A Brief Look at the Philatelic History of Disneyby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
What is a Disney stamp? According to the Handbook of Disney Philately by William Silvester (a respected authority on Disney stamps) published in 1990 a Disney stamp must be drawn by Disney artists and authorized by the Walt Disney Company although not everyone agrees with that definition. There are many different opinions as to what is and what is not collectible.
Because of the influx of foreign countries issuing Disney themed postage stamps in the 1980s, there has been heated debate by stamp collectors in stamp publications bemoaning the desecration of the hobby by what they term "wallpaper" since the stamps were obviously produced not for postal use but to generate income from collectors who would never use them.
However, on the other hand, Disney stamps have probably done more to recruit new collectors, young and old, beyond the regular community of stamp collectors than any other stamp issues. Stamp dealers have no difficulty selling what they have in stock and few Disney fans are ever willing to part with the Disney stamps they own.
It is unlikely that Disney stamps will ever command large investment returns, though a few of the early issues are becoming increasingly hard to find.
Although my dad tried to get me into stamp collecting when I was a kid, I quickly became more interested in collecting comic books. For me, collecting Disney stamps is like pin collecting. I only buy those that I like and feel are worth the price while my friends worry about edition numbers, cast exclusives and whether their investment will increase.
Foreign Disney Stamps
I recently wrote about the 1968 Walt Disney U.S. postage stamp but that was only the beginning.
Two years later in 1970, the tiny European Republic of San Marino issued a set of 10 stamps featuring Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Uncle Scrooge, Pete, Donald's nephews, Gyro Gearloose, and Pluto. The last stamp issued had a picture of Walt Disney and in the background Mowgli and Bagheera from a scene from Jungle Book the last animated film in production when Walt passed away in 1966.
The stamps from the small Italian peninsula enclave were produced under a license from the Disney company. Obviously, the stamps were produced to generate revenue since it was highly unlikely that all the people purchasing them would use them for mailing items in that country.
A great place to see copies of all the Disney foreign stamps is at this site., that features 4,500 individual stamps. but even then is missing many others, which shows you how extensive Disney stamps are.
The San Marino stamps' popularity and the money they generated was not lost on other countries. In 1972, European stamp agents for two small sheikdoms on the Arabian Gulf, Sharjah and Fujeira, produced a series of Disney stamps. Fujeira issued 60 different stamps in three sheets of 20 subjects. Sharjah issued 32 different stamps and six miniature sheets of four and six subjects.
Many of the stamps were not "on model" because there were unauthorized so the likenesses of the Disney characters varied greatly. Obviously, this was an infringement on the Disney copyright so the Disney Company sued in a French court to prevent the distribution and won. Disney's rights had been protected.
Unfortunately, by the time of the verdict, the stamps had been widely distributed and are still easily available from stamp dealers. These stamps are frowned upon by professional stamp collectors because they were obviously produced for collectors and to generate revenue and not postal use. Basically, they are an example of illegal Disney merchandise.
However, Disney fans eagerly bought them (and they were even extensively counterfeited) and proved that using Disney characters on stamps were a potential gold mine.
New official Disney stamps were issued in 1979 when the Disney Studios designed stamps for the "International Year of the Child." This was a project conceived and organized by philatelist William D. Cox, who knew people in both Walt Disney Productions and the Inter-Governmental Philatelic Corporation (the sales agents for the stamps). On October 25, 1979, Mickey Mouse appeared at New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in Avery Fisher Hall to preview the first three sets and their original artwork.
Originally, this "Disney World of Postage Stamps" was conceived as being a 24 stamp set to be issued by several foreign countries (Antigua, Dominica, Grenada, Grenada Grenadines, Maldives and Turks & Caicos Islands) but within 10 years it grew to be more than 100 sets issued by more than 20 countries all over the world.
All of the artwork for the sets was designed especially for the sets by Disney Studio, and even the production of the sets were supervised by Disney. There were souvenir sheets showing a scene from the Disney short or feature with one of the stamps incorporated into the artwork.
In May 1980, Saint Lucia issued a set of Disney stamps commemorating the tenth anniversary of the first moon walk (something that had actually occurred in 1979). The reason is that the designs had originally been created for Bhutan as part of that International Year of the Child series of stamps but were delayed.
In September 1980, Togo issued a set of stamps that pictured Disney versions of Animals of Africa.
