Much of the animation art available in the auction market in the 1980s had been ‘saved’ from garbage cans and dumpsters or ‘walked out the door’ by the artists who created it or studio collectors. In the old days, cels were washed and reused. Animation veterans talk about surfing down the studio halls on mats of cels.
Disney sold animation cels through Courvoisier Gallery from 1938 to 1946. The Art Corner operated at Disneyland from 1955 to 1966. Animation cels could be bought for $1.47. Even after the closing of The Art Corner, Disney production cels could be bought at the Emporium on Main Street in both Disneyland and Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World for less than $25. Animation art collecting became more popular and prices rose, but Disney didn’t receive any of that extra value. In order to realize the value of the sale of its animation art, it would have to restrict its availability and control the selling process. It teamed with Sotheby’s auction house.
Sotheby’s conducted its first auction of ‘new’ Disney animation art on June 28, 1989. The auction consisted of 394 lots – and the auction catalog became an instant Disney collectible. The print run was 25,000. 560 separate cels were offered; each with a copy of its live-action or painted background. There were single set-ups, which might have one or more cel layers… depending on the number of characters in the scene. There were also two-, three-, four-, and six-cel progressions – and pan cels and original painted backgrounds. The pieces were exhibited at Sotheby’s in New York City for several days prior to the auction.
The set-up from the closing images of Porky Pig and Tinkerbell realized $6,050.