Maurice Sendak’s self-portrait depicting himself seeing Mickey Mouse in the mirror. According to longtime friend Ted Hake, Sendak viewed Mickey as “energetic and rascally, and he personified—for Maurice—all that is good.”
It is a pretty well-known fact that Maurice Sendak—the American illustrator and author of children’s books best known for his book “Where the Wild Things Are”—which featured a boy named Max and a phalanx of fanged monsters that children loved, despite their somewhat grotesque appearance—decided to become an illustrator after watching Walt Disney’s film “Fantasia” at the age of 12 in 1940.
What’s not as well know is that, while “Fantasia” may have directed him to his career, Sendak’s true love was 1930s-era pie-eyed Mickey Mouse items, of which his collection was extensive. Now, dozens of Mickey Mouse toys and other memorabilia from the Sendak collection are available for bid at an online auction at Hake’s Americana and Collectibles. The auction, which is a benefit for Sendak’s young artists foundation, will close on July 17.
Also up for auction at Hakes is a rare piece of Sendak’s work—a large watercolor (18.5 inches by 23.5 inches) of a bakery themed castle done for the 1982 TV production of Sergei Prokofiev’s opera “For the Love of Oranges.” Very few pieces of Sendak’s work are in private hands, as the Rosenbach Museum and Library is the exclusive repository for all of Sendak’s book art—including “Where the Wild Things Are,” which Sendak (1928-2012) published in 1963 and has sold in excess of 20 million copies.
This German-made wind-up Mickey Mouse with moving mouth was owned by children’s author and illustrator Maurice Sendak. It is among 43 items from Sendak’s personal Mickey Mouse collection up for bid in a benefit auction currently underway at Hakes Americana & Collectibles.
What makes this auction interesting is that most of the items in the sale came into Sendak’s possession by way of his long-time friend Ted Hake, who had been finding and selling early Mickey items to the artist for nearly 40 years.
A 40-Year Business Friendship
Hake had just begun his fledgling flea market business—branching out from wholesaling coins and political buttons and memorabilia—and had a few Mickey Mouse and comic character items on his table set up at the University of Pennsylvania. A colleague of Sendak’s walked by and asked Hake if he had ever heard of Sendak. When he said “no,” the man gave him Sendak’s address in New York and suggested Hake write to the artist and send along a list of Mickey items he had for sale.
“Maurice and I did a transaction or two via mail, but he kept asking if I had ‘more,’ meaning vintage Mickeys,” Hake said, adding that both Sendak and Mickey shared 1928 as their birth year and, because he was ill as a child and often confined to his bed, Sendak relished the times when his sister would take him to the movies, where he especially loved the early Mickey Mouse cartoons.
“He only wanted the original, pie-eyed Mickey,” said Hake, describing the time in the 1930s when Mickey toys featured black orb eyes that had a white, pie-slice-like triangle cut-out to give the impression of looking in a particular direction. “That Mickey was spunky and mischievous. During an anxiety filled childhood, he found Mickey energetic and rascally, and he personified—for Maurice—all that is good. He bonded with the character and it never changed, never wavered.”
Eventually, Hake would make trips to visit Sendak in New York, and later in Connecticut, bringing along a couple dozen Mickey items for Sendak to pick from.
“He had a few bisque Mickey figures made in Japan, but he was a fairly new collector when I met him—the concept of collecting Disney was a new idea,” Hake said.
Sendak’s Mickey Mouse collection was visible from every room in his house.
“His studio, which had windows on three sides, is where he kept a lot of his treasures,” said Hake. “He had his favorite pieces close to him. The bulk of the collection was in the kitchen. He liked the Royal Paragon china with Mickey images—these were the earliest cartoon images on their china, about 1932. He had large bowls and basins by Faiencerie d’Onnaing China Co. of France in this dining room. He kept his most treasured pieces in his bedroom.
Sendak at work in his home studio. Evidence of his Mickey Mouse collection is on the shelf to the right of his desk.
“And the smaller the item, the better; pin-back buttons and miniatures. If I had a one-inch Mickey, I knew that would be a winner,” said Hake.
When Hake first began selling Mickey items to Sendak, the artist and author was in the early stages of creating “In the Night Kitchen.” Sendak also bought advertising pin-back buttons from the 1930s era to use as source material for the story, Hake said. When the book was published in 1970, Hake was surprised and honored to spot a “Hake Coffee” tin illustrated among Sendak’s cityscapes of buildings in the book.
Mickey in the Auction
Just about every piece in the auction—42 Mickey-related items, along with a single tin, wind-up Charlie Chaplin toy—was acquired by Sendak through Hake.
Among the most sought-after pieces is a 9-inch-tall Mickey Mouse wind-up with moving mouth made in Germany for the English market in 1930, a German-made Mickey Mouse double-slate dancer crank toy and some 1930 Mickey Mouse Movie Club officers’ pin-back buttons.
A 1930 Mickey Mouse Movie Club officers’ pin-back button for Color Bearer.
A 1930 Mickey Mouse Movie Club officers’ pin-back button for Courier.
A 1930 Mickey Mouse Movie Club officers’ pin-back button for Song Leader.
This German-made Mickey Mouse double-slate dancer crank toy from 1930 is part of the Maurice Sendak collection auction.
This is the third, but not final auction of items from Sendak’s Mickey Mouse collection. The first two were held in November of 2013 and in March of this year. More items from the Sendak collection will be up for auction in another Hake auction in November. To view these Mickey Mouse items, visit the Hake’s Americana & Collectibles website.
Gregory Watkins is the editor of WorthPoint.com You can email him at email@example.com
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