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A Brief History Of An Iconic Timepiece

"...in 1975, [Emperor] Hirohito purchased a Mickey Mouse watch, which he wore for the rest of his life."

Here's a piece of Disney memorabilia. Here's an icon that saved a company, much beloved and oft collected.

In 1928, Mickey Mouse made his first appearance on the big screen. Just a year later, Walt Disney began to cash in on his growing popularity with a range of merchandising, starting with a child's school tablet featuring his murine character. Four years later, Mickey saved a company; not Disney's but the struggling Ingersoll Waterbury Clock Company.

Disney was a great businessman, there's no doubt. Creative and always seeking new ways to make money, in 1933 he entered into a collaboration with Ingersoll to manufacture and sell a boy's watch featuring the colourful mouse's body impressed on the watch face. It was a stroke of genius, with three images of Mickey on a disk, which rotated with each tick of the watch. Launched into the greatest marketplace of the year, the 1933 Chigaco Exposition, it was an instant success. Both companies cashed in later that year with a grown-up version, a pocket watch with the more familiar design, having Mickey's body on the watch face, the time told by his moving arms forming the watch's hands. They were both very competitively priced and sold well enough to dig Ingersoll out of their financial mire.

As time went on, so did Mickey, and other characters from the Disney stable, including Minnie Mouse and Goofy (these days a very collectible backwards watch). Nowadays Mickey may be seen on watches made by such companies as Bradley, Timex, Colibri and Fossil.


With such a wide range of manufacturers and nearly eighty years of production, Mickey Mouse watches are available to collectors with wide-ranging prices. Those with skinny wallets can pick one up from a fiver upward, whilst the rarer specimens in good condition can fetch thousands at auction.

Valuing any collectible can be a nightmare, and these are no exception. The key to getting initial valuation lies in research. The manufacturer is easy to tell, the time of manufacture less so. There are many online resources to guide in finding the year and model using both serial number and watch features. The major Disney manufacturers by date are as follows:

1933 - Ingersoll
1957 - Ingersoll/U.S. Time
1968 - U.S. Time/Timex
1972 - Bradley
1985 - Lorus/Seiko
Working watches in good condition are naturally going to be worth more, so it's a good idea to have your watch serviced, repaired and cleaned - hopefully by someone who can also give you a valuation. Other factors influencing the price include original packaging and instructions; for those watches with interchangeable bezels, having all those little pieces can boost the value enormously.

Buying a watch can be even more of a nightmare. eBay may be a good starting point, but the caveat emptor principle applies. One of the more popular scams is to sell a watch with a false date claim. For example, many people are selling Bradley watches from the 1960s, and this is clearly impossible, as Bradley were not making them before 1972.

Even if the date is right, it's necessary to verify which of the thousands of models is on sale. Bradley, for example, made over 1,800 distinct models during their contract with Disney. A good reference resource is the book Comic Character Timepieces, well worth investing in, apparently. It's not just Mickey, either - Bradley (and others) licenced many Disney characters, and what with the huge variety of differing styles and materials, it's easy to see why there are so many serious collectors.

...and finally...

Worthy of note is the reference to "Mickey Mouse" as a descriptor of something cheap and shoddy. It turns out that this comes from the influx of cheap, counterfeit watches into the UK during the Second World War. At a time when Britain was struggling with rationing, and luxuries were few, far between and expensive, the islands were a target for many who sought to turn a quick profit on a low-grade product. As expected, many of the counterfeits were poorly made and inaccurate. "Mickey Mouse" became a byword for low-quality tat.

We've already seen that the Japanese Emperor Hirohito was a Disney fan, in fact he wore the watch down to his death and was even buried with it. Fans of Dan Brown's work may already know that the character Robert Langdon wore a Mickey Mouse watch in the novel The Da Vinci Code, a gift from his parents at age nine.

Me? No, I like my timepieces to be simple and uncluttered, but still in all, I cannot help but admire the vision of the King of Marketeers, for creating a product known and desired across the world.

Emeror Hirohito's watch
Robert Langdon's watch
Ebay Collector's Guide

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