“The best collectibles are the stuff not meant to be collectibles. Disneyland souvenirs and memorabilia have such a strong emotional bond that people tend not to throw stuff away.”
It was a great day’s night last Saturday for Jim Owen, a collector of Disney theme park posters, who saw some of his prized collectibles far exceed bid projections at “Collecting Disneyland,” a one-day exhibition and auction mounted by Van Eaton Galleries in Sherman Oaks, Calif. The gallery specializes in animation art.
The auction fetched $1.7 million. Some of the prized items among the more than 800 items up for auction included a Tomorrowland PeopleMover tram car, which sold for $471,000, and an orange Skyway Bucket, a long-since grounded attraction in which passengers were ferried between Tomorrowland and Fantasyland, which sold for $13.225. Other Disney theme park souvenirs included a paper menu from the long-shuttered Hills Brothers Coffee House, which sold for $60, a Disneyland security jacket which went for $200 and a 1967 popcorn bucket that also sold for $200.
“The best collectibles are the stuff not meant to be collectibles,” gallery co-owner Mike Van Eaton told Millionaire Corner in a phone interview. “Disneyland souvenirs and memorabilia have such a strong emotional bond that people tend not to throw stuff away.”
Owen, 49, who portrays John Lennon in the Beatles tribute show, “Classical History Tour,” is the embodiment of the collector’s maxim: Collect only what you love. Owen loves Disneyland. Growing up in Huntington Beach in close proximity to Anaheim, the original Disneyland’s home, he said “it was just an amazing place to be. The things you saw in Disney movies and on (the Disney TV show) “The Wonderful World of Color” were brought to life there. There were elements of discovery, education, adventure and inspiration.”
His favorite “lands” were, by day, New Orleans Square, which housed the iconic attractions the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean,” and by night, Tomorrowland.
He became a Disney collector as a kid. “Any pocket change I could get together I wanted to buy park souvenirs,” he said. “(I bought a) Haunted Mansion foldout brochure, a Disney postcards booklet, rubber snakes from Adventureland.”
In the 1990s, a friend with whom he performed in another Beatles tribute band showed him his collection of Disney theme park posters. Owen was hooked. “I told him I had to get these things and asked him where I could find them. He sold me two of his posters and introduced me to other Disney poster collectors in the Los Angeles area.”
“These posters (depicting rides and attractions) really reach you,” Owen explained. “The graphics are colorful, they’re big, and they excite you to want to go on the ride or visit an attraction. They created a lot of anticipation and excitement. That never goes away.”
In the case of attractions no longer in existence, such as Space Station X1, the 20,000 Leagues under the Sea ride, or the Flying Saucers, the posters preserve Disney theme park history.
“When I started collecting these posters, I figured I’d only want images that I was familiar with,” Owen said with a laugh. “But once you start collecting and see these beautiful posters, you think ‘That’s a really neat part of old Disneyland I never got to see. Flying Saucers; how cool is that? I’ve got to have that poster.’”
One of the prized items in Owen’s collection was a rare poster depicting the “Rocket to the Moon” attraction displayed at Disneyland in 1956. Owen figured it would fetch around $12,000. It went for $28,750, far surpassing the previous record-holder for a Disney theme park poster, $18,000 for a Rainbow Caverns Mine Train poster, which was sold at a previous Van Eaton Galleries auction. A Flying Saucers poster from 1961 landed $18,500.
The posters Owen put up for auction were duplicates in his collection. The far-sighted collector bought them for the sole purpose of having trade or exchange bait with other collectors. After about 15 years, he said, his collection is as complete as possible (up to 125 posters). “I don’t have a need for trading,” he said, “so I decided that somebody else should have a chance to enjoy them.”
Duplicates or not, it was still not easy to part with them. “Any collector will tell you that it’s easier to buy something than it is to sell it,” he joked.
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.