Once Upon A Time...Collecting Pinocchio Memorabilia

February 21, 2011

The year was 1940. War was on the horizon but Americans were finally enjoying some relief from the Great Depression. Movies were the most popular form of entertainment, and television was not too far into the future.
In February of that year, an unforgettable gift to the nation arrived from Walt Disney. It was Pinocchio, an animated feature-length film about a puppet who want so badly to become a real boy. Pinocchio told the simple story of Gepetto, the master toymaker, who created a wooden puppet in the image of a boy.
Gepetto made a wish upon the first evening star one night that his creation would become a real boy. The old man was much beloved by the children of the village, but he was lonely all the same. Although he had his companions - Cleo, the goldfish, and Figaro, the cat - he yearned desperately for a son.
The film, with its blend of sentiment, adventure and a wonderful musical score - Jiminy Cricket’s “When You Wish Upon a Star” was an instant classic - was loosely based on the classic children's novel Pinocchio, written by Italian author Carlo Lorenzini, under the pseu-donym of Carlo Collodi. It was first published in 1892. Since then, dozens of editions have been printed and sold in this country, most of them illustrated.
Walt Disney made many changes in the basic story, adding new characters and incidents. Disney's modernization of Collodi's Pinoc-chio into an American image worked remarkably well. Today's children, as well as their parents and grandparents, know the classic tale as told by Disney - not by the original author. Most of the books of Pinocchio that are read and collected reflect the Disney interpretation. In fact, it is not easy to find the original novel nowadays.
By 1940, American marketing genius had fully recognized the potential of product tie-ins with Disney films. During Pinocchio's first year in movie houses, hundreds of different items were made for sale or as product premiums, many of them put on sale the previous year.
Today, more than 60 years later, all are part of the treasure trove of Disneyana that is eagerly sought by collectors. In the decades since the film's initial showings in 1940 and 1941, other merchandise with a Pinocchio theme has also been sold, usually in connection with re-releases of the film. But the majority of important Pinocchio collectibles date from the magical early years.
The mostly plentiful collectibles are figurines, statuettes, dolls, and ephemera. Another area is film memorabilia, especially for the later re-releases. Black-and-white stills, color lobby cards, posters, cels, and press books from the original 1940 release are eagerly collected and cherished but are a bit expensive. Those from the 1960's and 1970's are more affordable to beginning collectors.
Much of the original merchandise retailed for ten cents to $2. Most were images of Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket and Gepetto. Cat fanciers long ago discovered the cuddly and adorable Figaro, who has also been used extensively for figurines.
Crown Manufacturing Co. produced banks, statuettes and dolls with movable arms, legs and heads. George Borgfeldt Corp. sold 10-inch mechanical Pinocchio dolls and smaller wooden and bisque figures. Other figurines and smaller figures in various compositions were made by Brayton's Laguna Pottery, which sold a complete character series, and National Porcelain Co. In the late 1940's, American Pottery Co. also distributed a line of ceramic figurines.
Mechanical and push toys, music boxes, dolls made by Ideal, and banks are favorite Pinocchio collectibles. Watches, silverware, book-ends, fountain pen desk sets, jewelry, wax candles, handkerchiefs and rubber balls can also be found with a Pinocchio theme.
One of the best places for a collector to seek material is in the field of ephemera. This category includes the storybook by Grosset & Dunlap, sheet music, coloring books and magazine advertising.
Two Big Little Books, Pinocchio and Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket were published in the early 1940's. Pinocchio comic books did not appear until 1945. The comic book industry - then still in its formative years - had yet to discover the potential of Disney topics. Many titles were published later by Dell and other firms, some of which were total or partial reprints of the original printings.
Paper dolls are another collecting possibility. The only paper doll booklet was done by Whitman in 1939, just before the film's re-leases. A few rare newspaper cutouts appeared in 1940, but these are very difficult to find.
At the end of World War II, two French publishing houses, E. Sepheriades and Superluxe, printed sets of 25 postcards using original artwork from the film. Countless American G.I.'s stationed in Europe after 1945 brought these and similar sets home with them as souve-nirs of their overseas duty. These have been surfacing during the last couple of decades.
Beginning in 1950 and continuing for 20 years afterward, various Italian firms produced and sold sets of postcards about Pinocchio and other Disney themes. These and the French sets are today much sought after by collectors.
Pinocchio has never been re-released as often as some of the other Disney classics. But it has endured as one of the best full-length ani-mation features ever made, as well as becoming a great collectible. The delightful characters who sprung to life from the film - Pinocchio, Gepetto and Jiminy Cricket have universal appeal, especially when they wish upon a star, just as we ourselves sometimes do.

AAN 1012


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