Mickey and Minnie Mouse are such iconic figures today that it is hard to remember that they did not always look like their present incarnations. When initially created by Walt Disney in 1928, the original Mickey and Minnie were in black and white and had much more angular (skinnier) figures. In 1935, Mickey got his first makeover by animator Fred Moore, who broadened his body to make it more pear-shaped, added pupils to his eyes and white gloves to his hands, and shortened his nose "to make him cuter." Mickey also appeared in color for the first time that year. Minnie started off looking like the flappers of her era, and was particularly fond of the color red. From the beginning, she sported oversize pumps and a distinctive hair bow between her ears. Mickey and Minnie merchandise started appearing soon afterward, and the Disney company has never looked back. So, how do you tell when your particular Mickey or Minnie was produced?
Inspect your Mickey or Minnie Mouse for any writing or numbers. On plastic figures, these will have been etched in the mold from which the figure was cast. On paper or metal pieces, these will be painted on. For Mickey, also check out his hands and eyes. According to Disney collecting expert Ted Hake, early Mickeys (primarily those made in Europe) actually had four fingers and a thumb on each hand, which were later changed to the three fingers and a thumb that we know today.
Familiarize yourself with the manufacturing marks used by The Walt Disney Co. over the years. In the "Official Price Guide to Mickey Mouse Collectibles'' (2008), author Ted Hake breaks down these marks into distinct eras, beginning with the first Mickey merchandise produced by Geo. Borgfeldt & Co. in 1930. Hake notes that official Disney merchandise will always have a copyright mark (a small letter "c" in a circle), followed by variations of the company name, including "Walter Disney,'' "W. E. Disney,'' "Walt Disney Enterprises,'' "Walt Disney Productions,'' "WDP," "The Walt Disney Company'' and just "Disney.'' A specific mark will definitively date your figure to a certain time period.
Look for a ZIP code on your figure. The U.S. Postal Service only introduced the five-digit ZIP code in 1963, so any product with a ZIP code has to have been manufactured after that date.
Notice if there is a bar code or UPC (universal product code) on your figure. These are what are now used to scan prices at checkout counters, but they've only been around since 1975. Thus, a figure you have with a UPC must have been made after 1975.
Invest in a good collector's guide. Besides the Hake book, one of the most trusted names in the antiques and collectibles market is Warman's, which publishes "Warman's Disney Collectibles Field Guide: Values and Identification." It features more than 500 photos of Disney collectibles that make it easy to identify your particular piece. The guide's latest edition (2006) is available at sites such as Amazon.com in both new and used condition.
Join other Mickey and Minnie collectors on Disney Collectors WebRing (hub.webring.org/hub/thedisneycollect), where you can share photos and information and learn more about collecting the mice.