Building a Better Blog for 2016 and Beyond

In December, the Cotsen Curatorial Blog published its one hundredth post!  Its band of writers–Jeff Barton, Minjie Chen, Ian Dooley and I–are looking forward to finding the next one hundred subjects to surprise, inform, and amuse old friends and, with any luck, catch the eyes of many new ones.

In addition to writing lavishly illustrated posts, a lot of work has been going on behind the scenes to make the site more useful.  The list of categories been beefed up and the posts reindexed so that the contents can be accessed in a variety of ways, so visitors with different interests can see if anything has been published on their topics.

Visitor A has just heard about  the Cotsen Children’s Library and is curious about  what goes on there.  By going to the pull-down menu headed “Categories” on the right hand side of the page and looking at the complete list, that  she will find “News,” which will pull up announcements about major gifts, exhibitions, new gallery publications, improvements to the Cotsen Bookscape gallery, etc.

Visitor X, on the other hand, wants to learn a little about the rare book collection, just to get a general idea of what there is.  He might want to call up posts in the categories of “Classics,” “Fairy and Folk Tales,” “Nursery Rhymes,” “Beatrix Potter” or “ABC and Alphabets.”   Enter  “Potter” in the search box in the upper right hand corner of the screen, and Harry Potter will come up too.

Visitor L is an animal lover, a great cook, and a reader of mysteries.   She could try her luck using the search box.  Lions?  Mice?  Black Cats?   How about food or murders?  There is some surprising stuff buried in this blog…

Visitor Q is a graduate student in East Asian Studies who is thinking about applying for a Friends of the Princeton University Library Research but wants a better sense of the Chinese-language holdings before making up her mind.  She can find several leads under categories: “20th century;” “Research reports;” and “East Asian children’s books.”

Last but not least, Visitor F is a bookish person with wide-ranging interests.  Have we got a site for you!   Categories will lead F to things like “Annotations in Books and Manuscripts,” “Bindings,” Ephemera,” “Graphic Design,” “Manuscripts,” “Moveables,” “Original Artwork,” “Prints,” and “Wall Charts.”   The search box will pull up things like names of illustrators, engravers, and titles of books mentioned in posts.  There is also a series called “Marks in books” that features defaced frontispieces, doodles, signatures of former owners, and more…

But don’t take our word for it–please feel free to explore the curatorial blog on your own.  Work to improve the tags will continue through the winter.

Stay tuned in the coming months for a report on Cotsen’s textiles, a survey of Cotsen’s extensive collection of books by Raduga, the great Soviet independent children’s book publisher of the 1920s, a peek into an eighteenth-century toy store, more letters by Marcus French, and a review of Jim McKay’s illustrations for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  And who knows what else in the collection will inspire us? 


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

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