A Rare Linen Child’s Mickey Mouse Mask c.1935

Origin: Possibly German
Period: Early/Mid Twentieth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1930-40
Height: 8.75”
Width: 9”
Depth: 3” (all approximate & at extremities)

The scarce child’s Mickey Mouse mask in moulded linen with painted features, showing a red ink retail stamp to the interior with pierced holes and surviving in sound overall order, probably from Germany.

The ephemeral nature of the mask means it is pleasingly surprising that it has survived at all, and largely intact, this long. There is light wear in accordance with age and usage. The patent stamp is very difficult to decipher though we can see the word Walt so it’s likely this was a patented example.

It may well have been worn at the original Mickey Mouse Club that took place, as it did every Saturday, sometime, in the early 1930s in Germany. The masks therefore are extremely rare, given the combination of being very early on in the history of Mickey Mouse and Disney, and the fact that they were manufactured in Germany under licence.

The rarity of this mask is heightened by the fact that the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler propagandised against Mickey Mouse, with one mid-1930s newspaper article stating;

“Mickey Mouse is the most miserable ideal ever revealed... Healthy emotions tell every independent young man and every honourable youth that the dirty and filth-covered vermin, the greatest bacteria carrier in the animal kingdom, cannot be the ideal type of animal... Away with the Jewish brutalization of the people! Down with Mickey Mouse! Wear the Swastika Cross!”

~ Newspaper article, Pomerania, Germany, mid-1930s. Quoted in Spiegelman, The Complete Maus, 164.

The character’s public debut was in Steamboat Willie, which appeared in 1928 and was one of the first cartoons with synchronised sound. By the mid-30s, largely as a result of The Mickey Mouse Club, Mickey had developed into a role model for children, which meant the writers had to tame him a bit.
As a result, he started to take more of a secondary role in some of Disney’s films, and in 1934, he first appeared with a bad-tempered duck named Donald, who quickly became an audience favourite.

The literalising of the metaphor of dehumanisation through the juxtaposition of words and images which is intrinsic to the comic book form is only possible through the deployment of ‘fantastika’. Mickey can be read as a symbol of many things, but he is more than simple allegory; he remains a walking, talking, whistling rodent. Fantastic, non-realist, techniques such as inserting a cartoon character into everyday life, allowed to make more nuanced comments about the reality of the Holocaust. Mickey is able to embody both the states of the Jewish inmate and the American outsider, simultaneously he is an intrinsically metatextual being and thus able to interact with the situation in a manner unobtainable to a realist protagonist.

“There is something bold and daring about a Mickey Mouse mask. It hovers in that nether world, the narrow line between friendly and scary.  Early Mickey masks were honest. They stated their case clearly, and never stooped to cutesy.  The rubber face of Disneyland, on the other hand, is soaked in sugar candy, sweet, cloying, and unflinchingly upbeat.  But in the early days, Mickey Mouse masks were simple statements that captured the essence of Mickey.” – Mel Birnkrant

A scarce survivor, and a future museum worthy item.