Animation Art Collecting #1 – Authenticating Artwork

An animation art gallery recently received a call from a collector who wanted to sell three drawings of Pluto from the 1937 short film, Hawaiian Holiday. The gallery was interested, so they asked the collector to hold the drawings up to the light and check to see if there was a watermark on the paper. Watermarks, invisible to the reader unless the paper is held to light, show the name of the paper manufacturer and the stock used. Different studios used different stock during specific periods. Although this is not the only indication of authenticity, it does give the buyer an idea of the period of time the piece was produced.

The stock used to produce this film was Hammermill Management Bond. The watermark on the stock the collector was holding did not match, therefore the drawings were forged. The collector had purchased these drawings from another dealer, assuming he could rely on the seller’s “expertise”. Most dealers supply what is known as a Certificate of Authenticity with every piece. This is your insurance policy. It should state everything that is known about the piece. If at any time you discover that the information is not accurate you can return the piece for a full refund. The dealer he had purchased from did not give a Certificate of Authenticity with the piece, so the collector was stuck with three forged drawings worth nothing.

As a collector there are many ways to avoid such costly mistakes, including (1) only buy pieces that come with a Certificate of Authenticity, and (2) have a least a minimal understanding of how to determine authenticity yourself.

CERTIFICATES of Authenticity should be very detailed. They should state the film, year, description of the piece, size of the image and condition. The Certificate should plainly offer a lifetime refund if any of the information at ANYTIME is discovered to be incorrect.

AUTHENTICITY is determined in a number of ways. First, become familiar with the terms. If you did not already know what the term “Watermark” means, you do now. Add more to your arsenal, and keep a notebook so you can authenticate pieces you are searching for. Because production methods and materials remained consistent within each film but VARIED by film, if you know methods to authenticate one piece in a film, you can authenticate EVERY piece in that same film. Common methods to determine authenticity include:

WATERMARKS – You already know what those are and how those work!

PEG HOLES – The holes punched in cels and drawings to hold them steady while they are being photographed. Peg holes can change in shape, dimension and location depending upon the year and studio.

HAND INKING – Studios used to hand ink the outlines for all cels, then paint within the outlines. Each studio reverted to photocopy outlines at different points to transfer the outlines onto the acetate.

PAPER SIZE – Different size paper and acetate were used by studios for different years. Like peg holes, these sizes changed over time but remained constant within each film.

CHARACTER DEPICTION / COLORS – Depending upon the director and the era, the same character may have been depicted in various stages of development and color changes. Become familiar with the styles of different directors and the general era in which each character took on certain attributes and colors.

STUDIO SEAL – When studios discovered a market for their original artwork, they began to place studio seals on each piece and archive the art, letting it trickle out to meet demand and keep prices elevated. Studio seals can be either printed on the art or embossed onto the art. Older vintage cels ARE NOT brought back into the studio to be sealed!

Learning to protect yourself and buying only from reputable dealers are the only two ways to avoid costly mistakes.