Derby souvenirs, Disneyana bring more than Mickey Mouse prices

By Terry Maurer, What's it Worth May 6, 2012 

The Kentucky Derby was run yesterday in Louisville, featuring the top 3-year-old thoroughbred horses in the country. Because What's It Worth? is written a few days before you read it, we don't know who won.

One of our readers is a winner, even if she didn't bet on the race. Her vintage commemorative mint julep glasses are valuable collectibles. We'll tell you why.

And, another reader's child-size card table featuring Disney cartoon characters has anything but a Mickey Mouse value!

Q. I have eight or nine of these Kentucky Derby drink glasses from the 1948 race. Have always wondered about the rarity (if there is any) and value. What can you tell me? -- Sharon in Prosser

A. While fans can argue whether the Kentucky Derby is the best horse race in America, there's no doubt it is the most famous.

Yesterday's "Run for the Roses" was the 138th annual Derby, first run in 1875.

Millionaires and paupers have been coming to Churchill Downs every Spring to witness what the promoters call the "The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports."

In 1889, the crowd included the notorious Frank James, Jesses' brother and leader of their outlaw band. He made a $5,000 wager on a horse named Spokane, who won by a nose at odds of 10-to-1.

Your glasses won't bring the kind of money Frank James walked away with, but they are among the most valuable of Kentucky Derby souvenirs.

Julep tumblers have been available at the racetrack since 1938, except for few years when they weren't produced or blank glasses were used.

Early year glasses are the hardest to find and most valuable. The top price goes to 1939 examples, with a value of up to $5-thousand -- each.

Glasses from 1948 (these are 51/4 inches high and a light, frosted green) regularly sell for $175 to $250 apiece.

Q. I bought this child-size table about 15 years ago at an estate sale in Pasco. I paid $10 for the table and a few Big Little children's books. I bought them just because I thought they were cute. I know about the books, what can you tell me about my table? I think its from the '40s or '50s and has a wood frame and folding legs. -- Liz in Pasco

A. All things Disney have been collected since the 1930s. Most popular are images of Mickey Mouse, but every Disney character has a following. Their popularity didn't come about by accident. And it wasn't just Walt Disney who made it happen.

In 1932, Disney was approached by go-getter Missouri salesman Herb Kay, who said he had a better way to sell Mickey Mouse than what was currently being used. Disney listened and it was one of his best business decisions.

Kay signed on as the Disney company's sole licensing representative.

By 1935, Mickey Mouse products alone numbered in the thousands, bringing the fledgling studio much-needed seed money so that Walt Disney could spin his dreams, including the first full-length animated feature film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

When that classic was released in 1937, Kay had an extensive Snow White merchandising campaign already in place, the first of its kind and a method later copied by other studios.

Kay's work made Mickey Mouse so popular that companies -- including watch maker Ingersoll -- actually were saved from bankruptcy because of their association with Disney.

In 1933, when Ingersoll introduced the first Mickey Mouse watch, it was a huge hit, enabling the Company to increase its dwindling factory workers from 300 to more than 3,000. In a single day, New York's Macy's department store sold 11,000 Mickey watches.

This 1950s cartoon character table is an unusual item, one seldom seen for sale. And, it appears to be in good condition, with what collectors would call "normal wear for age." We'd expect to see it priced between $150 and $200 in an antique shop or at a show.

-- Terry Maurer, Tri-Cities personal property appraiser, is a member of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America. For possible use in a future column, direct questions on your antiques and collectibles to What's It Worth? by email to tchwhatsitworth@gmail.com

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