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Wednesdays with Wade: Disney goes postal

Wednesdays with Wade: Disney goes postal

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To celebrate "Disney Romance," the United States Post Office is releasing a set of four thirty-nine cent stamps featuring Disney couples Mickey & Minnie, Beauty & the Beast, Cinderella & Prince Charming and Lady & the Tramp.  It is the third in the "Art of Disney" series.  The first two series were devoted to "Friendship" and "Celebration" and were unveiled at ceremonies at the Disneyland Resort in 2004 and 2005.

This new series of stamps will officially be unveiled this coming Friday in a 9:30 a.m. ceremony at Epcot's Fountain Stage as part of the opening day festivities for this year's "International Flower & Garden Festival." Which -- appropriately enough -- also has a romance theme this year.

This Friday's unveiling ceremony got me to thinking about the history of Disney postage stamps.

September 11th is now a day associated with sadness and heroism and probably will only be remembered for the tragedy surrounding the events of that day. However, for many years previously that date held a special place in the hearts of Disney fans because the very first Disney postage stamp was released on September 11, 1968.

In a ceremony held in Marceline, Missouri (Walt's Disney's boyhood home town), The Postmaster General and the Governor of Missouri (who had declared the day officially "Walt Disney Day") presented Roy O. Disney and members of the Disney family the very first Disney postage stamp in a ceremony with a color guard, singers, speakers and more.  Disney artists Paul Wenzel and Bob Moore designed the six cent stamp that featured a portrait of Walt surrounded by the children of the world emerging from Sleeping Beauty Castle

"No Disney cartoon characters appear on the stamp with Walt because we couldn't copyright the design.  Since the stamp would be used on letters traveling all over the world, we worked into the design our world-wide characters from 'It's A Small World',"  Bob told me in 1983 when I questioned him about the final design.  

Paul Wenzel did the Walt portrait and Bob Moore did the rest. During his 42-year career with the Walt Disney Company, Paul Wenzel created thousands of fine illustrations for motion picture advertising and retail merchandising including poster artwork for "Mary Poppins" and the Walt Disney Company official Christmas cards. Bob Moore joined the Disney Studio in February 1940 after a two year stint working for Walter Lantz and retired in 1983 after designing the "Sam the Eagle" mascot for the 1984 Olympics.  He did many special projects over the years including creating the wall murals for many of the Walt Disney elementary schools.
 
When Ronald Reagan became Governor of California in 1966, one of the things he did was to eloquently promote through correspondence with the Postmaster General of the United States the creation of a commemorative Walt Disney stamp. It was issued just two years after Disney’s death which was highly unusual at the time.The rules have changed, and now anyone honored on a U.S. stamp must be dead for at least ten years. The only exceptions are U.S. presidents, who are honored on their first birth anniversary following their death

Two years later in 1970, the tiny European Republic of San Marino issued a set of stamps showing Mickey, Donald, Goofy Uncle Scrooge and five others including one stamp with a picture of Walt Disney and a scene from "Jungle Book," the last animated film in production when Walt passed away.  This was the first time in the history of postage stamps to the best of my knowledge and research that animated characters had appeared on postage stamps. Obviously, the stamps were issued to generate funds for the small country (San Marino in an enclave of Italy is the third smallest state in Europe, somewhere around the size of Washington D.C) since it was highly unlikely that people purchasing the stamps could actually use them for postage outside of San Marino.

That fact was not lost on others.  One hundred and thirty-two unauthorized Disney stamps from the Sheikdoms of Sharjah and Fujeira hit the market in 1972. The Walt Disney Company took them to court in France and won on infringement of copyright but the harm had already been done.  These stamps are frowned upon by professional stamp collectors because they were obviously produced for collectors and not postal use.
 
New official Disney stamps were issued in 1979 when the Disney Studios designed stamps for the "International Year of the Child." This was a project conceived and organized by philatelist William D. Cox who knew people in both Walt Disney Productions and the Intergovernmental Philatelic Corporation (the sales agents for the stamps).  On October 25, 1979, Mickey Mouse appeared at New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in Avery Fisher Hall to preview the first three sets and their original artwork.
 
Originally, "Disney World of Postage Stamps" was conceived as being a twenty-four set to be issued by eight foreign countries but within ten years it grew to be over a hundred sets issues by over twenty countries all over the world. All of the artwork for the sets was designed  especially for the sets by Disney Studio and even the production of the sets were supervised by Disney.   There were souvenir sheets showing a scene from the Disney short or feature with one of the stamps incorporated into the artwork. 
 
