Deciding that merchandise could not only raise money for the company, but also offer an avenue of publicity for his studio’s characters, Walt Disney signed licensing agreements with various companies to reproduce Disney Studio character images on a multitude of merchandise.
Bibo and Lang, one of the Studio’s earliest licensees, published the first Disney character book in 1930. The book was titled simply, and fittingly, the Mickey Mouse Book.
While some collectors have assumed Disney animator Ub Iwerks drew the Mickey Mouse image on the book’s front cover, a New York freelance artist named Albert Barbelle may have in fact been the illustrator. Barbelle submitted a bill to the Studio in September 1930 for his work on the book.
In the fall of 1930, 26,219 copies of the book were printed. The first copies were offered for sale in the November 15, 1930 issue of The Official Bulletin of the Mickey Mouse Club. Copies of the book were priced between 7 and 8 ½ cents each, depending on the number ordered. The suggested retail was 15 cents each.
Copies in the first run were offered almost exclusively to theater managers as a promotional item meant for distribution amongst Mickey Mouse Club members. One Salem Oregon theater ordered 2,500 copies. First run copies contain advertising on the inside front cover, inside back cover, and the bottom edge of the back cover.
Due to the book’s popularity, in December 1930 a second run consisting of 25,050 copies was printed. Revisions included: adding the name of Bobette Bibo, the publisher’s daughter, to the title page; a spelling correction on page three, two revisions to the game board found on page seven; the addition of two Mickey Mouse comic strips – one on page eight and one on the back cover; and the addition of “Printed in U.S.A.” on the front cover.
The second edition also contained changes to song lyrics found in the book. As Mickey Mouse gained in popularity, his image was toned down. Early shorts showed Mickey smoking and drinking. Lyrics found in the first issue of the Mickey Mouse Book included: “When little Minnie’s pursued by a big bad villain, we feel so bad, then we’re glad when you up and kill him.” This line was removed and the song’s score was also rewritten.
In March 1931 the third and fourth printings of the book rolled off the presses. A total of 46,669 copies were published that month containing no revisions.
The Mickey Mouse Book contains the first recorded “history” of Mickey Mouse. Bobette Bibo, the eleven-year old daughter of one of the book’s publishers, allegedly wrote the four-page story. According to her story, “Mouse number thirteen” was expelled from Mouse Fairyland because of his tricks and capers. “I am very sorry, number thirteen, but you will have to leave Mouse Fairyland because your pranks are too much for us.”
Mouse thirteen was thrown through the air and just happened to land “on a roof in Hollywood California.” Traversing down the chimney, the mouse happened upon one Walt Disney.
The mouse proceeded to tell Walt Disney his life story, at the end of which Disney replied, “You give me the idea for a series of comedies. I have an idea that I can make you a picture star.” Becoming an actor meant a name change for mouse thirteen. The mouse told Walt Disney the first thing he had done when he landed in Disney’s home was to eat green cheese. Since green is the color of Ireland, and Mickey is an Irish name, ergo, mouse thirteen was renamed Mickey Mouse.
One of the interesting notes regarding this book – the story contains one of the first caricatures of Walt Disney. A page four illustration shows Walt Disney shaking hands with Mickey.
Besides the story, the book also contains a game and a marching song. The prize for the winner of the “board game” was the chance to lead all the other children around the room to the strains of the book’s piano arrangement.
While almost 100 thousand copies of the book were printed over the span of about six months, this book is relatively scarce on the secondary market. Because pages seven, eight, nine and ten contained the game board and playing pieces, they are usually missing, cut-out and discarded many decades ago.The two versions of the book that can attain the greatest value are those which are complete, and those from the first printing. Complete copies are extremely rare. Few first printings have ever been offered for sale in the collector’s market.
One final note of interest – the back cover illustration was also used on the cover of the sheet music The Wedding Party of Mickey Mouse, except that on the sheet music cover Minnie wears a bridal veil.