Thursday, November 28, 2013

1937-38 Seiberling Latex Snow White Figures

The set of Seven Dwarfs seen with Walt Disney in the 1937 Snow White trailer--and on the cover of Time magazine--were manufactured by the Seiberling Latex Products Company of Akron, Ohio. The rubber figures were immensely popular and ended up being sold by the hundreds of thousands.

Unless otherwise noted, all images courtesy of the Michael Filippello Collection.

If we compare the dwarfs above, which were available to the general public, with the ones on Walt's desk, it's evident that some dissimilarities exist between the two sets. The hat and jacket color schemes were changed on several of the characters. Yet, the most noticeable difference is a completely redesigned pose for the Dopey figure.

On the magazine cover, his arms are held out to the sides.

Then in the movie trailer, we clearly see that his stance is patterned after the "hitch step" originally drawn by Frank Thomas for the film.

Trailer screen capture.

However, in the mass-produced set, Dopey stands at attention with both feet on the ground and arms at his sides. It's possible this was done as a manufacturer's cost and time-savings strategy.

To a 1938 audience for whom the characters from Snow White would have been new, wondrous, and a bit unfamiliar, embossed names across each dwarf's hat might go a long way towards increasing sales.

On his Vintage Disney Collectibles site, historian David Lesjak shares some excellent details on how the Seiberling Company got started in the Disney rubber doll biz. In particular, we learn about the Seven Dwarfs figures.
Tom Casey, the company's Vice-President...believed Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was going to be a huge hit. So much so that his little factory pumped out 40,000 of the figurines in anticipation of the film's success. Seiberling Snow White figures appeared in the marketplace two months prior to the film's premiere. When sales stagnated, Casey ordered a halt in production.

When [the film] went into general release in February 1938, Snow White mania swept the nation. Many Disney licensees, including Seiberling, were caught off-guard by the sudden and unexpected surge in demand for related merchandise.

"The 40,000 Snow White rubber dolls were all gone and orders by the thousands began pouring in. They worked full shifts, 24 hours a day, and steadily lost ground. At one time they were 125,000 dolls behind."



One of the reasons for this production backlog at the Seiberling factory was that, according to David Lesjak's blog...
The process involved in making one figurine was time consuming. None of the work was automated. After the model was approved, steel forms of the image were cast. Sheets of rubber were hand placed in the form.

"Then the lid comes down, steam runs the temperature up to about 450 degrees, and a million pounds of pressure is applied. The rubber cooks...for 15 minutes. When it comes out and cools there is ragged rubber all around the edge...this has to be trimmed off by hand."

The figurines were then hand-painted, a process that took about 15 minutes for each doll.

Happy + Sneezy.

Sleepy + Bashful.

A butt (or back) imprint reads, "© Walt Disney - Seiberling Latex - Made in Akron, O. USA." In addition, the figures bear a production number from 1-7; it seems any dwarf might be stamped with any one of the seven numbers, depending upon the run.

Dopey imprint via Fascination St Fine Art.

The figs were sold in boxed sets with just the dwarfs--all seven together--and also the dwarfs with a Snow White figure too. I've read that they were available individually too, for about 50¢ a piece.

The dwarfs (5.5” to 6” tall) were made from solid hard rubber, which has allowed them to survive somewhat intact over time. Snow White (almost 9") was manufactured as a hollow figure with a movable head and arms. Unfortunately, very few examples of her have escaped oxidation and disintegration. Yet, thanks to Hakes, Tomart and others, we do have pics.

Snow White body and head with warping.

A very nice specimen via Hakes.

Another as pictured in Tomart's Disneyana Update, #13.

This last example would make a great prop for a stop-motion Snow White zombie movie! Don't you agree?

"Smash Hit!" The complete set appeared in an advertisement on page 158 of the April 1938 Playthings toy trade journal. This and other Seiberling products are shown on page 67 of the 1974 book, Disneyana, by Munsey.

Playthings scan via gdawg.

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