During the final decade of the studio’s existence, Connoisseur of Malvern produced several limited edition sculptures in collaboration with Disney. Perhaps the most well known of these were the Carl Barks ducks, which have quite a story associated with them.
Carl Barks was the artist who created many of the wonderful Disney ducks we know so well, including my personal favorite: Uncle Scrooge. Mr. Barks, shown below, died in 2000 at the venerable age of 99, having delighted fans all over the world with his wonderful art. The story of how he came to collaborate with Connoisseur of Malvern is both fascinating and complex and so I will try to summarize it as briefly as I can.
The story begins with Bruce Hamilton, owner of Hamilton Galleries and a major collector who had worked with Disney for years in connection with promoting and marketing Carl Barks’ artistic works. Another collector introduced Mr. Hamilton to the management of Brielle Galleries in New Jersey. Together they came up with the idea of limited edition porcelain sculpture renditions of some of Carl Barks’ best loved paintings. Who better to create the sculptures than Connoisseur? (I have no idea whether Boehm or Cybis were ever considered but it’s intriguing to speculate.) Things came together whereby Disney, Carl Barks, Connoisseur of Malvern, and Bruce Hamilton entered into a contract to produce a new limited edition each year for ten years, beginning in 1992. Mr. Hamilton was to hold marketing and distribution rights under his corporation, Another Rainbow Inc. – the name taken from a famous Barks painting.
There was also a softcover book entitled Carl Barks and the Disney Ducks published in conjunction with the launch of the Connoisseur series and a special edition of this book was included with each sculpture purchased. These books contain a foldout section showing each of the ten Barks paintings upon which the full series would be based.
Things went well for the first several years, Connoisseur working closely with Carl Barks to ensure that the detail and quality of the sculptures were beyond reproach and of course that Mr. Barks would be 100% satisfied with the results. But things were not progressing quite so smoothly at Disney. After its President Frank Wells died in a plane crash, CEO Michael Eisner made some moves that did not sit well with the rest of the management and as a result many left the company. The incoming “new blood” wanted to shake things up, and this began to adversely affect the relationships between Disney and companies such as Bruce Hamilton’s. Things became more and more acrimonious until at last the word “buyout” was tossed onto the table. A condition of the buyout of the contract by Disney was that all of the unsold Connoisseur sculptures except for those previously allotted to Hamilton would be destroyed. This took place in 2001 and one description of that event can be found here. As it relates, the market value of the destroyed sculptures at the time was approximately $250,000… a quarter of a million dollars.
Important note: All of the characters shown below are owned and fully copyrighted by the Walt Disney Company and Carl Barks. The images of these copyrighted artworks are provided here for informational and research purposes only and not for any commercial reuse or reproduction. The photographic images are watermarked as per their source.
Richard Sefton was the Connoisseur sculptor/designer for all of the Disney ducks studies shown here. All of them were designed at the original Connoisseur of Malvern studio, although the final three retail releases were not physically produced there.
Always Another Rainbow was issued as a limited edition of 100 numbered sculptures plus ten artist’s proofs. It was the first in the series and is based on a 1974 Barks painting. There were 16 separate components to the sculpture and all of the ‘gold’ representations such as the nuggets and the veins in the rocks, were applied in 22k gold. None of these sculptures were destroyed, as they had all sold out before the ‘destruction event’. The first numbered sculpture sold for just under $25,000; the others sold for between $11,000 and $12,000 each. The artist’s proofs were priced at approximately $17,000 each. Each sculpture was accompanied by the softcover book which also contained the certificate of authenticity.
I was curious to know how Connoisseur signed the sculptures they produced for this project but could not find any mention of this. So I reached out to someone who had an example of ‘Always Another Rainbow’ for sale on eBay and asked about this. The seller repled that although Connoisseur is identified as the studio within the accompanying book which has an illustrated chapter describing the creation process, neither the name nor their logo appear on the sculptures themselves. (seller photos used by permission)
Dude for a Day was the second in the series at 11” (29 cm) tall and is based on a 1975 Barks painting. Donald’s natty stickpin contains a zircon for just the right sparkle! Twenty-six of these were destroyed, making it an effective limited edition of 74 sculptures. The first in the series sold for approximately $18,500 and the others for $8000-$11,000. One of the artist proofs sold for $15,000. The lithographs that would have accompanied all of the destroyed figurines were turned over to the Walt Disney Company, by the way.
Pick and Shovel Laborer is based on Barks’ 1974 painting of the same name. The sculpture is just over 11.5” (29 cm) high. The porcelain coins were fired with 24k gold, and the dollar bills read “City of Duckburg/Cool Cash/One Hundred Quackers”. The first in the series sold for approx $21,000 and the others from between $10,000 and $12,000. Thirty-eight of these were destroyed, leaving an effective edition of 68.
Sixty Years Quacking was issued in 1994 which of course happened to be Donald’s sixtieth “birthday”. He stands just over 13” (33 cm) tall. Three artists proofs were created, one of which sold for $12,950. The first in the series sold for $18,450 and the others between $8000 and $9000 each. Fifty-six of the regular issue were destroyed, leaving an effective issue of 44. (This issue was the last of ducks that were actually produced at the original Connoisseur studio in Ledbury.)
