'Holy Grail' of Disney animation, starring Mickey Mouse, comes to Heritage Auctions

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'Holy Grail' of Disney animation, starring Mickey Mouse, comes to Heritage Auctions
Black-and-white Shanghaied nitrate production cel setup casts spotlight on Disney’s most iconic character.

DALLAS, TX.- Call it “the Holy Grail for Disney Animation collectors.”

Mickey Mouse is, of course, the most iconic Disney character of all time, and the most popular ever created. For more than seven decades, he has appeared in films and in cartoon shorts, in comic books and on a seemingly endless range of merchandise, from clothing to coffee mugs.

An extraordinarily rare Shanghaied Mickey Mouse black and white hand inked nitrate Production Cel Setup on its hand-painted Key Master Background will land in a new collection when it is sold in Heritage Auctions’ February 4-7 Animation Art Signature® Auction.

“This is an incredible piece that rarely becomes available to the public,” Heritage Auctions Vice President and Animation & Anime Art Director Jim Lentz said. “Mickey Mouse is the most iconic cartoon character of all time, and has been for years. Black-and-white Mickey Mouse production cels with their key master backgrounds rarely survive this long, and certainly not in this condition. This is an exceptional piece of animated film history from one of the greatest characters in animated films.”

The setup (estimate: $25,000+), which can be seen at the 3:16 mark of the short that lasts just over seven minutes, is believed to be one of fewer than 25 black and white Mickey Mouse key master setups remaining in private hands. During the film, a swordfish-wielding Mickey Mouse makes a raspberry noise with a deck of cards to antagonize the villainous pirate captain Peg-Leg Pete; it was the first theatrical short featuring Billy Bletcher as the voice of Pete.

It is notable that this black-and-white nitrate production cel includes its original hand-painted key master production background. This is a classic incredibly rare piece of animation film history. This specific piece was in one of the early Animation Art Museum Shows for a company called Museum Graphics in California in the late 1970s.

Now the face of the Walt Disney Company, Mickey first appeared in 1928, six years before Disney produced Shanghaied, as a replacement for another character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Key master setups featuring Mickey Mouse from black-and-white theatrical shorts are considered the rarest of all Disney animation setups.

The rarity alone makes this one of the greatest Disney setups ever brought to market, but that is hardly the only allure. The names “Fergy” and “Spencer” are hand-written at the bottom edge, likely a nod to two great animators: Norman Ferguson, best known for his contribution to the creation of Disney’s Pluto character, Peg-Leg Pete and the Big Bad Wolf, and Fred Spencer, who long revered as an expert on Donald Duck. The background is rendered masterfully in black-and-white gouache and graphite, and the 12-field, two-peghole nitrate cels show astonishingly minor handling and edge wear compared to most nitrate cels of this era. Most impressively, the paint on the cels remains fully intact, making this one of the most well-preserved black-and-white Mickey Mouse setups Heritage Auctions experts have seen.

The lot includes a portfolio containing a rare set of six studio-printed Shanghaied publicity images on 10-by-8-inch photographic paper.

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