When a one-of-a-kind Mickey Mouse movie poster from 1928 — the earliest known poster of the world’s most famous mouse and a singular piece of pop culture treasure — hits the block as part of a Heritage Auctions’ Movie Posters event on November 29, it will represent a once-in-a-generation opportunity for a collector, fan or Disney-aficionado to acquire what many would consider the ultimate piece of Disney memorabilia.
The poster comes to auction from the collection of the late Crowell Havens Beech, a major movie poster collector and dealer who passed away, at age 86, in 2010. He sold a good portion of his collection in the late 1990s at Sotheby’s in two highly vaunted auctions, where most collectors thought his key pieces were all sold.
Beech, however, tucked a few gems away for his daughters — without telling them. One of them was this 1928 Mickey poster, which he had acquired in 1988 from the legendary Steve Schapiro Collection. From there, according to Beech’s daughter, Terry Leighton, of northern California, he kept the poster secreted away from everyone, laying it flat on top of a dresser, covering it with another piece of wood and then covering that with a tapestry.
“I didn’t even know he had it,” she said. “He only showed it to very trusted friends and didn’t show it to me until around 2005, when he knew his health was declining. He started confiding in me about the important things he wanted me to know in case something happened to him. Among those things was this poster: the crown jewel of his collection.”
According to Leighton, Beech was certain that this poster, if he ever decided to sell it, would be the first movie poster to ever bring $1,000,000. Leighton, however, is more sanguine about the prospective prices for the treasure.
Grey Smith, the Director of Movie Poster Auctions at Heritage, has set the pre-auction estimate for the poster at $20,000+, though he knows it could bring considerably more when it crosses the block on Thursday, Nov. 29 in Dallas.
“This is a poster that has everything going for it,” said Grey Smith, Director of Movie Poster Auctions at Heritage. “Incredible rarity, great condition and subject matter that is instantly recognizable the world over. It’s difficult to say what it will bring because there is simply nothing to compare it to. It’s one-of-a-kind. What exactly is that worth? We’ll see very soon…”
Leighton and her sister are selling the poster now because they know it’s a cultural treasure and that it needs to be in the hands of an individual or institution that will know how to properly care for and display it.
“It seems a shame for us to keep it, as we just don’t know what we would do with it,” she said. “This really does need to find a home with someone who will treasure it the way my father did.”
Disney created Mickey Mouse in 1928. The first 12 Mickey cartoons, including Steamboat Willie — the first sound cartoon and considered by many to be the most important cartoon of all time — were distributed by Celebrity Pictures, between Nov. 1928 and Dec. 1929. Beginning in January of 1930, all of Disney’s cartoons would be distributed by Columbia Pictures. It is likely that there were no individual one sheets produced by Celebrity Productions as they were a very low budget distributor (and the country was in a deep depression) and in fact, no individual cartoon one sheets for Mouse shorts from Celebrity has ever been seen.
“This is very likely the only poster created for Mickey until the 1930 era,” said Smith, “and this is the only surviving example.”