Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Old Antique Shops of Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom

By Keith Mahne

There was once a time when guests of Walt Disney's Magic Kingdoms could explore a great selection of antique clocks, unique jewelry, 19th century art, and other treasures from the past. If you were visiting Disneyland you would find these treasures at the One Of A Kind Shop located in New Orleans Square. If you were at the Magic Kingdom in Florida and wanted to do a little antique shopping, Olde World Antiques, located in Liberty Square, was the place you wanted to be. Let's explore these quaint, little shops of Disneyland and Walt Disney World yesteryear in today's new article...

(As we explore the old antique shops of Disney's past, may I suggest you choose song number 147 titled Disney Piano Collection Vol. 2 from the Disney Avenue Music Player playlist in the top, right-hand corner of the site. The Music Player can only be accessed from a desktop computer.)

Disneyland's One Of A Kind Shop:

Prior to the Disney merchandise department taking over every possible inch of retail space, it was once possible for visitors of Walt Disney's park to find amazing, vintage treasures from all over the world...

One of Walt and Lillian Disney's most beloved shops at Disneyland was the One Of A Kind antique shop located in New Orleans Square. Walt and his lovely wife Lillian loved to antique shop. In fact, while doing so down in the real New Orleans, Walt found an antique, mechanical bird which he later used to create auto-animatronics. The couple loved New Orleans and antique shopping so much that Walt was determined to include one in New Orleans Square and allow his guests to enjoy the experience as well.

This article from The Disneyland Line which was originally published on July 5, 1979, does an amazing job of describing exactly what New Orleans Square's One Of A Kind antique shop was like:

They're Not Getting Older...They're Getting More Valuable!
The shop is small, situated on a well-traveled corner. The French doors, opened wide, reveal a decor best described as "creative clutter." Upon entering, you are confronted with a large, ornately carved dining set Austrian, circa 1860. The tabletop hosts a variety of brass -- door knockers, candlesticks, bells and statuettes. In display cases throughout the shop you see English China, Italian porcelain and German bisque. One nook houses an elaborate bedstead of the '30's.
The scene could be the interior of any of a number of quality antique stores, except for one thing -- location! That "well-traveled corner" is right here in Disneyland, and this unique antique collection resides in our overt own One Of A Kind shop in New Orleans Square.

Besides being one of the most interesting of our merchandise locations, One Of A Kind is probably the most famous outside the Park. Stage Supervisor Jack Onyett commented that "people will often come out to Disneyland for the sole purpose of acquiring something from this shop. Either they've been here before, to look, and now are back to buy, or they've heard that we have something of interest to them."

The buyer in charge of keeping One Of A Kind a tempting lure to antique buyers is Hildegard Webster, a Cast Member since 1961. Her realm also includes the Gold and Silver shops, the Parfumerie and Le Gourmet.

Although One Of A Kind is themed primarily to European antiques (you'll find some early American oak in this group), all the buying is done on this side of the Atlantic. Hildegard is naturally reluctant to reveal her sources, but she will admit that she sticks pretty close to the L.A. and Orange County areas, and "attends a lot of auctions."

At one time, buyers did cross the ocean to search for their treasures, but in the long run this just wasn't practical. "Now," says Hildegard, "the merchandise is close at hand and it enables me to look on year-round basis."

The items vary in age, price and description from alabaster eggs selling for $1.50 each to washstands priced at $650, to the nine-piece dinette set that recently sold for $5900!

The oldest are sets of 18th Century microscopes and nautical instruments. There is even an optometrist's kit from the late 1800's, complete with measuring devices and lenses still intact. But New Orleans Lead Pat Cannon and Hostess Joani Magin agree that the most fascinating item they've yet encountered was the elaborate Gregorian Chant Book dated 1607!

It's interesting to note, too, that even here in the land of antiques there are some endangered species, clocks are getting scarce and the prices have become prohibitive. The ones now available in One Of A Kind are in excellent condition and are very modestly priced.

