Resurrecting an Old Button: Mickey Mouse Club 1928



You're in love with relics from older times. It's not necessarily that things used to be better; in fact, things used to be flat out terrible for a lot of folks. But the designs and styles of days gone by have a certain charm to them, and that always seems to capture my attention whenever I stumble upon it.

So as I watched my Disney Treasures DVD of old classic black and white Mickey Mouse cartoons, I stumbled on a featurette about the original Mickey Mouse Club. And what I saw was awesome.

Source: Walt Disney Treasures - Mickey Mouse in Black and White DVD

Source: Walt Disney Treasures - Mickey Mouse in Black and White DVD

Near the beginning of Leonard Maltin's presentation, they display one of the original Mickey Mouse Club buttons from 1928.

As a design geek, a button geek, and a Disney geek, this was right in the center of a bunch of things that I love.


I knew I had to wear one to Disneyland for my upcoming trip in a few days, and I got down to work.

The first thing I did was attempt to work directly from the button on the DVD. I spent about two minutes painting over the light highlights, which kinda sorta worked, but I wasn't really happy with the results.


There was still too much grain from both the original photo, and the DVD's encoding. I needed a better source image. So I did a quick Google search of 'Mickey Mouse Club 1928', and wouldn't you know it, one of these buttons went up for sale in 2012 on an online auction site who took high res photos.

Much better. With this, and the scan from the DVD, I had enough to work from to make a cleaner (but not too clean!) version of this button. Back to work I went.

Now, I'm not interested in bootlegging, or creating historical fakes. Fake buttons, especially if you're into vintage buttons, are the absolute worst. Nobody wants to get a button that they think has some history only to discover that it's a fraud, so I wanted something that would indicate my buttons weren't original buttons.  I decided to do this by simply increasing the scale; whereas the original Mickey buttons were 1.25" pinbacks, I'd make mine a little bigger, as an actual 2.25" button. That way there'd be no ambiguity as to whether or not these were originals, or loving fan tributes. Easy enough!

Any recreation like this is divided into two sections: art and copy. Art's almost always the harder part, so I started there. Isolating the backgrounds in Photoshop, I adjusted the white balance (since these buttons were obviously originally white), and then painted out the backgrounds, replacing them with standard white.

There is obviously some damage to the images, as well as some print imperfections. Some of those imperfections I like; for instance, the red registration is slightly off, and some of Mickey's pant color bleeds into his hand. That's a classic print issue, so that's something I'd like to preserve. Things like the lopsided left ear, and the phantom line coming off Mickey's finger, were a little less easy to justify. For the sake of keeping Mickey on-brand, I fixed those up, and painted over the blacks to remove some of the harder grain and dings. I make it a point to keep the rough lines, however, and just a little of the wear and tear to help the buttons keep a little bit of their original vintage character. The end result, with the white eventually removed from the background, was this:


Much better. Still vintage, still dinged up, but a little more presentable.

Next came the text on the button. I will admit, this one stumped me just a little bit. For commercial applications like buttons, today a designer would use something like a Helvetica and then not worry about the rest. The problem is, Helvetica came around in 1957, and this is the 1920's! A little bit of a pickle. I sourced some period appropriate fonts, and while some were closer than others (such as Gill Sans), it still wasn't quite right. I ended up mangling together the better parts of a few different fonts, stretching and redrawing characters, until I got something I felt pretty comfortable with. Not 100% period appropriate, but close enough for a majority of viewers, 


Of particular annoyance is the fact that the text in the original button doesn't perfectly wrap in a circle; since we're already tweaking history a little bit, I figured it didn't hurt to adjust that a little bit too.

I now had everything necessary to create a vintage Mickey button, but I was a little bit torn -- did I want a button that looked new and shiny (like my source file), or a button that was a little old and dingy like all the originals? The correct answer is, why decide!


I ran off a test copy of both and, deciding that I still didn't know which was better, did a small run of both buttons.


This is what a press sheet looks like, and what I'll have to cut out manually by hand. Trust me, it's just as exciting as you'd hope.

From there, it's just a matter of working the button press!


Doodle a little drawing on the inside of the button where nobody'll see it, because why not!


And one go through the button press, and we're done! A 1928 button is now reproduced in 2017!