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

Books and “Fancy Articles” for Sale at Richard Miller’s in Old Fish Street, London

An engraver by trade, Richard Miller was also a publisher and the proprietor of a “juvenile library” (aka a children’s book store) at 24 Old Fish Street in early nineteenth century London.   His shop was quite close to the church of St. Mary Magdalen, shown in the engraving to the left, and south and east of Paul’s Church Yard, long a center of book trade activity. Miller was pretty small fry compared to John Harris, successor to the Newberys and a major publisher in his own right, or the Darton firm, with two bustling businesses at two locations in the city.   By the 1820s, the children’s book market had grown so large that there was plenty of room for miultiple shops catering to customers with different tastes and values.

Miller engraved attractive sets of illustrated cards  that were sold for school and Sunday school rewards.  The same sets of sheets were also sold bound as neat little volumes in marbled paper with colored roan spines.  The bound volumes seem to have survived at a higher rate than the cards and certain titles still turn up fairly often on the antiquarian book market.

Cotsen has seven Miller publications and they were probably published in the 1820s (he did not date his title pages as a rule).  There are four little books of engraved plates: The History of Birds, The History of Goody Two Shoes, Pastimes or Amusements for a Girl, and Twenty-Six Poetical Extracts. In the collection of educational cards there’s the Miller Pence Table in forty-eight hand-colored engraved illustrated cards.  The 126-page The Panorama of the World, or An Enquiry into the Manners and Customs of the Principal Foreign Inhabitants of the Globe, illustrated with nine hand-colored engraved plates, is the only proper book in the group.

That leaves Military Heroes That Have Distinguished Themselves During the Late Wars (that is, the Napoleonic wars)  I like it less for the fourteen hand-colored engraved equestrian portraits of great generals like Alexander the Great, Prince Blucher, and the Duke of Wellington, than for the twelve-page catalog of “Books and Fancy Articles” at the end.  In the catalog this book listed under the title “Memoirs of Military Heroes.”  With plain engravings, Military Heroes  cost a shilling and with colored plates (which Cotsen’s copy has) two shillings.  The portraits could also be purchased individually on superfine paper for two pence  or as a set for two shillings.  It was a fair price for such a things then, but not cheap.

Cotsen 35443.

Cotsen 35443.

Overall there are plenty of indications in the catalog that Miller was more than a very clever packager of his own content.  The opening below offers a delicious selection of novelty parlor games and educational flash cards.  The packs of conversation cards include one called “Pop the Question,” which probably had nothing to do with the conclusion of a courtship.  But maybe not, given the close proxmity to The Ladder of Matrimony  and The Map of Matrimony.  Obviously The Map  represents an imaginary place, like the “country of sighs.”   Still it was available as well as a jigsaw puzzle in a neat box as if it were something for teaching the geography of South America.  Prints had been sold for centuries for sticking on walls as decorations and Miller obliged with the series “Cottage Ornaments” or hand-colored prints for two pence on such edifying subjects as the drunken man or the death of the Earl of Rochester.  Certainly good enough for the parlour   The best of the “Fancy Articles” Miller sold has to be the “Satin Medallion Pincushions” for a shilling that feature  the portraits of the royal family and other famous people from Lord Nelson to worthy divines copied from the subjects on the preceding list of prints.  Do any survive in textile collections?This double-page spread offers more evidence that Miller didn’t rely completely on his own wares to stock his shelves.  He must have sold books by his competitors.  W. F. Sullivan was a school master who wrote many early examples of what would now be considered young adult novels.  He published with a variety of firms over the years, but none by Miller, as far as I can tell.  The roster of eighteenth-century classics like Gay’s Fables and Chesterfield’s Advice to His Son were probably also not Miller publications.  Tthe last title in that list is an edition of James Janeway’s Token for Children, one of the most famous and enduring of all seventeenth century juveniles.  It is not out of place here, because there are quite a few religious titles sprinkled throughout the catalogue.The last page in the catalogue features lots of old favorites–II see two different editions of Dick Whittington and Blue Beard, based on the George Colman dramatic remake.  What’s interesting even more interesting is the use of the term “picture book” to describe a work where the pictures dominate the words text.  It seems that the term must have been in wider use earlier than the OED entry suggests (there is appearances of the term between 1699 and 1847).

Nobody would claim that Richard Miller’s catalogue can compete with one from American Girl, Hearth Song, or any other modern company sells by mail or on the web.   Even though he lacked the technical resources to illustrate every item in his stock with color pictures, he managed with just words to make his merchandise look enticing enough for the  owner of Military Heroes to consider paying a call at the juvenile library on Old Fish Street.