hungryhobos hungryhobos

AUCTION: Lost Disney Oswald film

Going once, going twice… a long lost Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon by Walt Disney. It will be up for auction next month, December 14th, at Bonhams in Los Angeles.

The only known copy of Hungry Hobos (1928) has been found in UK’s Huntley Film Archives based in Herefordshire. It is being estimated to sell for $30,000-40,000. The Bonhams press release says:

Stephanie Connell of Bonhams Entertainment Memorabilia department comments, “Hungry Hobos” an incredible find, a lost masterpiece and a cartoon with a unique and vital place in animation history.” Comprising a 16mm double perforated celluloid acetate positive print, silent, probably dating from around its distribution date of late 20s/early 30s, total running time 5 minutes, 21 seconds and 2 frames at a running speed of 24 frames per second.

The Huntley Film Archives recently re-discovered the film and when they realized its significance they decided to sell it, and will devote the proceeds to their collection of 80,000 films, which are badly in need of restoration. Amanda Huntley of Huntley Film Archives comments, “When we checked this film we couldn’t quite believe our eyes. For an archive, finding a lost masterpiece is incredible – you just don’t think it will happen to you. We are excited and delighted to offer this gem to animation aficionados and collectors.”

$30,000-40,000? Has any silent-era cartoon ever been sold for more than $1000? Is this cartoon really worth five figures. All I know is, I want want to see it. If you want to place a bid, or need more information: visit Bonhams website.

  • James Mason

    Great to see it actually exists. Hopefully they get the money to restore what they have at their archive (which could consist of anything.)

    Hopefully this print ends up at Disney or someplace else where it can be properly preserved and restored.

    • If only this was discovered when Epic Mickey came out and Disney cared about Oswald.

    • James Mason

      I do agree with those in that this DOES reek of gross profiteering from those behind this auction. The same auctioneers (Bonhams) were the ones that expected someone to pay $160,000 for an otherwise forgotten 7-minute propaganda film “Zepped” featuring Charles Chaplin.

      At least in comparison to the Chaplin oddity, is a little closer to planet Earth, though still in the stratosphere. I suppose they are angling squarely at Disney for such a price, since Walt-era Oswald cartoons are under copyright there.

      I’m still happy it at least is known to exist, even if it’s 16mm and likely incomplete. Still better than being gone entirely.

  • Is the copyright on this film still valid? If so, the new owner will not be able to distribute the film in any medium without Disney’s approval. That makes this an investment like buying a painting and hoping it appreciates in value, rather than buying an asset that can be used to generate cash.

  • This better fall into the right hands… someone who cares about restoring it and making it available for people to see.

  • JB Kaufman

    This is what happens when these films fall into the wrong hands: people who know nothing of film or animation history hear the name “Disney,” get big dollar signs in their eyes, and lose contact with reality. Bonhams’ outrageous hype and preposterous asking price are apt to obscure the fact that this film really does have historical significance — really, in the real world. Unfortunately, that asking price is a virtual guarantee that no responsible person or institution will get close to it.

    • Kristjan B

      Then someone with knowledge must bring them back to earth and reality.

      • Ah, Kristjan, your wonderful optimism is inspiring! However, having often been “the someone with knowledge must bring them back to earth and reality” in various meetings, it doesn’t always happen that way. The bigwig says something and the Larry Tates all agree.

        Perhaps your wondrous hope will shine through and reason will triumph over those who tilt their head and say “Who’s thaaaat?” “That’s not our demographic, is it?” “What will it do for MY career?” And so forth.

        There’s always tomorrow for dreams to come true.

  • Optimist

    According to their website, the “Huntley Film Archive” is a commercial business that offers clips from their archived selection of films for a fee. That’s all well and good(I know people who also make their living that way, having paid for the rights to this or that collection of shorts and clips) but at first reading it sounded a little like they’re being presented as a nonprofit, a la UCLA, MOMA, Eastman House and other such archives. “Devoting the proceeds” of their auction will be used to better their business inventory, not restore films for any greater good/public vieweing, as seems to be implied. Just saying.