Christmas of 1980 saw the production of Sleeping Beauty stamps for Dominica, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs stamps for Grenada, Bambi stamps for Grenada Grenadines, Alice in Wonderland stamps for Maldives, and Pinocchio stamps for Turks & Calicos Islands.
All of these stamps and the souvenir sheets had art that were reproduced from the original animated feature films. The success of these stamps sparked an annual tradition of releases.
Over the years, in these omnibus series, there were stamps celebrating Pluto's 50th Anniversary, the Easter Season, Donald Duck's 50th Birthday, Christmas, and feature films like Cinderella, Lady & the Tramp and even Song of the South (animated sequences only, except for a souvenir sheet that featured actor James Baskett as Uncle Remus).
It was hard to keep up with the flood of new Disney stamps. Stamps were released to commemorate the 1982 World Cup played in Spain, but were produced by Dominica. In 1988, the huge Ameripex stamp exposition in Chicago, hailed as The World's Fair of Stamps had Disney stamps produced just for the event from Grenada and the Republic of Maldives.
In 1996, Canada issued a four-stamp set and souvenir sheet commemorating Winnie the Pooh. The fourth stamp had the Disney version of Pooh eating honey out of a pot while in the background is the Magic Kingdom castle to tie in with the 25th anniversary of Walt Disney World.
To celebrate the 100th birthday of Walt Disney in 2001, Portugal issued a souvenir sheet of 10 stamps that included a portrait of Walt as well as individual stamps dedicated to Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Donald, Donald's three nephews, Daisy and Uncle Scrooge.
In 2003, Hong Kong and the Republic of China began issuing Disney stamps. For the opening of Shanghai Disneyland, a special booklet with four stamps was issued. Japan issued a pre-paid postal card in connection with the opening of Tokyo Disneyland in 1983 and recently have produced several stamps.
U.S. Disney Stamps
The Disney relationship with the U.S. Postal Service began in the summer of 1918 when a young Walt Disney sorted and delivered mail in a horse drawn wagon for the Chicago Post Office. Mickey Mouse worked for the Post Office when he starred in the 1933 animated short Mail Pilot.
Fortunately, the Walt Disney Company saved all of Walt's letters and has quoted from them over the decades. Of course, even as early as the 1930s, there were envelopes of studio correspondence that had an image of Mickey Mouse on them.
Snow White appeared as one of the subjects on the 32 cent "Celebrate the Century" series in 1998. The stamp group featured "significant people, places and events" from each decade of the 20th century in anticipation of the upcoming Millennium.
Walt Disney's Snow White, apparently a last minute addition, was one of 15 subjects chosen to represent the 1930s. It also tied in with the 60th anniversary of the animated feature film. The stamp showed Snow White talking to a little blue bird on her finger.
On October 2009, a world premiere screening of the Disney film Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure was held at United Nations New York Headquarters for children of delegates and staff. At the event, Tinker Bell was named Honorary Ambassador of Green, which was celebrated in June 2012 with the issuance of a UN Postal Administration PA personalized stamp sheet with two Tinker Bell stamps.
In 2011, there was the "Send A Hello" series with images from Pixar (Lightning McQueen and Mater from Cars, Remy and Linguini from Ratatouille, Buzz Lightyear and two aliens from Toy Story, Carl Fredricksen and Dug from Up, and Wall-E from Wall-E.)
That was followed in 2012 by the "Mail a Smile" series (Flik and Dot from A Bug's Life; Mr. Incredible Bob Parr and "Dash" Parr from The Incredibles; Nemo and Squirt from Finding Nemo; Woody, Bullseye, and Jessie from Toy Story 2; and Boo, Mike Wazowski, and James P. "Sulley" Sullivan from Monsters, Inc.)
Perhaps the best known U.S. Disney stamps are the popular Art of Disney series:
- Friendship (2004). Mickey, Goofy and Donald Duck; Bambi and Thumper; Mufasa and Simba; and Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket.
- Celebration (2005). Snow White and Dopey; Alice and the Mad Hatter; Mickey and Pluto; and Ariel and Flounder (from "The Little Mermaid").
- Romance (2006), Cinderella and Prince Charming; Beauty and the Beast; Lady and the Tramp; and Mickey and Minnie Mouse
- Magic (2007). Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer's Apprentice; Peter Pan and Tinker Bell; Aladdin and the Genie and Dumbo and Timothy Mouse.
