Collector Spotlight: Paul Bottos
How do you describe your collection?
It’s 99% Mickey Mouse. For a while, I collected Disney stuff — if it was an archival piece or something from the 1930s to 1950s I’d probably still collect it — but Mickey is the centre of the collection, always.
My collection is quite large — I have over 10,000 pieces, which makes it bigger than my home can accommodate. It’s an overwhelming feeling sometimes. Sensory overload. I’ve brought people in to see the collection and have seen every emotion, from people crying, through joy, to adulation, wonderment, and amazement.
When people ask me about the types of items in my collection, I tell them the amount of licensing goes from Jesus to Elvis, and then Mickey Mouse. That puts it into perspective. It’s vast.
I had the opportunity to meet Jeff Shelley. He was the chief supervisor for character development at Disney. His job was to sign off on requests to use Mickey Mouse. He received 400 to 600 requests a week seeking to use the image. He would then approve the drawings and schematics of the actual products. You can imagine if you have that number of requests a week, the mix of Mickey Mouse objects is pretty large.
My collection started off with little plastic figurines. Then I got into trading cards — I have many Disney-related cards that go all the way back to the 1930s — sticker sets, and paper collectables. I have thousands of figurines, from large display pieces to tiny porcelain figurines.
I built a diorama that looks like one of the Disney parks. It includes a monorail, train station, castle, and a number of buildings. I put Mickey Mouse figures all around it. There are hundreds of them. It’s a unique thing — it’s a world that I made as opposed to something you can buy. It’s my version or my idea of what a park is. I use only items that had Mickey Mouse on them or were amusement park items from Disney. The actual buildings are a 1970s Main Street set from Sears. I have a 1952 tin Ferris wheel with Mickey Mouse on it — it’s a really nice part of the diorama.
I have a collection of 150 Mickey Mouse ties. They were included in an exhibit I had at the Grimsby Museum [in Ontario, Canada] about a year ago. The museum approached me to ask if I was interested in putting on a small display. When they realized what I had, we put together about 5,000 pieces to display. Over 700 people came to see it. I thought that was pretty cool considering it was during the pandemic.
When and why did you start your collection?
In my late 20s, my wife at the time was collecting Beanie Babies. We used to go all over Southern Ontario looking for Beanie Babies at garage sales and different places. I remember picking up a little plastic Mickey Mouse. It brought back all of these memories from being a kid,
When I was around 7 years old, I lived on a street in Hamilton, Ontario, that had a cinema that showed only Disney movies. We used to go there on the Monday and pay to watch the feature, but they also showed Disney cartoons before the feature. I remember the cinema manager — as long as we paid the one time that week, he didn’t care that we came back again because we only stayed for the cartoons after we’d seen the feature once. There were always the animated shorts with Mickey Mouse. That little plastic Mickey Mouse brought back those memories from a time I remembered having fun. Mickey was my favourite character when I was young.
I grew up in a very dysfunctional family environment. We moved around a lot; I think I went to 17 different schools before high school. At one point, I ended up in the care of Children’s Aid. Picking up that Mickey Mouse just made me feel good inside.
My collection started with just a few Mickey Mouse items around a room. It snowballed from there. It was fun — the adulation of putting things in a room and rearranging them to showcase what I had was something I enjoyed doing. I didn’t have a lot of them but, it was the catalyst.
Having the largest collection isn’t the driver for me. It is about meeting people and enjoying life. For the past 32 years, I have worked in a maximum-security psychiatric hospital. I work with the most difficult 12- to 20-year old mental-health patients in Ontario. I’m the longest-serving employee in a facility that’s quite difficult to work in.
To me, this collection is my therapy. Mickey Mouse has saved my life many times over the years just by being part of my life. The collection helps me stay grounded and it keeps me sane.
How do you display and store your collection?
It’s at the point now where I put things where there is a space. I try to keep like-minded objects together but it can be hard to do when there are so many. I have most of the stuff in 40 or 50 plastic storage tubs.
For the longest time, I did the displays for myself only. Then it got to the point where I thought people should see this collection. I started offering it out to neighbours and family. When someone gave me something, I would have them come to my home and put the item in the room so that they could see what it was like or what they were adding to. That opened up a bunch of doors. I joined Disney groups in Southern Ontario. Now I’m quite popular in those groups because of my involvement with The Walt Disney Company.
I get invited to a lot of things now. I try to take part in the community and spend time with like-minded people.
What do you consider to be the Holy Grail of your collection?
I have 2 pieces that fit into that category,
One is the very first Mickey Mouse I picked up — the plastic figure — the one where the light bulb went on in my memory and made me think of childhood. I actually brought that figure to Disney and showed it to Mickey Mouse. That piece really opened the door.
I mentioned Jeff Shelley earlier. I met him at a fan expo in 2011. He was drawing characters and I saw him drawing Mickey Mouse. I didn’t have a Disney drawing from a Disney artist at that point. I waited 3 hours in line to meet and talk with him. He drew a Mickey Mouse for me based on a tattoo I have on my arm and we started a friendship. Every time he visited Canada for an event, I would attend and he would go out of his way to do drawings for me. There were schemes he was not able to do at events so he would go back to his hotel to draw those for me.
It gets even more incredible than that.
Jeff went back to Disney and told people about me. Disney called me to ask permission to use a video of Jeff and me together for a biography they were creating about him. I told them about my Mickey Mouse collection and sent them a video. They said they wanted to meet me and they flew me and my son to California. They took me places, showed me things, did a biography video, and had a video crew go to my house. They gave me items from their archives. I can’t even begin to tell you — it was like I had won the lottery.
That started a kinship with The Walt Disney Company that I didn’t expect. It was overwhelming. I pinch myself to this day. Disney treats me very, very well.
I’m semi-retired so I don’t have thousands of dollars to acquire items. I never did. Some are just economically out of reach. I follow auctions and visit Value Village or similar second-hand stores to hunt for things for my collection. To some people, Mickey is just a character. To me, when something sits in my home with 1000s of other pieces, it brings me joy.
What advice would you give to someone interested in starting a Mickey Mouse collection?
My advice: if you enjoy doing something and it isn’t a danger to you or someone else and it won’t cause you difficulties in life, go towards it and bring it into your life.
I’ve surrounded myself with this hobby for 35 years. At this point, it’s brought me nothing but joy. It has allowed me to connect with a community. I’ve never met a Disney fan who was negative; people have been so nice. I’ve been invited to events like Dayton Disneyana in Ohio. I was invited to speak about my collection at their 2022 event from June 10 to 12. The is one of the largest Disney conventions in the United States. All the speakers work for Disney — I’m the layman in the group.
In 2017, I was invited by Disney to spend a day in Montreal, Quebec, walking with Mickey Mouse and greeting people in celebration of his birthday. We spent hours in parks talking with people. I was also invited to Florida for Mickey’s 90th birthday to spend time with 3,000 other fans. That was overwhelming and an unbelievable experience.
It’s funny — there was a time quite a few years ago when I considered selling the collection. My son was adamant that I don’t sell it. He asked, “What if one day Disney finds out you have all of this?” And, that’s exactly what happened! It was a premonition. It’s surreal.
A lot of people ask me questions and ask for my advice. I find that fascinating, especially at the age of 59. I feel like a kid sometimes. I’m doing this and it makes me feel so good inside.
See more of Paul’s Mickey Mouse collection on YouTube and Instagram.
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