This Place Gets Me Quite Animated
Cheshire (Google Maps location)
September 2014 & January 2017
Most readers know that I rarely visit the same museum twice. That’s not a statement on the quality of the museums, but rather a simple function of logistics and my oh-so precious time. I’ve been to The Barker thrice… which I think makes it one of only two in the state I’ve been inside so many times. (The Children’s Museum in West Hartford being the other.)
I know you are quite used to my overly explanatory pages about Connecticut’s museums. You most likely skim through these pages, looking for cute pictures of my sons and just try to get the gist of whether or not the museum would be worth your while. You’re in luck: I won’t be writing too too much on this page! But there will be a billion pictures, so I’ll cut right to the chase: The Barker is absolutely worth your while.
Now you can go back to your preferred social media stream.
What? Some of you are still here? Aw, shucks. That’s very sweet of you. Now you get to learn what this place is.
The BCCCM’s wide array of cartoon toys, comics, lunchboxes and the everyday items of childhood were collected and preserved over a 70 year period by Herb and Gloria Barker, even as they worked to establish their own business, Barker Specialty Company, founded in 1948.
The BCCCM showcases over 150 years worth of childhood possessions, numbering over 80,000 items in total. Herb and Gloria began their collection by visiting tag sales, at a time before people realized that cast-off toys had an intrinsic value and interest for future generations. These objects were quite ordinary in their day, but bring back countless memories for visitors from around the world!
The museum is jam-packed and quite large. But in addition, there is also the Barker Animation Art Gallery. I doubt too many visitors really separate the two entities, but they are definitely separate. (For one, you can access the gallery for free, but not the museum.
The purchase of a Mickey Mouse original production drawing in the 1960s marked the beginning of a lifelong love of animation art for Herbert and Gloria Barker. That was the seed for a collection that grew and flourished over the years – which ultimately inspired them, in time, to open four internationally acclaimed art animation and pop art galleries and the famed Barker Character, Comic and Cartoon Museum.
Having assisted both seasoned and novice collectors since November 13, 1993, Barker Animation has remained one of the most trusted and preferred sources for animation and pop culture art and collectibles for the past two decades.
Authorized and approved by more than twenty production / publication studios, all offered artwork comes directly from the studio in question (never previously owned, or from the secondary market) and arrives with the original Studio Certificate of Authenticity (if applicable).
There is some really cool stuff in the art gallery and I’ve enjoyed my visits to it. I’ve written many times that I have no interest in collecting anything (sorry Barkers!) and cartoon cels are not something going on my walls. But I appreciate them all the same.
Of all of Connecticut’s 700 or so museums, The Barker Museum is perhaps the most individualized experience. Yes, even more than our art museums. We all have different childhood memories from different eras. And The Barker preys on those often lost memories and exploits them to each visitor’s glee. So in that spirit, attempting to tell you what you’ll like here is a fool’s mission. So my overriding theme on this page is: “Go. Visit The Barker yourself. Get lost in your own nostalgia and don’t pay attention to mine.”
And I have a lot of it when I visit here.
The Barker Character, Comic & Cartoon Museum in Cheshire, Connecticut is a unique institution, as it is one of the most complete expressions of an American childhood through the ages. The Museum houses the personal collection of Gloria and Herbert Barker, an assembling of almost 80,000 items that took over forty years to create. The Barkers were in a select group of people, back in the 1960s, who felt that the everyday items of childhood had a value for future generations, bringing back memories, or expressing a child’s life through the ordinary toys, lunchboxes, games and tools of common usage.
Since the museum opened to the public in September of 1997, the Barker family has reached out to the community in many ways. They have welcomed everyone who visited the museum, from local families to tourists from around the world, and almost everywhere in-between. The collection, which spans the years from 1873 to present day, stimulates discussions among the generations in a way that few museums can. Every generation will find favorite toys on display, and historians can enjoy an unusual glimpse into styles and trends of the past.
As you can see I went with my two sons and even my wife once. At the time of the first visit with the boys in 2014, The Barker was a “no photos” museum. The young man working there followed us around pretty closely, but that was because I had a three-year-old and a special needs eight-year-old. Still, this made my habit of sneaking pictures difficult.
As I was leaving, it dawned on me that I never saw a sign saying “no pictures.” Then I saw another visitor snapping shots with her cell phone right in front of the hawk-guy. Hm. Ain’t that somethin’.
It sure was, especially after I emailed the Barker Museum and asked about picture-taking:
Now that cell phones are so popular & have no flashes to fade the collection we are not so fussy about taking pictures.
Sigh. Of course, it matters not as we revisited a few years later and now, as you see, I took way too many pictures. But for good reason! I mean, look at this place! At the risk of being repetitive, here’s more from them – and this paragraph has a bonkers claim:
Herb and Gloria were dedicated to keeping America’s rich cartoon heritage alive, gathering beloved artifacts that date from 1873 to present day. In addition to the BCCCM, the Barkers founded the largest retail animation and entertainment art gallery in the world – Barker Animation Art Gallery. Barker Animation had its Grand Opening in West Hartford in 1993. In 1994, operations moved to the Barker complex in Cheshire, where it has remained ever since. The Gallery maintains a large collection of vintage and current artwork from the artists in the field of animation and pop culture. To give this artwork even more exposure to the public, Gloria and Herb opened an additional gallery at The Tanger Outlets at Foxwoods in Mashantucket, CT in 2016.
Wait… what?! “The largest retail animation and entertainment art gallery in the world?!” Why isn’t this a bigger thing? I’ve been there multiple times! (The gallery in Cheshire is quite small, actually, but I suppose if you consider the one at Foxwoods (still open in 2021) and maybe some online business too? I don’t know. But it sounds a bit impossible to me.
Here’s another goofy thing – there are technically a bunch of museums here. Within the main Barker Museum, you can find The California Raisins, Gumby, and CelebriDucks Museums. That’s right. Now, in 2021, I’m not finding the same descriptions on their website save for the CelebriDuck Museum, but hey… they still exist as far as I know.
And they say things like ,”Barker Character, Comic & Cartoon Museum has one of the finest California Raisins collections in the world” and it, “houses our country’s largest collection of character toys and is the only official CelebriDucks Museum in the world!” This place rules.
The oldest pieces in the museum are two cast iron elephant ramp walkers. Manufactured in 1873 by The Ives Toy Company of Bridgeport, they would “walk” down even the slightest incline. I noticed they also have some original Mickey Mouse watches from Ingersoll in nearby Waterbury. I learned all about them at the now-closed Timexpo Museum when we visited.
It’s the rare museum that appeals to 40-something me and my young sons equally. And in fact, I bet my Boomer dad wouldn’t mind poking around here either. Such is the appeal of nostalgia, cartoons, and generational pop culture.
Around every corner you’ll find something that will make you exclaim, “Oh snap! Remember this! I loved this when I was a kid!” In fact, I’m sure there will be something in at least a few of my pictures.
Speaking of which, here’s a bunch more.