ryman of the park, and another architectural map.
The three sets of documents were left with three different New York banks, none of whom chose to invest in Disneyland. This was a decision they must have regretted two years later.
One of these original prospectuses, including the stunning Ryman map, sold for $80,000 at an auction in 2012.
Other original plans for the park include pieces of concept art for the rides and attractions, including those of Herb Ryman, and also Mary Blair, one of Disney’s most prominent animation artists. Mary Blair’s concept painting for the exterior of the ‘It’s a Small World’ attraction, which was rendered in colourful tiles at Disneyland for many years, sold for $12,000 at auction in 2012. Herb Ryman’s design artwork for the entrance to Tomorrowland sold for $30,000 in 2010.
Pieces of the park
If paper plans aren’t quite solid enough for you, how about a piece of Disneyland itself? There have been a few occasions when parts of the original Disneyland rides, attractions, display pieces and fixtures have sold at auction.
In 2009, an early runaway train coin op mutoscope sold for $4,500. In 2011, the door from the Haunted Mansion, dating from the 1960s, sold for $5,500.
A ‘two drunken pirates’ maquette, part of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride in the early 1960s, sold for $20,315 in 2013. An original car from Mr Toad’s Wild Ride, used at Disneyland between 1955 and 1997, sold for $30,000 in 2012.
A somewhat cheaper option for collectors is vintage ephemera. A place such as Disneyland produces an awful lot of paper: guide maps, brochures, magazines, tickets, programmes to shows, postcards, soap boxes, sugar packets, matchboxes and more. With all the visitors Disneyland had from the word go, there exists plethora of these items ready to be tracked down relatively easily and with little expense by a keen Disneyland enthusiast, on eBay, via specialist dealers, or directly from early Disneyland patrons.
Some of the most enchanting items of ephemera are the vintage advertising posters for the park. Disney’s fascination with transport saw the addition of a live steam railroad, Monorail system, and other innovative forms of transport, and the late 1950s saw posters advertising these in the style of railroad and airline travel posters. Posters for attractions such as the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride and the Haunted Mansion played off pulp science fiction and horror illustration art. These silkscreen posters have great vintage appeal and are extremely nostalgic. They can sell for several thousand dollars each when they come to auction.
Of course millions of people collect modern Disneyland souvenirs and plush toys each year – they are by all means an established collectible. Disney was a merchandising genius, and maybe a fervour for contemporary merchandise is a fitting testament to his legacy after all.
However, many die-hard Disneyland collectors would argue that for a real taste of that original magic, you must go back to the time when Disneyland was the Land of Dreams rather than the Land of Consumerism, and seek out vintage Disneyland memorabilia.
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