    And “only known copy”? Perhaps-but I have a strong suspicion that there are more things in private collectors’ stashes than are dreamt of in Horatio’s philosophy…caveat emptor!

  • Matthew K Sharp

    $30000 to $40000? Gosh. And to think some people were complaining that the Oswald Treasures set was expensive!

    Like the recently rediscovered Laugh-O-grams, I suspect that the chance I’ll ever actually see this film is remote, but it’s nice to think it’s out there somewhere.

    • Kristjan B

      I can image how much the vol 2 would cost if the other lost Oswald cartoons were found by these peoples.

  • Roman

    I’m sure the Reedy Creek Film Club will put in a bid… if they did it under their real name it’d drive up the price!

  • Skip

    Disney should do the honorable thing and buy this film for a multitude of reasons.

  • Kristjan B

    The only logical buyer of this should be Disney.

    • Ivan

      Hence, the price.

    • Let’s hope that Bob Iger still checks out Cartoon Brew occasionally when he’s on the treadmill. Anyone out there who could “hint” to him during his workout?

  • Paging David Gerstein, don’t let this be another Poor Papa!

    All joshing aside, whatever these folks are smoking can’t be cheap. For starters, it’s likely incomplete at that running time. What’s the condition – splices, wear, warpage, vinegar? It’s also 16mm – it’s not going to look as nice as a 35mm once transferred and preserved digitally.

    If it’s the only known copy in the world, $1,000 max is not unwarranted, given you might be able to recoup some of the costs loaning it to Disney to make a copy for their vaults. But the stupid thing probably didn’t even cost anywhere near $30-$40K to actually make, even accounting for inflation.

  • Valentin Moretto

    A running time of 5’12” only? That’s short for a Disney-era Oswald cartoon — the surviving print of OZZIE OF THE MOUNTED runs about the same length and is missing footage. One has to wonder whether something is missing or not; only a public screening and a side-by-side comparison with the original synopsis will tell.

    • Kristjan B

      How much footage is Missing from Ozzie of The Mounted?

  • I have written a piece about this situation on my blog…if anyone is interested, have a look-see at:

    • Chris Sobieniak

      Certainly an eye-opener!

  • “…an incredible find, a lost masterpiece…” Is “Hungry Hobos” any more of a masterpiece than any of the other Oswald cartoons? The Oswald cartoons are historically important, but are any of them really masterpieces?

  • Mark Sonntag

    First, will the ‘new’ Laugh_o-grams ever be put on DVD or something so those of us overseas can see them. Now as for Oswald, what condition is the print in? Are the original titles still intact? If this print exists chances are there is another out there somewhere. Technically, if I’m not mistaking the copyright on the Disney Oswalds expired years ago, although Disney holds the rights to the character now, the films are public domain.

    • Mark, while I know nothing about the condition of the print, it does have its original titles:
      This is a typical “style B” title card as used in the spring of 1928; essentially, a somewhat awkward tracing of the slicker 1927 “style A” design.

      Only a handful of Disney Oswald cartoons are in the public domain. Most, including HUNGRY HOBOS, were renewed by Universal in the 1950s and are definitely covered by copyright today.

  • It’s estimated to sell for 30-40K, but what’s the minimum price? Is there one?

  • Skeptical

    Boy, a lot of people with their panties in a bunch over a private party selling their rare property. This is an AUCTION. Auctions don’t set prices, they give estimates (yes, the seller may set a minimum bid, but you can be sure it’s well below $30,000). The bidders determine the price. If no one wants it, it doesn’t sell, and no one ever sees it again. If Disney wants to buy it, restore it, release it, and make money off of it, they just have to be the highest bidder. The idea that either the archive, who found and preserved this 83 year old film, or Bonhams, are somehow immoral or unscrupulous is plain silly.

    If this archive (and others like it) didn’t make money, a lot of rare film footage would disappear. Is that a public good? If auction houses didn’t advertise and sell this stuff, a lot of it would remain rotting away in attics and dank basements. Is that a public good?

