The 1990s were the last great decade of the American shopping mall! And one of the great shopping mall stores of that decade was the Warner Bros. Studio Store. Open for just ten years, 1991 to 2001, its 130 locations brought the movie studio gift shop experience to the masses, selling high end gifts and higher-end collectibles to fans across the country. With a gorgeous collection of Warner Bros. Studio Store pieces coming to our auction block, Back to the Past is diving in to what made the store special and what still makes it special.
The Warner Bros. Studio Store Gallery
The 90s saw a huge explosion in the size of the collectibles market! Financially comfortable Baby Boomers and Gen Xers looked to reclaim some childhood nostalgia, driving interest in pop cultural properties like the Looney Tunes and DC Comics to new heights. The Warner Bros. Studio Store had all the stuff you needed to get a loved one a Christmas present that felt classy without over-spending. It’s good stuff! I myself am still the proud owner of an Electric Superman logo watch.
But the REALLY great stuff was in their Warner Bros. Studio Store Gallery collection. That was the label for limited edition art, both printed and sculpted. And it’s where the store lived up to its name. Warner Bros. owns Warner Bros. Animation Studios (home of the Looney Tunes), Hanna-Barbera (home of Scooby-Doo, Yogi Bear, et al), DC Comics (home of Batman) – In short, a whole bunch of companies that create art by the truckload. This gave the Warner Bros. Studio Store access to truly gorgeous pieces like animation cels and production art as well as original works by comic creators. Moreover, they put those pieces in beautiful frames with nigh-unassailable certificates of authenticity. They weren’t cheap, but they came wall-ready and in museum quality.
Truly Limited Editions
As we’ve discussed before, most makers of collectibles in the 1990s had a pretty generous definition of “limited edition”. Not the Warner Bros. Studio Store Gallery. Take for example the “Origins of Batgirl” lithograph pictured at the top of this article. It features a gorgeous blown-up reproduction of Batgirl’s on-panel debut from Detective Comics #359 with new sketches of the character from her co-creator, the legendary Carmine Infantino. The version signed by Mr. Infantino was limited to 500 pieces, with ours being numbered 113. There are definitely more than 500 people out there who would want a piece like it today. Even the more mass-produced items like statues and collector’s plates were typically limited to 2,500 pieces.
And then you have the production art and animation cels. By their nature, each and every one is one of a kind. There may be frames that are similar, sure, that’s how animation works. But the tiny changes made between frames means no one is exactly like the others. Frames depicting something worth framing are relatively rare, no one wants the back of Bugs Bunny’s head, so the supply is further limited.
Quality Sticks Around
Warner Bros. Studio Store Gallery items remain highly prized collectible pieces. What the uninformed might dismiss as chintzy shopping mall fare is boutique quality art! These pieces sell very well thanks to their limited-edition nature, high quality, and continuing popularity of Warner Bros. characters. Even “lesser” items, like my Superman Blue watch, can go for respectable sums.
Collectibles like these are why it can pay to have an expert eye a collection before you dispose of it, especially if you’re not the one who accumulated it. People not in the know, or out of the loop, can find themselves prejudiced by an item’s origins. Folks don’t generally associate shopping malls, even the higher end ones that hosted Warner Bros. Studio Stores, with high-value merchandise. If you’ve got a collection you’re only guessing about, drop us a line to get some real answers about it! And if you’ve got a favorite Warner Bros. Studio Store piece, tell us about it below or on social media @b2pcollect.