Merry Christmas, Mickey Mouse! A 1934 Disney Merchandise Promotional Book

Feeling the seasonal pangs of commercialism?   Wondering if you have the strength to shop local instead of on-line?   Just remember that the good old days weren’t always what they are cracked up to be.  Even in the Depression, Uncle Walt was dreaming of product placement, not sugarplums.   Enjoy this look at a masterpiece of holiday merchandizing that was first posted several years ago.

Front board of in process item

Front board of Cotsen in process item 7210213

Cotsen is lucky enough to have acquired a rare Christmas promotion book from 1934 (New York: Kay Kamen Incorporated, 1934). The book, spiral-bound with sheets tipped on card stock meant for tearing out, was designed by Kay Kamen Incorporated and distributed to department stores around the country. The promotional book outlines specific Mickey- and Disney-themed product displays, meticulously describes events and product placement, and offers a catalog of promotional Disney material.

Page [1], foreward

Page [1]: foreword

The foreword pictured above, outlines what the book seeks to capitalize on: “Bearing in mind the knowledge of the Public’s Mickey Mouse consciousness and with a combination of ideas from the leading Publicity and Display Executives of America, we present this Store-wide Mickey Mouse Christmas Promotion”.

The early 1930’s saw an explosion of popularity and “Mickey Mouse consciousness” for Walt Disney’s character. First appearing to a general public with the release of Steamboat Willie on November 18, 1928, Mickey Mouse would become one of the most recognizable cartoon characters ever in just a few short years. Early Mickey cartoons, directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, impressed audiences with innovative use of sound for comedic effect by synchronizing the actions of the character with the music and audio (talkies had just begun to gain commercial viability and popular appeal).

But it was Mickey’s appearance in merchandise and Disney’s ability to proliferate this image that would make the white-gloved mouse a household name. And it was especially designed department store promotions, like the one pictured here, that allowed the Disney image to become ubiquitously American. But without Kay Kamen, Disney merchandise might never have had the ballooning success it enjoyed in the 30s and beyond.

In the words of Charles Solomon, an historian of animation:

In 1932, Herman “Kay” Kamen, a former hat salesman who had built a successful advertising business in Kansas City, called Disney about developing character merchandise. Walt and Roy had been unhappy with the quality of some of the earlier merchandise and were interested in Kamen’s offer. He came to Los Angeles, a deal was struck, and the number of products bearing Mickey’s likeness expanded rapidly. Mickey appeared on everything from a Cartier diamond bracelet ($1,250.) to tin toys that sold for less than $1. In 1933 alone, 900,000 Mickey Mouse watches and clocks were sold, along with ten million Mickey Mouse ice cream cones. By 1934, Disney was earning more than $600,000 a year in profits from films and merchandise.1

This Christmas Promotion 1934 catalog remains a rare artifact of the aggressive and ingenious promotional advertising that Kay Kamen used to fuel the then fledgling Disney name into the omnipresent empire that we all know today. And as the book shows, Disney cornered the toy and merchandise market by inundating 1930’s consumers with the Disneyana atmosphere:

Pages [2-3] offer meticulous plans for the town parade that should correspond to the opening of the toy department in your town. Descriptions of the individual floats are provided and promotional products are available to advertise by your store!

Page [6]: The Mickey Mouse Post Office allowed department stores an easy way of obtaining mailing addresses, contact with parents, and “would probably make this link in your Promotional Campaign one of merit and profit.”


Page [7]: Remember that “all children love buttons!”


Page 12: an example of a promotional parade poster that was supposed to point consumers to the right place.


Page [18]: One of several promotional panels available for store decoration.

Page [25]: Mickey Mouse, The Goof, and Horace Horsecollar Christmas-themed mail decorations.

Spread [30-31]: life-sized Minnie and Mickey dolls were also available, as well as life-sized hollow laminate heads.


Page [32]: A tipped-in Mickey mask designed as a promotional hand-out.


Page [38]: More examples of give-aways, including an image of the buttons mentioned on page [7] above.

Pages [40-41]: The left page lists approved companies for ordering supplies like Micky Mouse stationary, drapery material, and balloons. The right page is the first page of a priced Kay Kamen Inc. catalog.


Page [44]: fold-out “blue prints” for the Mickey Mouse House to be constructed in a department store toy department.


Page [45]: The copyright notice at the back of the book, probably dutifully reinforced with a blue pencil by a store manager.

