To some, it is the most significant auction in the world of cartoon art, bar none.
To others, it’s just an unfortunate day in the life of a museum.
On Saturday, Guernsey’s auction house will conduct an extensive auction of cartoon art, with most of the 700 works up for sale coming from the International Museum of Cartoon Art in Boca Raton, Fla. The museum, founded by Beetle Bailey creator Mort Walker, is home to more than 200,000 drawings.
The museum is selling one of it’s most prized possessions – what may be the original drawings of Mickey Mouse – among its almost 600 items for sale. The museum is attempting to wipe out the almost $2 million it owes on its mortgage, as well as create an endowment for future operating expenses. Typical of the plight of many nonprofits, the museum has experienced funding problems that necessitate the sale.
The 36-panel storyboard is from 1928’s Plane Crazy, and is believed to be the first drawing ever made of Walt Disney’s seminal creation, Mickey Mouse. Inspired by Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight, Mickey Mouse was supposed to have debuted in this silent film, but Plane Crazy ended up being released after Steamboat Willie.
“The piece was originally donated for fund-raising purposes, and that’s why it was placed as collateral against the mortgage,” said museum operations director Jeanne Greever. “Certainly having to auction it off is sad, but as it’s not officially part of the permanent collection, it’s won’t hurt the integrity of the collection on display.”
The Plane Crazy storyboard, called the Holy Grail of the cartoon art world, is worth an estimated $3.2 million to $3.7 million, and will likely receive an opening bid in the mid-six figure range.
“This storyboard is as valuable in the cartoon world as any painting you might name in the traditional art world,” said Herbert Barker, founder and curator of Barker Character, Comic, and Cartoon Museum in Cheshire, Conn. “There is no more important work in that regard.”
Arlan Ettinger, president of Guernsey’s, agrees.
“[There is] no more significant work in the cartoon world,” he said. “This is the seminal piece of the most recognizable character of the 20th century. Everyone, whether you live in North America or North Africa, has been touched by Mickey Mouse.”
David Horsey, the president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists and a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, also echoes that sentiment.
“This is huge,” Horsey said. “That storyboard was the beginning of a revolution … The Disney empire was built from that piece.”
Greever hopes that the storyboard will remain at the museum.
“We know it’s a long shot, but it is our fervent hope that someone would purchase the storyboard and then keep it on display at our museum.,” she said.
SunTrust bank, which holds the note on the museum, originally demanded the storyboard last year as payment from the museum. But in December, the museum got a time extension from the bank. A lack of substantial public endowments in the intervening months has led the museum to take works to auction.
SunTrust officials refused to comment.
It is not rare for a museum to auction off a major piece, Ettinger said.
“This is hardly the first time,” Ettinger said. “We’ve worked with many museums in selling off… pieces. Hopefully this auction can set the museum on the proper fiscal path. People need to realize this is just a minute part of their collection.”
Among other works of note from the museum at auction include:
Animation cells from Disney’s 1937 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, including one of Doc and Dopey worth an estimated $24,000;
A Frank Sinatra portrait by Al Hirschfeld, valued at $20,000 to $25,000;
More than 30 original Dick Tracy drawings by cartoonist Chester Gould, each worth $300 to $1,000; and
Multiple originals of the Prince Valiant Sunday cartoon by Hal Foster, each worth $2,000 to $5,000.
The museum’s total lot, minus the Mickey Mouse storyboard, is expected to fetch anywhere between $250,000 and $750,000, estimated Melissa Weintraub, spokesperson for Guernsey’s.
Barker and Horsey said that they didn’t think the storyboard or the auction in general would raise as much money as the auction house estimates. They don’t think that the market could bear some of the estimates.
The International Museum of Cartoon Art was founded 26 years ago by Mort Walker, the cartoonist behind Beetle Bailey, and was housed in buildings in Connecticut and New York. In 1996, a permanent home was built for the museum in Boca Raton, Fla., where today approximately 50,000 visitors each year are able to enjoy the collection.
The auction will be held at the prominent New York Historical Society in New York City, while absentee bidders can bid online through leftbid.com. Guernsey’s claims to have sold more cartoon art than any other auction house in the world, and in 1994 held a three-day event where more than 1,000 lots of cartoon art were successfully auctioned off.