Update: The original Peanuts artwork by Charles Schulz sold for $288,000–a new world auction record for original Peanuts artwork, set less than a month after a different Heritage Auctions sale broke the previous record.
What you see: Original Peanuts artwork by Charles Schulz, created in 1953 for a promotional brochure. Heritage Auctions generally doesn’t assign estimates to its lots, but when asked, it gave a $50,000-$100,000 range to the group of character portraits.
The expert: Jim Lentz, director of animation art for Heritage Auctions.
How well-known was the Peanuts comic strip in 1953, when Schulz created these eight portrait panels of its main characters? The comic strip and its characters were in their infancy, having only come to market in 1950.
Why would Charles Schulz or his newspaper syndicate have wanted to make this promotional booklet in 1953? Who was the target audience? It was created to introduce these relatively new comic strip characters to new cities, and to get people to buy newspapers and follow the strip. Schulz didn’t do this. His newspaper syndicate [United Feature Syndicate] did.
But the syndicate would have gone to Schulz and asked for supporting artwork for the brochure, yes? It would have said, “We need artwork for a brochure to introduce Charlie Brown and the new Peanuts characters to the growing newspaper audience.” Charles Schulz would have worked hand-in-hand with the syndicate to provide artwork to promote the strip.
Do we know why Schulz chose these eight characters to showcase? Also, how do these depictions reveal where the strip was in its evolution in 1953? I see that Schroeder’s habit of playing the piano has been formalized, but Snoopy still looks very much like a dog, and Linus hasn’t yet acquired his blanket… These were the main Peanuts characters at the time, with several just being introduced. Not all the characters had been introduced by 1953. Pigpen arrived in 1954, and Woodstock in 1970.
How was the original Peanuts artwork rediscovered? Do we know how it left the possession of Schulz? It would have been retained not by Schulz, but by the syndicate. It was most likely given out by someone as a gift. There is no definitive answer as to when, just how, possibly.
Had you been on the lookout for this group of Peanuts character portraits, or did its existence come as a surprise? One is always on the lookout for anything and everything drawn by the hand of Charles Schulz. This is one of the single biggest surprises of Schulz artwork I have seen, and it’s some of the earliest artwork of the characters seen outside of a published strip. A 1950 daily Strip just sold at Heritage for $192,000.
This original Peanuts artwork dates to 1953, which is early in the strip’s run. Why do Peanuts collectors tend to favor original artwork with the earliest possible dates, rather than later strips that feature the characters as we have come to know them? In the early days, few people knew of Charles Schulz and these characters. As the strip grew in popularity, and television specials and movies began, Schulz’s artwork was much more well-known and the audience became huge. Scarcity is the factor. Their was no guarantee this strip would take off to global proportions back then.
Are the drawings on eight individual pieces of paper, or four drawings on two sheets, or some other configuration? They’re individual drawings, all framed in one common frame.
What is the artwork like in person? Are there aspects or details that don’t come across in the images? It is spectacular. You can tell the personalities of each in some small way, just by Schulz’s quaint depictions of each character: Charlie Brown with the baseball glove, Schroeder at the piano with the Beethoven head, Linus with building blocks.
What is your favorite detail from this collection of original Peanuts artwork? The TV antenna on Snoopy’s dog house. I just like the mid-century Modern feel of an old TV antenna. It seems to disappear in future depictions of the dog house.
The collection of original Peanuts artwork is described as being in “very good” condition. What does that mean in this context? There are no folds, no tears, and the ink still vibrant.
While these character portraits are original Peanuts artwork by Schulz, they are atypical—they’re not daily or Sunday strip art. Have you seen anything else that’s comparable to this group? Peanuts calendar art, perhaps? The key is it’s “published” art, meaning it was used for something very specific, and not done for fans or for reference. It was for a very early promotional piece to introduce Charlie Brown and the Peanuts characters to an emerging audience. Key also is the time, 1953 to 1954, when these characters were still being fleshed out.
As of November 30, 2020, the collection of original Peanuts artwork had been bid up to $25,000. Is that at all meaningful? What’s meaningful is where it ends up. It is one of the most viewed pieces in an auction of over 2,000 pieces as of November 30, but the auction is still almost two weeks away.
On November 20, 2020, Heritage Auctions reset the record for any piece of original art by Schulz with an exceptionally early daily strip featuring Shermy and Snoopy. What are the chances that this group of character portraits will meet or beat that sum? I never venture any auction guess. I just know it’s a special piece in Schulz and Charlie Brown and Peanuts history.
If this lot breaks the record for original Peanuts artwork, Heritage Auctions will have broken that record twice in less than a month. How rarely does that happen? What would that say about the nature of the record-breaking Schulz art, and what would it say about the market for original Schulz art? Heritage has a long track record with setting record prices for Schulz artwork. It is all on HA.com in our archives. Every piece ever sold with prices realized is there. The significance is that we have a global audience to present this important art to.
You say the audience is global—has this always been true, or has the global aspect grown over time? It’s been true since the strip received global distribution and since the television specials and the animated movies went global. We just had A Peanuts Movie released in the last few years to rave reviews. It also was a global release.
Why do you think the appetite for original Peanuts artwork is so strong now, twenty years after the last strip ran? You know it’s the holidays when A Charlie Brown Christmas comes on television each year. You know its Halloween when It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown comes on. The strips, the books, the television specials are rarely dated, with timeless messages of hope and joy.
Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s a piece that no one even knew existed. And each portrait showcases how Charles Schulz wanted to present his characters to the world.
How to bid: The collection of original Peanuts artwork from 1953, featuring character portraits of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, and five others, is lot #98273 in the Animation Art Signature Auction taking place at Heritage Auctions from December 11 through December 13, 2020.
Images are courtesy of Heritage Auctions.
Jim Lentz has appeared on The Hot Bid four other times, talking about a circa 1940s Disney “model drawing” of Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice from Fantasia; a Rocky and Bullwinkle scene cel signed by Bullwinkle voice actor Bill Scott to Rocky voice actor June Foray; a vintage Kem Weber-designed Walt Disney Studios animation desk that sold for $13,145; and a Walt Disney-signed original animation cel from Song of the South that fetched just under $9,000.
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