Disneyana promotional material, toys, merchandise, and ephemera are adored by collectors. The unique opportunity this book affords us is a look into the past with respect to the use and distribution of some of these products and their original costs. cost. This Christmas Promotion 1934 catalog allows us a unique look at the tools and machinations of a nascent merchandise giant and how it shapes children’s (and adults’) culture, and spaces. Advertising, after all, is what Christmas and childhood is really all about…

Happy holidays, everyone!

  1. The Golden Age of Mickey Mouse, by Charles Solomon

Interactive Advent Calendars

Today I’m rerunning another seasonal post from yesteryear, this one about some examples of Advent calendars in the collection, including one that incorporates a sound 45-rpm recording.   The discovery of that curious object while researching the post was memorable–who knew such a thing existed?  Enjoy–and enjoy the anticipation of the hectic holiday season, which is six days shorter than usual!

My childhood Advent calendar came from Joe’s Candy Cottage, which was on the hill that sloped down to the Manhattan Beach pier. A tiny shop that smelled deliciously of melting chocolate twelve months a year, Joe’s was even more irresistible to local kids in December, when they dropped by to admire the stocking stuffers imported from Europe in the glass vitrines and a menagerie of Steiff toys on the high shelves.

That calendar from Joe’s was discarded long ago, but it is still my idea of the perfect one –a snowy landscape with toys, woodland animals, stars, sweets and cunningly concealed flaps numbered from one to twenty-four,the whole surface lightly dusted with a veil of silver glitter.

That paper artifact is now another commodity that blows into the Christmas marketplace every year in a flurry of sizes, shapes, and materials incorporating different combinations of holiday motifs. Some designs forgo the little flaps that open to reveal pictures of treats for wooden drawers, which Mom and Dad have to fill with goodies. Instant gratification trumps the cultivation of patience yet again.

The Cotsen collection’s cache of what I assumed would be a selection of “traditional” European Advent calendars had more to offer than naked pink cherubs turning out sugary treats in a celestial bakery. Instead of rolling out variations on the same old theme, some graphic designers and illustrators were more than happy to experiment with the format.

The publisher’s envelope for the Advent calendar, Das Christkind im Walde, ca. 1930. Cotsen 36764.

The envelope of Das Christkind im Walde illustrated in frosty blues promises the pleasure of creating a charming tableau between December 6th and the 24th. The backdrop is a section of wintry forest with squirrels, rabbits and crows. There are no flaps on the calendar, just numbers. Each number has a corresponding tab on the back.

The numbered tabs on the back of the calendar. There is also a mostly illegible property stamp for a school in Prague.

As more tabs are turned during the passage of December, the scene fills up with angels carrying stars and lanterns. On the twenty-third, St. Nicolas pops up in the lower right hand corner and the Christ child takes the center stage on Christmas Eve. Josef Mauder (1884-1969), the famous Bavarian illustrator of Jugendstil children’s books, designed an Advent calendar that required the child to do quite a bit more than find the flap with the day’s date on it, open it, and long for the thing pictured in the window.

The well-worn cover of the third printing of Josef Mauder’s Muenchener Weihnachts-Kalendar, which probably dates around 1925. Cotsen 23215.

Each day, the child had to select the correct illustrated sticker and paste it in its proper space on the right page. The Cotsen copy has been completed, so I am guessing there was an envelope containing the set of stickers, now discarded. Each sticker tells the story of one stage of Peter and Liesel’s search for the Christ Child between December first and the twenty-fourth. On the third day of the month, for example, they meet the Heinzelmann and ask for directions. They see St. Nicholas on the fourth of December while trying to find the fifth tree in the sixth row the Heinzelmann told them to look for.

Last but not least, an audio-Advent calendar that predates the ones on the Internet by several decades. Glade Jul, Dejlige Jul is one of those completely mad hybrids that designers create for children. The twenty-four flaps of the Advent calendar have been arranged around the circumference of a 45 r.p.m. record on laminated cardboard (ours is missing seven flaps).

Glade Jul, dejlige Jul = Santa Notte = Voici Noel = Silent Night, holy Night = Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht. [Copenhagen?]: L. Levinson Jr. Ltd., copyright [1965?] Cotsen 6488.

One way of playing with this object might be for the child to open the flaps and look at the loot in the windows, then to play the sound recording. As the record spins, the children on the flaps appear to dance around the Christmas tree in the center, making Glade Jul is a relative of a phenatistoscope, or precursor of a GIF animation of a short continuous loop. This novelty, with its parallel titles in five languages was probably intended for distribution in America, England and the Continent.

So don’t let the snow melt under your feet in the forest! There are still nineteen flaps to open on the Advent calendar!