Animated films first became popular in the 1930s and have since spawned an entire category of movie collectibles that have proved to be almost as enduring as the cartoons themselves. The most sought-after animation artifacts are animation cels, which is short for celluloid. Cartoons were hand-drawn or painted, frame-by-frame, on these colorful transparent sheets. Put enough of them together and you had an animated movie.

Collecting animation cels and animation art is a relatively new phenomenon. Until the Whitney Museum mounted an exhibition of Disney animation art in 1981, cels were seen as fringe items. In fact, after making “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” in 1937, Walt Disney had to be convinced that the cels his illustrators had painstakingly inked were not garbage. Since the Whitney exhibition, the appeal of animation cels has taken off, and different types of animation art regularly appear at auction.

The person who convinced Disney not to discard his animation cels was Guthrie Courvoisier, the owner of a San Francisco art gallery. He thought he could market Disney’s production pieces as works of art. To that end, Courvoisier cut around the borders of the images and placed them on backgrounds. The cels were then displayed in frames or on mats. Courvoisier continued to sell Disney cels through the 1940s, and his pieces remain some of the most collectible animation cels on the market today. Unfortunately, few remain in good condition because of the inexpensive means with which he prepared them.

Animation cels come in a number of forms. In addition to the Courvoisier cels there are untrimmed full sheets, trimmed cels, and multi-cel setups, which combine more than one frame.

There were hundreds, if not thousands of animation cels made for each movie, as each cel represented an individual movement of a character or scene. The most collectible animation cels are from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, though there are examples of older cel art, such as Winsor McCay’s “The Sinking of the Lusitania” from 1918 and “Gertie the Dinosaur” from 1914.

Today Disney films are at the forefront of collectible animation cels. In addition to the “Snow White” cels, other popular early Disney animated films include “Pinocchio,” “Dumbo,” “Bambi,” “Cinderella,” and “Alice in Wonderland.” All of these productions left behind countless memorable animation-cel images, such as Dumbo flying with Timothy on his back or the witch offering a poison apple to Snow White.

In addition to animated movie cels, there was also a bevy of collectible cels produced for cartoon shorts. Some of the most popular Disney cartoons featured Donald Duck and Micke...

More recent animation cels include those produced by Hanna-Barbera. William Hanna and Joseph Barbera were former animation directors at MGM. After leaving the studio, they formed their own animation shop in 1957 and are responsible for much of the art from animated television cartoons such as “Scooby Doo,” “Yogi Bear,” “The Jetsons,” and “The Flintstones,” among many others.

Less sought are the limited-edition serigraph cels, which are screen prints of animation-cel images that are created for fans after the fact rather than hand-painted originals used in an actual production.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Steves Disney Collection

Steves Disney Collection

Steve Lee’s large collection of original Disney art: pencil drawings from animated features produced during W… [read review or visit site]

Warner Bros. Title Card Gallery

Warner Bros. Title Card Gallery

Dave Mackey's filmography and title card gallery for 35 years of Warner Bros. cartoons. Browsable by year or alphab… [read review or visit site]

Steve McQueen Film Poster Site

Steve McQueen Film Poster Site

If you're a Steve McQueen fan, this site can't be beat. Roger Harris has put together a definitive collection of Mc… [read review or visit site]

Steven Hill's Movie Title Screens Page

Steven Hill's Movie Title Screens Page

If you're the type who likes watching the titles and credits at the beginning of movies, you'll love this site. Ste… [read review or visit site]