Although some reproductions are handled, notably chandeliers, needlepoint pillows and bell pulls, the majority of the articles, and all the furniture, are genuine.

"One of a kind" in merchandise, this cozy corner also has some "one of a kind" challenges. For instance, when a large hutch or dining set is purchased, nearly the entire shop has to be dismantled to remove it. From New Orleans, it goes to the Warehouse for pick-up or delivery. Since this procedure has to take place after operating hours, it means that at 5:00 the next morning, Hildegard, a stock person and a Lead must attempt to groom the disheveled shop before the Park opens. According to everyone who has ever been involved, "It's a disaster when we get here! If you've never seen it, you can't even imagine it." But they've never failed to finish on time!

"One of a kind"...it implies the unique, the unusual, the out-of-the-ordinary, from odd to awesome. But to us here at Disneyland, One Of A Kind is that most charming corner shop in New Orleans that knows the beauty of age.

The space previously occupied by the One Of A Kind Shop became Le Gourmet, a shop specializing in Disney-themed cooking and serving accessories and related items. Le Gourmet is now also gone and a part of Disneyland history.

Walt Disney World's Olde World Antiques Shop:

The cozy Magic Kingdom Olde World Antiques shop was hidden away in the middle of Liberty Square and was really three compact shops in one. It consisted of the Mlle Lafayett's Parfumerie, accessible directly from the rear of the shop facing Main Street, the Silversmith to the West, and then the antiques shop mixed in between.

Thankfully, the Magic Kingdom's Olde World Antiques shop received some extensive coverage in almost every Walt Disney World souvenir publication up until the early 1990s. Let's start with this article from Walt Disney World Vacationland, Summer 1975:

"The furniture, tools, paintings, and other authentic European relics of the shop remind Disney guests of the tremendous foreign influence prevalent in our nation since its birth. These antiques, and the goods in all of the Liberty Square shops, reflect the mood of America's struggling years to independence, when immigrants from all over the world settled in the new colonies and brought with them their respective cultures and traditions."

Going back to the Mlle Lafayett's Parfumerie section of the antique store, Vacationland had this to say about it in 1975:

"Time has not softened the desire of ladies and gentlemen to dab on a essences of imported perfumes and colonges. Sweet and spicy scents, drifting into Olde World Antiques from Mlle Lafayett's Parfumerie, entice guests into this little French-decor shop."

"Among the crystal and china atomizers, soaps, pressed powder sachets and potpourri, are hundreds of popular and hard-to-find perfume products, including famous French lines. Yet, if a guest prefers a more personal fragrance, the hostess will custom-blend a perfume, choosing from the shop's seven basic perfume oils, ranging from the sweeter floral and citrus notes to the more heady scents of spice and musk. Then, each custom blend is numbered and recorded so that the guest may later re-order that same perfume without being present."

The Silversmith section of the store added to the atmosphere of Liberty Square. Imagine walking through the square and this lovely, glass filled window catching your eye...

Another important fact of the Silversmith section of the Olde World Antiques shop was that Johnny Tremain was said to be the proprietor, which added a strong tie-in to the nearby Liberty Tree via the fictional history of Tremain's apprenticeship, hanging of the lanterns in the liberty tree in Boston and, of course, the Disney film made from it...

Some of you may recall Walt Disney’s 1957 movie Johnny Tremain. The film features the popular song “Liberty Tree” and even contains a scene where Johnny and several others hang lanterns on the Liberty Tree. See how important the Silversmith section of the Olde World Antiques shop was to Liberty Square? Removing the store was also removing an important piece of the story line the Imagineer's had originally intended. Back to the history...

When trying to learn about the antiques that filled the old store in Liberty Square, this interview of Otto Rabby (pictured above and who was an antiques buyer Disney hired to fill the shop) for a Walt Disney World Vacationland article from 1973 was incredibly informative. Check it out...

