Mickey Mouse fan catches collection by the tail

| Friday, May 27, 2011

More than 20 years ago, Karen Lindow found a tiny resin Mickey Mouse figure in a Las Vegas casino gift shop. Fascinated by its vivid colors and tiny details, Lindow bought it, then started looking for more of the mouse figures commemorating Walt Disney's most iconic cartoon character.

Having been to Walt Disney World in Orlando five times, "You would think if you went (there), you would find these," says Lindow, 43, of North Versailles. But such has not been the case. She only found one figure there, Mickey in a scuba diving outfit.

Instead, Lindow has found her collectibles mostly at local flea markets.

"I've paid as little as 25 cents and mostly $5" for the 260 figures she keeps corralled in display shelves in her living room, including a custom-built unit and a mirror-backed wall cabinet designed for Matchbox cars.

The collection now includes Minnie Mouse figures.

"They have a lot of details; Minnie has eyelashes," Lindow says. The anthropomorphic mice figures, most less than 2 inches high, are dressed in various types of clothing and are posed performing different activities. There's one of Mickey using a camera and another carrying a camcorder. There's Mickey golfing, skateboarding, fighting a fire and flying a propeller airplane.

Minnie is dressed in various outfits, including a long white gown accented with an orange fan, and as a schoolteacher. Lindow owns a double figure that features both characters dressed in formal attire, clasped together in a ballroom dancing pose.

"You rarely find sets that go together," Lindow says. But she has a few coordinating pairs, including one in which the two are dressed in matching cowboy and cowgirl outfits, with Mickey twirling a long lasso and Minnie square dancing. Another set features a Mickey carrying an even tinier Mickey Mouse doll, and Minnie with a minuscule Minnie doll.

"That smaller size just lends itself to collecting," says Steven Miller, merchandise communications manager for Walt Disney World. Miller, who has roots in the Pittsburgh area -- his father was from Vandergrift and his mother, from Leechburg -- says part of the appeal of "Disneyana" is that it brings back memories of pleasant times spent at Disney World.

"I do love Disney World, but I'm mostly attracted to the bright colors," says Lindow, who, as a longtime cake decorator for Giant Eagle in Monroeville, deals with bright and pastel colors every day.

"It becomes an effort to add or complete," Miller says. "But it's also that search mentality. Some people want to (complete) that collection. For others, it's a passing fancy."

Lindow definitely has caught the spirit of the search.

"You can't just go to Walmart or Kmart and buy them," she says. "I could just go online and buy them, but I'd rather hunt for them."

One longtime search was for a Minnie Mouse cheerleader figure. For years, she had ordered several sets of Minnie Mouse figures for decorating cakes at her job. But each time, the pictured Minnie cheerleader figure was unavailable.

"One day, my father saw it in a curio cabinet" in a friend's home, she says. "He said, 'I have to get that for my daughter,' and they gave it to him. Since then, I came across another."

Minnie's cheerleader uniform is white and red, with a large "M" on her sweater. It's Lindow's favorite Minnie figure. Her favorite Mickey figure shows the cartoon mouse in a hat and business suit, carrying a briefcase.

Some of Lindow's older Disney mice have tails painted on the back. Other unusual figures include a Minnie that epitomizes the spirit of the upcoming summer vacation season. It shows the famous girl mouse wearing a bathing suit, lounging in a life preserver and carrying a summer cocktail a with drink umbrella.

"She's different. You usually don't see her feet, which are black," Lindow says.

"One nice thing about these is they're so tiny," she says. "If I find one on vacation, I can stuff it in a suitcase. And they don't break. They're probably not valuable, but to me, they're priceless."

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