Over the years, in this series, there were stamps celebrating Pluto's 50th Anniversary, the Easter Season, Donald Duck's 50th Birthday, Christmas, and feature films like "Cinderella," "Lady & the Tramp" and even "Song of the South" (Animated sequences only, except for a souvenir sheet that featured James Baskett as Uncle Remus). I don't know enough about stamp collecting to really cover all these sets or to even determine which are the most valuable. For me, it is like pin collecting, I only buy those I like and feel are worth the price while my friends worry about edition numbers, cast exclusives and whether their investment will increase.   
 
There are always things to learn. I thought this was the first time that Walt Disney World had hosted a First Day of Issue Stamp Ceremony. I remember going to Disneyland to get a special cancellation on a stamp for Snow White's 50th Anniversary and maybe one of the readers can supply more information on that ceremony. Anyway, I know that Disneyland has hosted some special postal events but didn't think that Walt Disney World had until I talked with Disney historian Jim Korkis who shared with me something I don't think many Disney collectors know.
 
With Jim's permission, here is his e-mail to me: 
 
"On Sunday, October 1, 1989 at 10:00 am, Exxon's 'Universe of Energy' at Epcot was the site of the First Day of Issue Ceremony for the new United States Dinosaur postage stamps.  According to U.S. Postal authorities, the pavilion was chosen because the examples of the Tyrannosaurus, Pteranodon, Brontosaurus and Stegosaurus pictured on the four stamps were all 'permanent residents' of the pavilion. Two hundred invited guests attended the ceremony that included a Disney brass band, followed by Disney Vice President Bob Matheison and U.S. Postmaster General Anthony Frank. Clever Disney fans bought 'Universe of Energy' postcards, applied the dinosaur stamps to them and then had them cancelled at the Guest Services counter at Earth Station. Strangely, Disney made no advance announcement of the ceremony so many people missed out on a great opportunity.  Just another little Disney historical oddity that has been forgotten over the years."
 
Here's another secret:  The United States Post Office produces a lot of exclusive Disney collectibles.  However when I went to their official website store, I notice they are not offering some of the goodies I picked up at my local post office.  I got two beautiful matted prints of early Mickey Mouse cartoon posters ("Building a Building" and "Barnyard Olympics") that included a first day cover envelope and I got a pack of twelve postcards that featured reproductions of early Mickey Mouse cartoon theatrical posters. They do offer mugs, magnets and even teddy bears wearing shirts with the Disney stamp image. I wonder how many other treats I have missed and how many of these will end up being scarce collectibles in the future.   
 
Oh, and thanks to a friend I have a postage stamp that celebrates the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles as part of the "Masterworks of Modern American Architecture" series.  The official announcement states:
 
"Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles. Frank Gehry combined thrilling curves with massive, unusual shapes to create the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the exciting fourth venue of the Music Center of Los Angeles County and home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. The stainless steel of the bold exterior contrasts with the warmth of the Douglas Fir paneling in the main auditorium, where patrons sit on all sides of the orchestra. The hall occupies a full city block and boasts state-of-the-art acoustics; it opened in 2003, making it the newest building on this stamp pane. Photograph by Todd Eberle of New York."
 
Also, I would love to know more about Ken Lawrence's traveling exhibit, "The Sun Never Sets on Mickey Mouse: Walt Disney's Worldwide Empire" which from what I can gather is a very extensive and creative collection of Disney related postage varieties from the usual Disney stamps to an envelope cancelled in Chicago on December 5, 1901 (the place and birthdate of Walt) to a Mickey Mouse fan postcard with Elias Disney's writing to a friend of the family and other philatelic gems. How come none of the Disney websites have covered that exhibition? 

 

 

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  • Great article Wade, Paul Wenzel rocks! I used to work with him and a nicer guy you'll never meet.
  • Nice site...I'm currently exhibiting a Walt Disney 1968 First Day Cover exhibit and will enter it again in the "Most Popular" championship at an APS show in Charleston, SC, next February.  I, along with several other Disney collectors, have extensive collections of the 1968 Disney First Day Covers and postal uses of the Disney stamp.  I am also exhibiting early images of Mickey Mouse from early (1930-32) European postcards, early pictorial postage meter cancels, and cornercards since, as Walt used to say, "...it all began with a Mouse!"  So far, the exhibit has achieved a silver medal, but I'm trying to work up to a gold.  I did see Ken Lawrence's Disney exhibit some years ago.  He's sold it now but, from what I understand, it's still intact.  I do have some of the items from Ken's exhibit...plus other items similar to what he was exhibiting...so I think there may be SEVERAL Disney exhibits in the material I've been able to gather over the years.  The POSTAL aspect of Disney is what I key on, however!  The material is tough to come by, it seems!  Again, you have a neat article here.  In fact, I was recently in Marceline and was able to acquire a signed (by Roy O. Disney, Diane Disney Miller, Paul Wenzel, Robert Moore, and M. Marvin Watson, the PM)First Day Ceremony program from the 1968 stamp issue ceremony there.  Neat memento!

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