"The antique shop at Walt Disney World deals exclusively in objects from abroad. Once, and sometimes twice, a year, Otto spends eight weeks searching for unusual items in Italy, France, England, Denmark, Holland, Austria, Spain and Germany. He deals only with reputable agents who, through long association, have learned to anticipate his requirements."

Primarily,' he explained, 'I try to find objects that will interest, amuse, and attract as wide a variety of people as possible. The joy of my work is in finding the truly unique item that one sees perhaps once in a lifetime. Of course, I always look for certain qualities in a piece - good design, craftsmanship, authenticity, and an intangible thing I call "personality." An antique, by its very nature, in intriguing. It has a story to tell. I try to find out the personal history of every item I buy - who made it and for whom? Why was it sold? What happened to the original owners? If antiques could talk, they would put novelists out of business.'

"Well, possibly. But as one looks at the bronze, 18th-century chandelier, complete with coiling cobras and gruesome gargoyles, that hangs in the shop, fantasies reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe are brought to mind. And the gay but silent rocking horse from England, still bearing the scuff marks of its tiny rider in 1780, stirs up memories of Jane Austen nurseries and comfortable nannies."
'Our shops are essentially attractions for our guests,' continues Otto. 'We want people to feel free to visit and to browse, to ask questions and to share antique anecdotes with the shop host and hostesses. It isn't necessary to buy antiques to enjoy them. We have many guests who return time and again, simply to look at an item that has struck their fancy.'

Guests not only return to visit with Otto and his associates but telephone from as far away as Australia to order antiques they have seen and can't forget. The shops have excellent shipping and crating facilities and will deliver anywhere in the world. Any antique purchased at Walt Disney World is guaranteed to be exactly what it purports to be - and that includes place and year of origin, quality of craftsmanship, and authenticity."

As we continue our look back at the history of the Magic Kingdom's Olde World Antiques shop, it's clear to see that the whole purpose of the quaint, little store was to make it be apart of the overall show. It wasn't about making huge profits, it was about making guests feel like they had stepped back in time, straight into 1700s colonial America. In fact, according to author David Koenig in his wonderful book Realityland, we learn more...

"Resort-wide, the [Merchandise] department was led by Jack Olsen, a heavy-set old-timer, who usually dressed in shorts and a golf shirt and constantly preached that his stores were not factories. He wanted them operated first and foremost as part of the show, rather than designed and operated to maximize profit. Even though souvenirs imprinted with Mickey Mouse and other characters were the best selling merchandise in the park, none were sold in Adventureland, Frontierland, or Liberty Square. Everything had to be themed to the period."

David Koenig also quotes a manager of one of the shops, who stated...

"Disney had very little business knowledge. Anything Jack Olsen wanted was okay. It didn't matter what it cost.... The antique shop in Liberty Square made about $100,000 a year - but spent $1 million! Money didn't mean a thing. They were movie people, there to put on a show."

As years past and new management came in, Olde World Antiques was removed in the mid 90s to make way for the Mickey's Christmas Carol location. And so Otto Rabby's antiques, including the silversmith and perfume sections, were removed from the Magic Kingdom forever.

Whether it was the One Of A Kind antique shop at Disneyland...

...or the Olde World Antiques shop at the Magic Kingdom...

...these quaint, little shops of Disney's past, where one could come to find special treasures that simply couldn't be found anywhere else, will remain in our hearts and should never be forgotten. Unique locations like these once were, tucked away in some cozy nook, played a crucial role in making Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom so special in our eyes. Although they would never fill a cash register to capacity, they did something far more important... they filled our hearts with that wonderful Disney magic that Walt Disney himself knew how to provide.

Source: Passport to Dreams Old and New


Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four. Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.



  2. The Disney parks antique shops we closed long before my first visit to the parks but I truly appreciate all the info and photos you've shared in this post. Wishing the shops were still in operation is futile but I find a real affinity with these even now as I have been an antiques buyer and seller since 2007 as well as a Disney fan.