Unlike the previous sculptures, The Quintessential Scrooge was not modelled on a painting of the exact same name but was adapted from one portion of a 1971 work entitled ‘Blue Composition of Ducks’ which shows Scrooge surrounded by other characters including the Beagle Boys and Magica deSpell. Some sources state that this figurine was to have been a limited edition of 500 in 1992; others say it was the usual series edition of 100 and released in 1995. All sources seem to agree that there were ten Artist’s Proofs. One source claims that it was originally intended as a premium to be given to those who purchased the Dude for a Day sculpture plus the Fabergé Midnight Egg as well. The Quintessential Scrooge is a smaller sculpture than the foregoing, being eight inches high. An artist’s proof sold for $3750 and the others sold in the mid to high $2000s. What’s certain is that the edition size was reduced to only 100, as the others, and that of those 46 were destroyed, leaving an actual edition of 54. (If these do date from 1992, they were made by the original Connoisseur studio but if not, they were cast and painted by another company.)
Lavender and Old Lace, the sixth in the series, was a declared limited issue of only 25 plus an unknown number of artist’s proofs, but only 17 were ever made. They were produced by a different studio that had bought the Connoisseur name and molds in 1995. The change of ownership may be why this was the only one of the series to have been produced individually as they were ordered rather than all at once in advance; therefore, none were included in the destruction event. The first in the series sold for $39,000 and the others all sold for $31,000 each. It is 14.5” (~37 cm) tall and measures 15” x 12” (38 cm x 30.5 cm) at the base.
The seventh and final sculpture in what was supposed to have been at least a ten-year annual series was The Expert in 1997. This was a declared edition of 25 plus three artist’s proofs. The magnifying glass in Scrooge’s hands is exactly that – made of glass – and Carl Barks designed the coin that he is examining, basing it on the 1908 United States ‘Double Eagle’. The coin is, of course, 24k gold plated. The first in the series sold for $29,500 and numbers 2-15 sold for $19,500 each. One artist’s proof brought $24,000. It’s not known if the full complement of 25 was completed before the destruction event took place.
There were also other Carl Barks sculptures that were designed by Connoisseur as part of the projected 1990s series but were never produced; the original art for them was shown in the softcover book’s foldout. Both of the photos below, as well as the accompanying information, are courtesy of Heritage Auctions (HA.com) and James Halperin.
Flubbity Dubbity Duffer measures about 14” tall and 17” across at its widest point (35.5 cm x 43 cm). Only three of these were made. The three grassy sections are separate and fit into the custom-made wooden base. The sculpture itself is based on a 1972 Barks painting and subsequent lithograph, the story of which can be found here.
Luck of the North is 15.5” tall and 17” wide (39 x 43 cm) and like all of the other sculptures is signed in gold leaf by Carl Barks. Only one example of this sculpture is known at present, and so there may well have been only this single prototype created.
If the series had been completed as per the book illustrations, another sculpture would have been based on the Barks painting Time Out for Fun and would have included the accompanying lithograph shown below. This lithograph, produced under license from Disney by Another Rainbow Inc. was purportedly never published. It’s fun (no pun intended) to imagine what the Connoisseur sculpture based on it might have looked like! By the way, notice the title of the magazine that Donald is so avidly reading. 😉
There may have been other “Disney ducks” sculptures in the works as well. This tantalizing possibility is raised by another online account of the destruction event, which notes the following:
“There were other [Carl Barks art] images which were produced as very limited 3-dimensional prototypes by the original Connoisseur studio (A Christmas Trimming, Luck Of The North, Flubbity Dubbity Duffer, Far Out & No Safari), but these were never offered as limited editions to the collecting community***. [footnote below]
*** Time Out For Fun was also included. All motifs were taken from Barks paintings with the same titles (the first-mentioned, though, was never officially titled but simply known as Christmas Composition). Common for them all was that they were supposed to end up as very large figurines, thus to be made in small quantities of perhaps 15 each. Because the sales prices would probably wind up around 20,000 dollars each the project was scrapped.”
This is particularly interesting because it seems to indicate that the original intention may have been for at least a 13-year collaboration: the ten sculptures whose paintings are shown in the Carl Barks and the Disney Ducks foldout, plus the three additional ones (Far Out, No Safari, and the Christmas grouping) cited in the article quoted above. Could there be examples of any of those three proof sculptures still in existence somewhere? It’s possible, I suppose, because four examples obviously did survive and the writer does state that all five “were produced” as prototypes — implying that he actually saw them in person.
This article also mentions the Scrooge McDuck Midnight Egg as one of the items that were destroyed. However, these were not made by Connoisseur; they were made via a collaboration between Disney, Barks, and the Theo Fabergé company. This egg was intended as the first in an issue of five Scrooge-themed Fabergé eggs but that project was ended by Disney as well. One of them sold at auction in 2012 for approximately $1700. Ironically, these eggs do bear the signature of the company that created them:
Perhaps Connoisseur should have been more insistent on getting proper credit!
A future post will look at the other wonderful sculptures created by Diane Lewis and the Connoisseur studio for Disneyana.
Images of ©Connoisseur of Malvern porcelain sculptures are provided for informational and educational purposes only, not for reproduction, resale or advertising. All photographs are copyrighted by their owner (if known) as indicated via watermark.