Introduction to Animation Art Collecting

Mowgli and Baloo

This is the first of what will be a long line of articles talking about how to go about collecting, caring for and enjoying animation art. The best advice I can give a beginning collector is to educate yourself. Sadly, as there is a lack of written material on animation art collecting, I would suggest that you ask questions, and read articles. It’s a slow start, but you’ll quickly pick up speed and make sense of it all. You may also want to visit my web site which has a page with animation definitions and one comparing limited edition art and original production art.

I think it’s best that one has a clear understanding of the different types of animation art that exists as it can be quite confusing. Let’s start with a few basic definitions. There are two types of animation art. The first is original production animation art. Animation art by definition is any drawing or celluloid (cel- spelled with one “l”) that was used in the making of a cartoon. These pieces are all one-of-a-kind and involve some type of a hand process- i.e. drawing or inking/painting. The other type of art is reproduction art. These are serigraph cels (sericels) and limited edition cels. This art was not used in the cartoon making process, but does resemble the art that was. Sericels are usually made in editions of a few thousand and created by a silk-screen type of process. Limited editions are made in smaller editions of around 500. They are usually hand painted and either hand or xeroxed lined. These pieces are not actually done by the animators, although they may have had creative input.

Some common questions:
What makes animation art collectable?

Collecting animation art is a wonderful pastime. Cartoon lovers around the world take great pleasure in owning moments in time from their favourite cartoons.

Original animation art is collectable because it was used in the making of a cartoon. It has value on the basis of being an original hand created piece of art that was used for that purpose. Furthermore, all pieces are one-of-a-kind and done by studio artists at the time of the film. The pieces are limited in number to those made to produce the film, and most have value also as antiques.

Reproduction art such as limited editions and sericels are collected as they are very pleasing to look at and recreate some terrific moments in cartoon history.

What determines the price of a piece of art?

The limited editions and sericels are priced by the studios at a level which they think the market can bear.

Original art is reflective of what the collectors market as a whole determines, and is also influenced by the pricing structure of an individual gallery.

Can I afford a piece of original art?

Definitely. Original art is available from GBP25 (US$40). For example, Simpsons cels run between GBP275-GBP500 (US$400-700), and Disney cels start at GBP50 (US$75). The most expensive movie is Snow White and pieces are available from GBP400 (US$600). Often, original art is available at a similar, or sometimes cheaper price than reproduction art. You just have to know where to look.

Should I buy a limited edition because it is “limited?

My opinion is that you should buy a piece because you like it. But remember that a piece cannot get any more limited than one, so original art is much more limited than one of 500. If you are thinking of buying a piece just because it is limited, I recommend educating yourself a bit more about the market first.

Also, the studios sometimes issue limited editions that are similar (i.e. same characters different poses) to limiteds that were released at an earlier date, so do factor that into the equation.

How easy is it to get a signed piece?

A lot of the limiteds are signed, so if only the signature is important to you, then by all means buy one or buy a plain autograph.

Some original art is signed, but try to get the animators to sign the mat instead if possible, as the original art was photographed unsigned, and some collectors will not touch signed art because of that. Also, signatures on cels can sometimes fade.

These pieces are great “investments”, aren’t they?

Some pieces go up in value, some go down. If you are just looking to buy a piece just as an investment, then I suggest you think very carefully about that, and don’t rely on information from someone whose commission depends upon your purchasing a piece. I never sell pieces as an investment, if it was such a sure money-maker, then surely wouldn’t I keep them all for myself?

I cannot emphasize enough that you buy pieces you like, whether original or reproduction. But be educated about what you are buying, and be aware that prices in England can vary as much as 2-3 times in price. I want everyone to feel good about collecting animation art, so buy what you enjoy, understand the art you are buying, and pay a fair price!

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