- Imagination (2008). The Dalmatians Pongo and his son Pepper; Princess Aurora, Flora, Fauna and Merryweather; Steamboat Willie; and, Mowgli and Baloo
U.S. Postal Service Chief of Staff Mike Spates stated, "After the success of the first two Art of Disney sets with 47.7 million Friendship stamps collected in 2004 and 52.8 million Celebration stamps in 2005, we sat down with the Disney team to explore the possibility of extending the series."
The Postal Service randomly surveys approximately 10,000 customers four times annually to gauge the number of stamps collected. Spates said 57.2 million Romance stamps were collected in 2006 and 53.8 million Magic stamps in 2007.
If a stamp is collected, then it is not used, so the post office only gains money because it does not have to provide a service.
In the fall of 2001, executives and artists from the Disney Consumer Products division of The Walt Disney Company invited representatives from the United States Postal Service to hear a proposal of a four-stamp set honoring Mickey Mouse.
It was the Postmaster General who suggested expanding the idea to include more Disney characters. That suggestion sparked the idea of themes. It was agreed that one stamp in each series would feature Mickey.
So from the basic idea of four stamps honoring Mickey Mouse, the concept expanded to a five-year, 20 stamp issuance.
The characters needed to be large enough that they could be seen clearly at the reduced size and that the characters needed to make eye contact with each other or the viewer.
Instead of adapting already existing art, Disney pitched that they would create new art in a "painterly approach".
Disney Creative Director David Pacheco did the rough sketch concepts for all the stamps. Peter Emmerich working with oil paints did the four paintings for each set. The original art was reduced over again and again to see how the image would "read" at postage stamp size.
"I was asked to design the stamps, and I just said 'yes' and went back to my desk and continued working," Pacheco said. "Then suddenly I realized, 'I'm working on stamps for the United States Postal Service' and it dawned on me what an incredible honor I'd been invited to share."
Terry McCaffrey (USPS manager) and William Gicker (USPS creative director) ensured things like background colors to denomination font were suitable.
Some critics dismissed the stamps as crass commercialism especially since the USPS produced additional products featuring the artwork including commemorative sheets, First Day covers, postcards, mugs, magnets and even teddy bears wearing shirts with a Disney stamp image and more.
The First Day of Issue for stamps often have small, dignified ceremonies usually attended by friends or family members of the person being honored or the stamp's creators or philatelic enthusiasts. However, the Disney stamps had major celebrations at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
- Friendship was held at the Disneyland Resort on June 23, 2004. Three-hundred invited guests saw Disney characters unveil "their" stamp (Rafiki unveiled the Lion King one). A mini post office was set up that day for guests to get their stamps cancelled.
- Celebration was held at the Disneyland Resort on June 30, 2005 with special signings by Pacheco, Emmerich and McCaffrey.
- Romance was held at Epcot at the Fountain Stage at Walt Disney World April 21, 2006. It coincided with the opening that year of the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival. The event had giant floral "paintings" of each stamp. Offered for sale were special First Day Covers that had a cachet with the corresponding topiary in a special framed limited edition of 185.
- Magic was held at Epcot at Walt Disney World on August 16, 2007 at the America Gardens Theater. Hosted by the Fairy Godmother, the ceremony had a costumed Sorcerer Mickey and artists Emmerich, Pacheco and McGaffrey.
- Imagination was held at the Disneyland Resort on August 7, 2008. Huge panels showing the rough pencil sketch by Pacheco were then turned to show the final full color art by Emmerich. Special guest at the ceremony was Executive Vice President and Imagineering Ambassador, Walt Disney Imagineering, Marty Sklar who said, "I know that Walt would be proud to see Mickey and the other Disney characters appear on U.S. Postage Stamps honoring imagination. Imagination was always at the heart of his work, in movies, television and here at Disneyland. He lived, breathed and dreamed it his whole life."
For those interested in these stamps, in 2008, the USPS published a 107 page book titled The Art of Disney Stamps by Barbara Bazaldua that focuses on these 20 stamps. The hardback originally sold for $50.
