Popeye Strong To the Finish

Popeye Strong To the Finish

LiveAuctionTalk.com: by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Bertoia Auctions.

“I’m strong to the finish, cause I eats me spinach, I’m Popeye the sailor man!” 

All seriousness aside, if you grew up in the 1950s you probably remember this character and his cartoons.  Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto, Wimpy, and Swee’pee lived in that simple world where simple values ruled. 

Popeye wasn’t all that smart, good looking or buff but he won the hearts of fans anyway.  He was the underdog who stood up for himself and didn’t get creamed.

“Thas’ all I can stands, ‘cause I can’t stands no more,” is a famous Popeye one-liner. 

How often have you been there in life?  Popeye’s sense of fair play was so noble.  Despite all odds, this spinach-obsessed half-pint was willing to take on the brute. And then there’s his beloved Olive Oyl. Olive Oyl is the antithesis of the voluptuous beauty as we define it in this culture.  Flat as a board.  Looks like she hasn’t eaten a good meal in months.  Hot dog nose. And fickle as all get out.  But she managed to capture the little guy’s heart with a simple kiss on the cheek.

“Thas’ all I can stands, ‘cause I can’t stands no more.”
— Popeye

Popeye actually made his first debut on Jan. 17, 1929 in Elzie Segar’s carton strip “Thimble Theatre.”  The strip originally revolved around Olive Oyl’s family and Popeye soon eclipsed his love as “star” of the show.

He then moved to the big screen in 1933 in the Betty Boop cartoon “Popeye the Sailor.”

Talk about art reflecting life.  This one is too good.  Spinach growers credited Popeye with a 33 per cent increase in U.S. spinach eating in the 1930s and also with rescuing the spinach industry during the Great Depression.

As much as I cherished Popeye as a kid my eating habits weren’t reflected in those statistics.  I hated canned spinach and had to sit it out at the kitchen table until my plate was clean anyway.

Our hero with the bulging forearms was also a patriot who joined the Navy in 1941 appearing in a number of shorts in his starchy white uniform.   

Famous Studios produced the cartoon from 1942 to 1957.  In 1960, King Features Syndicate stepped in creating 220 “Popeye the Sailor” cartoons for television syndication.   

From the 1930s to the 1960s Popeye reigned as one of the most popular cartoon characters ever.  His cartoon appeared in 638 newspapers around the country. 

In 1995 the U. S. Post Service even honored our beloved Popeye with a stamp of his own.  And the whole Popeye crew sailed to Orlando in 1999 to be showcased in the opening of Universal’s “Islands of Adventure” theme park.

How cool is that?  The little guy made it in spades.  Even artists like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Jeff Koons honored the man on canvas.

As a cartoon, Popeye’s star seems to be fading.  He’s appearing in less and less newspapers.  But as a collectible, he’s still very much alive. 

On May 9-10, Bertoia Auctions, Vineland, N.J., featured a selection of Popeye toys in its toy auction. 

Popeye Playing Basketball; lithographed tin; Linemar, Japan; 9 inches high;  $767.

Popeye Wooden Figure with Donald Duck Wooden Figure; spring necks; Linemar, Japan; copr. Walt Disney Productions; box included; each 4 inches high;  $767.

Chein Popeye Floor Puncher; lithographed tin; clockwork driven; 7 inches high;  $1,121.

Popeye Express; features tunnels, trestle bridge; and Popeye characters; lithographed tin base; Louis Marx; copr. King Features Syndicate; 10 inches diameter;  $1,652.

Popeye and Olive Oyl Jiggers; lithographed tin; 9 ½ inches high; Louis Marx; boxed examples; $1,652.


Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her LiveAuctionTalk.com website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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