Cinema Treasures

Cinema Treasures

This user-contributed database of classic movie theaters currently lists over 17,000 theaters worldwide. Browse by … [read review or visit site]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Saint Seiya Anime Original Production Cel Shiriu Attack With Douga1982 Revenge Return Jedi Millennium Falcon Cockpit Visual Effects Animation CelLittle Mermaid 1989 Feature Film Production Cel Cell Animation Walt Disney ArielSaint Seiya Anime Original Production Cel Pope With DougaWalt Disney Jungle Book Baloo And Bagheera Original Production Cel Pre-1970The Simpsons Original Art Cel Mixed Lot 3Sailor Moon S Movie Cel Peanuts "a Charlie Brown Christmas" Limt. Ed. Art Cel W/ CoaDisney Mickey & The Beanstalk Seri Cel New With Coa Mint FramedHe-man Motu Original Animation He-man & Skeletor Cel & Hand Painted Bkgd #685Disney Pinocchio Seri Cel Signed By Marc Davis With 2 Coa FramedDisney Fantasmic Mickey Mouse Maleficent Limited Edition Pin Ink & Paint CelDisney Piece Of Movies Podm History Beauty Beast Belle Winter Snow Film Cel PinMarvel Sunbow G.i. Joe Original Animation Production Model Cel 1987 Mad DogCharle Schultz Peanuts Limited Edition Cel "a Celebration" 1994 With CertificateOrig Production Cel - Powerpuff Girls (cartoon Net)Warner Bro's Chuck Jones Animation Limited Edition Cel Pepe Le Pew 1989 SignedThe Land Before Time - Movie Animation Cel Uslbi - 002.014Who Framed Roger Jessica Rabbit Walt Disney Touchstone Original Animation CelBiker Mice From Mars 1993 Animation Production Cel & Painted Bkgd Marvel #1u724He-man Motu Original Animation Orko & He-man Cel & Hand Painted Background #687He-man Motu Original Animation Skeletor Cel & Hand Painted Background #688She-ra: Princess Of Power Animation Original Production She-ra Cel #069Walt Disney Company "the Rescuers" 1977 Animation Production Cel Brutus/neroWarner Bros. Bugs/kitty Carrotblanca Cel Framed Art- 133/250 Worldwide-le SignedMarvel X-men Animated Jean Grey Dark Phoenix Flying Animation Cel & Extra HairOriginal Production Cel - Dexter's Lab (cartoon Net)Woody Woodpecker 63rd Academy Awards Original Animation Cel Walter Lantz1983 Don Bluth Dragons Lair Princess Daphne Production Animation Cel DrawingsHe-man Motu Original Animation He-man Cel & Hand Painted Background #693Yu Yu Hakusho Kurama Cel And Sketch1989 Tazmanian Devil Limited Edition Hand Painted & Signed Cel Bob Mckimson Chuck Jones Hand Signed 2 Part Animation Cel Bugs Bunny Pepe Le Pew Pursuit CoaDisney Ducktales Animation Cel Huey, Duey And LouieOriginal Production Model Cel - The JetsonsBatman Tas Subzero Art/cel101 Dalmatians Film Cel #122/500 The Land Before Time - Movie Animation Cel Uslbi - 002.019Disney Television Eyore Production CelHeavy Traffic -ralph Bakshi Cel 1973 (framed) Rare! Comes With Free Dvd Warner Bros Tiny Toon Adventures Limited Edition Panoramic Cel Hand Painted 52"Batman Beyond Series Original Production Batman Cel & Hand Painted Bkgd #1u755Six (6) Shredder Production Cels Tmnt Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesDisney Piece Of Movies Podm History Plutos Christmas Tree Mickey Film Cel PinThe New Yogi Bear Show Original Cartoon Cel & Painted Bkgd Hanna-barbera #25He-man Motu Original Animation Skeletor Cel & Hand Painted Background #684Warner Bros. "looney Tunes On Parade" Limited Edition Hand-painted Anim. Art CelThe Simpsons Bart Simpson Butterfinger Commercial Production CelGundam Wing Anime Production Cel - Lt. Meuller Oversized Pan Shot 3 Layers + BgThe Land Before Time - Movie Animation Cel Uslbi - 001.016Ren & Stimpy Production Cel Cell Original Animation Art Nick John K Fire Dogs 1955 Woody Woodpecker Original Animation Cel "bunco Busters" Buzz Buzzard ShipAeon Flux Original Cell Hand Painted Production Cel Animation Art Seal Coa Mtv Biker Mice From Mars 1993 Animation Production Cel & Painted Bkgd Marvel #1u725Pink Panther Mgm Original Animation Art Sericel Serigraph Cel DentistHe-man Motu Original Animation He-man Cel & Hand Painted Background #689Real Ghostbusters Peter Original Production Animation Art Cel Dic SealDilbert Greets His Mailman/production Cel/with Coa/ And Artwork Disney 1996 Oz Kids "toto Lost In New York" Animation Production CelDisney Company 75th Anniversary Collectible Tinker Bell "cel"