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    

Walt Disney Actual /prop Polynesian Lights And Mgm Gallery Animation CelRare Disney The Jungle Book Original Production Amiamtion Cel 1967 King LouieOptimus Prime Transformers Megatron Marvel Animation Cel Replica Original Art Disney The Jungle Book Original Animation Production Cel Animation Cel Of Queen Mousetoria & Fidget Disney's The Great Mouse DetectiveDisney The Jungle Book Original Animation Production Cel Original Production Cel - Batman- The Animated Series (wb)Orig Production Cel - Powerpuff Girls (cartoon Net)Hand Painted Disney Snow White Cel Certified And Authentic Numbered The Magic Of Disney Animation Framed Mickey Mouse Cel 100 Years Of Magic W/ PinDragonball Z Animation Cel Goku Sketch Original Art Anime Dragon Ball JapaneseCbs Vintage Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids Handpainted Animation Production CelOriginal Production Cel - Superman (wb)Jiminy Cricket Pinocchio *** Piece Of Disney Movies Podm Unique Cel PinDisney Le Mickey & Minnie Mouse Steamboat Willie Animated Animation Cel ArtThe Phantom Production Cel Hand Painted Limited Ed. Prototype Lee Falk #1u572Original Production Model Cel - The JetsonsHe-man Motu Original Animation Beastman Cel & Hand Painted Background #665Tv Animation Inuyasha Cel. (inuyasha:cut 88, A1)Original, Sylvester Animation Cel, Signed By Mel Blanc And Virgil RossKen Griffey Jr. Auto. "junior's League" Cel Warner Brothers Upper Deck AuthenticDisney Frozen Queen Elsa Character Key Cel Le Sold Out. #378/500Original Production Cel - Simpsons (fox Television) Nickelodeon Ren & Stimpy Original Production Animation Cel Ren 1990 W/ori BkgdBeavis & Butthead Animation Art Original Painted Production Cell Cel Mtv CoaSuper Rare Jack Kirby Silver Surfer Matted Art Cel Transparency #285 Of #500He-man Motu Original Animation He-man Cel & Hand Painted Background #662Tv Animation Creamy Mami, The Magic Angel Cel. (yu Morisawa:a28)Walt Disney Tarzan Sericel Serigraph Cel Signed Tony Goldwyn 2500 Le CoaDisney Ducktales Animation Cel Of Scrooge, Launchpad, Huey, Duey And LouieHanna-barbera Original Cel ArtworkDisney Ducktales Animation Cel Scrooge Mc Duck With Fire.Tiny Toons Original Cartoon Animation Plucky Duck Cel & Painted Bckgd Wb#1u557Sonic The Hedgehog 1994 Original Dic Animation Copy Bunnie Model Cel #028She-ra: Princess Of Power Animation Original Production She-ra Cel #061Framed Disney Sleeping Beauty Serigraph Cel Stamp CertifiedWalt Disney Mickey's Christmas Carol 1983 Orig. Production Cel--scrooge McduckUncle Scrooge Animation Cel 1983 (mickeys Christmas Carol) Simpsons Lisa Production Animation Cel Season 1 Fox MattedMtv Beavis & Butthead Animation Production Cel - Cornholio Cell And Walt Disney Cel "out Of Scale" Donald Duck Sonic The Hedgehog 1994 Original Dic Animation Copy Sally Model Cel #029Sonic The Hedgehog 1994 Original Dic Animation Copy Sally Model Cel #027She-ra: Princess Of Power Animation Original Production She-ra Cel #060Tv Animation Creamy Mami, The Magic Angel Cel. (yu Morisawa:a1)She-ra: Princess Of Power Animation Original Production She-ra Cel #062Harry Potter Poau Film Cel Card The Knight Bus #066/900Don Bluth An American Tail Production Cel With CoaJay Ward Production Captain Crunch Cel FramedStar Wars Droids Original Cartoon Production Big Mudman Model Cel #pt710Star Wars 70 Mm Collector Film Cel - Princess Leia Edition MountedThe Devil And Daniel Mouse Cartoon Animation Cel Nelvana Studio #493Harry Potter Poau Film Cel Card Courtyard Cel Hermione / Ron #831/900Mighty Mouse Production Cel/filmation/hand Painted BackgroundHe-man Motu Original Animation He-man Cel & Hand Painted Background #656He-man Motu Original Animation He-man Cel & Hand Painted Background #663He-man Motu Original Animation Battle Cat Cel & Hand Painted Background #6611988 Time Magazine Mickey Is 60! Birthday Commemorative Issue Sorcerer Cel Scarce 1900 Illinois State Fair Delegate With Buildings Pictured 1 1/4" Cel Stud Awesome 1920's-30's French Deco Button - Amber Cel Toggle W/center Bands