Filled with rare developmental sketches and beautiful artwork from the Disney creative team, the Art of Disney Stamps book provided a synopsis of each Disney character's creation. Each page is filled with rough concept sketches, color studies and final art for every stamp. It also includes photographs of First-Day-of-Issue stamp dedication ceremonies
On July 15, 2017 at the Anaheim Convention Center in California, as part of that year's D23 Expo, the United States Postal Service released a new set of stamps featuring Disney Villains including the Evil Queen (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), Honest John (Pinocchio), Lady Tremaine (Cinderella), the Queen of Hearts (Alice in Wonderland), Captain Hook (Peter Pan), Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty), Cruella De Vil (One Hundred and One Dalmatians), Ursula (The Little Mermaid), Gaston (Beauty and the Beast), and Scar (The Lion King).
Of course, if you have to have everything, should postage stamps featuring the Muppets, Star Wars and Marvel comic characters also be considered part of the Disney heritage?
Like most Disney topics, there are plenty of interesting tangents. There are so many Disney exhibits and events around the world over the decades that it is impossible to even attend a small fraction of them.
One that I regret I never saw was the traveling exhibit put together by Ken Lawrence (another notable and respected authority on Disney stamps) entitled The Sun Never Sets On Mickey Mouse – Walt Disney's Worldwide Empire a competitive exhibit dedicated to Disney philatelic history at the World Columbian Stamp Expo '92 and a special invited exhibit at the Pacific '97. He is a writer for numerous publications and contributing editor for Scott Stamp Monthly. He owns a philatelic consulting firm whose clients include some of America's best known and most successful exhibitors and dealers. He has won countless national awards for his philatelic scholarship and exhibits.
Lawrence sold the entire collection and I hope that he took great documentation photos of everything. I would love to see Disney Editions produce a book with this material.
The earliest example in his collection was an envelope cancelled in Mickey, Texas in May 1932. What makes this interesting is the cancellation stamp is a full figure Mickey Mouse. William G. Fountaine supplied the distinctive canceler to Postmaster J.E. Mickey who was the proprietor of the Mickey Grocery where the post office was located. Two dozen examples are known to survive.
A special cachet was produced for the 45th Annual Tournament of Roses bowl game on January 1, 1934. The cachet was provided free by the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce and the Tournament of Roses Association. It featured an image of Mickey Mouse rushing forward holding a football in a style very similar to the cartoon Touchdown Mickey (1932). It was actually an advertisement for Mickey Mouse Athletic Goods. ("They'll help you win!")
Lawrence's collection had a special hand-painted cachet by Disney artist Hank Porter from 1938 that was one of the highlights of his collection. Another treasure in Lawrence's collection was an envelope cancelled in Chicago on December 5, 1901 (the place and birthdate of Walt). Over the decades, there have been many amateur made cachets including some featuring artwork by Disney artist Carl Barks.
On Sunday, October 1, 1989 at 10 a.m., the Universe of Energy pavilion at Epcot was the site of the First Day of Issue Ceremony for the new United States Dinosaur postage stamps. According to U.S. Postal authorities, the pavilion was chosen because the examples of the Tyrannosaurus, Pteranodon, Brontosaurus and Stegosaurus pictured on the four stamps were all 'permanent residents' of the pavilion.
Two-hundred invited guests attended the ceremony that included a Disney brass band, followed by Disney Vice President Bob Matheison and U.S. Postmaster General Anthony Frank. Clever Disney fans bought Universe of Energy postcards, applied the dinosaur stamps to them and then had them cancelled at the Guest Services counter at Earth Station.
Strangely, Disney made no advance announcement of the ceremony, so many people missed out on a great opportunity. Just another little Disney historical oddity that has been forgotten over the years
In 2005, USPS released a series of stamps titled "Masterworks of Modern American Architecture" series. One of those stamps was a photo by Todd Eberle of New York of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles designed by architect Frank Gehry. Since the building opened in 2003, it was the newest building on the stamp pane.
For awhile a subsidiary of Pitney-Bowes known as Zazzle.com secured the rights to Disney designs and produced pressure-sensitive adhesive stamps in seven different denominations. The USPS officially called these types of stamps "meter stamps". However, due to some disputes, these are no longer offered. They were sold at a substantial markup to their face value which is why the company got involved in producing them.
Although Elvis remains king as the single most popular stamp subject of all time, the Art of Disney set featuring Mickey Mouse and his friends rule as the most popular stamp series of all time with both stamp collectors and Disney enthusiasts.
I purposely titled this column "A Brief Look" because I know there is a lot more to be covered and hope that others will help expand my limited knowledge. Hopefully, what I have shared here might encourage some readers to start a small collection to add to their Disney collectibles.