    • Optimist

      It ISN’T an archive. it’s a business that licenses film footage. They don’t preserve anything to keep it in public view, they do it for profit, UNlike the various places I mentioned above which are actual, real film preservation archives.
      Nothing wrong with running a business or making as much profit as possible, but they’re NOT what you seem to think of as a film archive devoted to restoration.

      And yes of course it might not sell for the estimate at auction. It won’t, unless there are at least two bidders that are pretty green (and wealthy).

    • Skeptical, I’m admittedly skeptical taking you seriously. How many films have you preserved personally?

      • Skeptical

        Optimist, I’m aware there are institutions connected to museums and schools that preserve and restore films. They need to generate money to continue their work, and often rent or sell copies of their holdings. If a for-profit archive (and an archive is still an archive even if it charges a fee to use its material) needs to be for-profit to save (and make available to the public) things that otherwise would disappear, I don’t see that as a bad thing.

        Thad, what does my film preservation experience have to do with anything?

        Tom, I read your blog post, and it’s fascinating. But it seems to be the ‘outrage’ here is that Bonhams is silly for overestimating the value of this print. I’ve been to a Bonhams’ auction, and they had a lot of excessively optimistic estimates, and many passed lots even with minimal opening bids. Again, it is an ESTIMATE. It’s not, as you refer to it, an ‘asking price.’ If you think making inflated auction estimates, and having excessive minimum bids, is a way to ‘juice’ the market and make things hard for private collectors like yourself, then I have to think you haven’t been to many auctions. In your post you describe how little interest there is, even in the old film community, for silent animation. Who do you imagine knows so little about this market, but has so much money to waste?

        The market will correct Bonham’s hubris, and this film will go to one of the tiny handful of people who value these things for a fair price or, more likely, to Disney. Since it’s under copyright, which Disney now holds, for another 5 years, no one can profit from preserving/showing/marketing this film except Disney. So either there’s a crazy rich private collector of obscure, mediocre silent animation, or Disney will watch this become a passed lot, then negotiate with Huntley for some fair price.

  • Skeptical:

    As I outline in my blog post, their estimate (or a fraction of that price serving as the minimum bid) is simply other-worldly. This is based on having a knowledge of the economics behind these films going back fifty years. Is Huntley right in trying to sell it by auction? Sure, that is their right. No one is truly contesting that, although we may feel it’s not the best thing for rare films in the long term.

    “If Disney wants to buy it, restore it, release it, and make money off of it, they just have to be the highest bidder.”

    We should only hope they would be interested, but I think this would not be the case unless the bidding opened at say 10% of their estimate, which is more reasonable. Even if it’s a “lost” film, and even if it’s Disney. It’s also reasonable for me to say that Disney (nor any other media firm) would make any kind of notable return on a five-minute short produced in the 1920s for which they had to pay $30-40k to obtain. It would be a loss instead, a bad investment.

    “If this archive (and others like it) didn’t make money, a lot of rare film footage would disappear. Is that a public good? If auction houses didn’t advertise and sell this stuff, a lot of it would remain rotting away in attics and dank basements. Is that a public good? ”

    Archives certainly do need to make money. It’s just not going to happen, though, if absurd prices are tacked onto their films. Again, this is based on an in-depth knowledge of how pricing works on these materials. Bonhams is not involved in archival film dealings, and I suspect the film archive did not really expect to get an estimate of that kind.

    The kind of money being discussed here is fine for physically restoring the film, blowing it up to 35mm for proper preservation and striking new prints for screenings et al, considering it is a short film and not a feature which typically can cost more for proper preservation. It’s just NOT a reasonable price to merely obtain the film without taking into consideration further preservation costs.

  • Dario

    John Lasseter, you talk so much about Disney and you have so much money. Stop waisting your dollars in those ugly shirts and get the Oswald film!

  • I have placed a bid and will gladly resell it for 10 times what I pay for it or I will destroy it.

  • The minimum online absentee bid is 40% of the low estimate, Bonhams’s standard practice. This means a bid of $12,000 is the minimum bid required to get you in the game. The reserve, the minimum price at which the film will be sold, is not generally revealed, but it’s possible for it to be anywhere between the minimum bid and the low estimate, in this case $30,000.

    If Bonhams has erred and set its estimate too high, the market will let them know it and the item won’t sell. It can always be sold privately or offered another time with a lower estimate. But this is a unique item with historical significance to the Disney legacy, and it’s just possible it has value beyond its commercial release.

    I can imagine a scenario, for example, where a museum might want to acquire the world’s only copy of this film and make a print for viewing. Imagine receiving an invitation to a gala benefit for the Disney Family Museum or the Museum of Modern Art. Attendees at the $500-a-plate dinner will be treated to the first screening since 1928 of a “lost Disney masterwork.” Afterwards, an expert from, say, Cartoon Brew will make a few remarks about the historical significance of the cartoon. Later, all visitors to the museum will be able to see the rarity in a special screening room. In the meantime, arrangements can be made with Disney for the long-term preservation of the film. How much is that worth?

  • Just wanted to point out a possible technical issue related to the running time of this cartoon.

    The running time of 5 mins 21 secs is based on the frame rate of 24fps which is the projection speed for films with a soundtrack. The correct projection speed for a silent film would be slower than 24fps (in the neighborhood of 18fps) thereby making this film’s running time longer. With that in mind, this film could actually be complete regardless of the running time listed by Bonhams.

    • Actually, most of us run silent cartoons (the later ones, at least) at sound speed….Ozzie should still be running more like 7 or 8 minutes long. I too am curious about the given runtime, but it’s the least important of all the other issues for me.

      • JB Kaufman

        Just to confirm Tom’s comment: the whole idea of a “correct projection speed” for silent films is a myth. There was no single standard projection speed during the silent era, because there was no need for one. This is a huge oversimplification, but basically, both cameras and projectors tended to speed up gradually throughout the silent period. Western Electric, needing to establish an absolute standard speed for sound synchronization in 1926, settled on 24 fps because it was the *average* speed already in use by projectionists. These later silents (both live-action and animated) were made to run at the faster speed, and can be pretty deadly at the slower one.

      • Kristjan B

        Like painfully slow and boring?

  • Also, it would be helpful to see a scan of the film’s edge codes to find out when the print was actually made.

  • Samjoe

    The Disney company Wastes more money then that in a single Minute, as a corporation. They will buy it. If you don’t think they will.

    So lets look at a Dr. Who title,for instance.
    “The Celestial Toymaker”
    Would the BBC buy a only remaining copy? At twice that for Waldo? Maybe even triple? Yes, but because what they will make on the backend. The Newly Discovered treasure is now restored and on DVD and BlueRay for????.

    Of course they will buy it,Silly Rabbit.

    • LazyBoy

      Disney Interactive fired the guys at Black Rock Studios, who were about to work on the sequel of Split/Second (videogame)
      Split/Second is a fantastic game and when you play it, you feel like its creators had great ideas to make a perfect sequel, a game that will totally blow every player’s mind.

      But Disney said “no”. I’m still angry against them for that. For a gamer like me, it’s like to see Disney canceling Wall-E.

      So no, I don’t think this kind of company can “waste” its money in buying what once belonged to it and doing it for the historic cause. But wasting money in crappy brainless sitcoms, oh yes.

      • Well said, LazyBoy…it won’t “waste” the money on Oswald if the price is very high, but pour money into mindless garbage being produced at the moment.

  • Skeptical

    I guess the experts were wrong. According to the Bonhams’ site, this film sold for $31,250. I suppose if it was Disney who got it, we’ll find out soon enough. Apparently there were at least two parties who thought the Bonhams’ estimate was accurate.

    • Kristjan B

      Intresting but now we are in the year 2012 and more than month later after the auction and no news on who the bidder was was it Disney or was it somebody else?

  • Lee

    We have Doctor Oswald in the original box that appears to be in excellent condition. Are Oswald Rabbit films collectable?