Skip to content
This Don Dewa Zuni inlay shell and coral Betty Boop ring realized $200 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2021. Image courtesy of Billy The Kid Auction House and LiveAuctioneers.

Bid Smart: Betty Boop: Closing in on a century as a cartoon ‘It’ girl

This Don Dewa Zuni inlay shell and coral Betty Boop ring realized $200 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2021. Image courtesy of Billy The Kid Auction House and LiveAuctioneers.
This Don Dewa Zuni inlay shell and coral Betty Boop ring realized $200 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2021. Image courtesy of Billy The Kid Auction House and LiveAuctioneers.

NEW YORK — One of the earliest female animated characters, dubbed the “Queen of Cartoons,” is the unflappable Betty Boop. She has been a pop culture icon for decades, instantly recognizable for her large eyes framed with long lashes, curly hair and a button nose. Her most distinctive feature is her curvy figure that usually sports a dress short enough to expose a leg garter.

Few know that her character, which made its first appearance in 1930 in the cartoon short Dizzy Dishes, began as a human-like dog. She was depicted as a French poodle but was soon redrawn as a woman, with her floppy dog ears becoming dangling earrings. Her character was originally a supporting role as the girlfriend of the main character, Bimbo, but her popularity with audiences soon made her a star.

Walt Disney Studios is well known for its cartoons but back in the 1930s, it competed with Max Fleischer, whose studio created Betty Boop and another memorable character, Popeye. Betty Boop was said to be an archetype of the Jazz Age as a modern day flapper girl. Her roots are tied up in controversy, though. She was reportedly based on the Black vocalist Esther Jones, who sang in Harlem’s Cotton Club in the 1920s and whose signature style included using “boops” and other childlike vocalizations. However, Fleisher was quoted as saying he wanted the character to be a caricature of Helen Kane, who later unsuccessfully sued the studio for stealing her “boop oop a doop” line to use in their character. Video footage confirmed that Jones’ use of “boops” in songs predated Kane’s.

A boxed Mickey Mouse Time is Gold whirligig featuring Betty Boop, dating to the 1930s and made in Japan, attained $26,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2022. Image courtesy of Bertoia Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
A boxed Mickey Mouse Time is Gold whirligig featuring Betty Boop, dating to the 1930s and made in Japan, attained $26,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2022. Image courtesy of Bertoia Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Regardless of her origin story, Betty Boop went on to appear in 90 animated shorts in the 1930s and starred in comic strips and merchandising. She had a bit of a revival in the 1980s and appeared in three films, including Who Framed Roger Rabbit in 1988. She still attracts fans and collectors, and there is even a Betty Boop store at Universal’s Islands of Adventure park in Orlando, Fla.

Given her popularity, it’s easy enough to find Betty Boop collectibles. She debuted two years after Mickey Mouse made his first appearance in Steamboat Willie, and early items sometimes featured both characters even though they were from competing studios. A scarce Japanese Time is Gold celluloid whirligig from the 1930s, pairing Mickey Mouse with Betty Boop, attained $26,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2022 at Bertoia Auctions. When the toy was wound, Betty’s figure would spin while the clock hands turned.

A Betty Boop pocket watch brought $4,543, including the buyer’s premium, in March 2020. Image courtesy of Hake’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
A Betty Boop pocket watch brought $4,543, including the buyer’s premium, in March 2020. Image courtesy of Hake’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

An early licensed item, marked ©1934 Fleischer Studios, Inc., is a pocket watch by Ingraham that featured Betty’s face on the dial, with her arms serving as the watch hands. Pictured on the back was Bimbo, whose look was intentionally designed to be similar to Mickey Mouse. The two-inch diameter watch brought $4,543, including the buyer’s premium, in March 2020 at Hake’s Auctions. In its auction description, Hake’s Auctions wrote that this was “one of the rarest and most desirable comic character timepieces,” and it had only offered a few examples in more than 50 years.

A Betty Boop jointed cameo doll with box sold for $3,750 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2019. Image courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
A Betty Boop jointed cameo doll with box sold for $3,750 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2019. Image courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Among the most desirable Betty Boop items are figurines and dolls, not least because they show her curvy figure in three dimensions. A circa-1930s Betty Boop cameo doll having a composition head and body with jointed arms and legs sold for $3,750 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2019 at Dan Morphy Auctions. The original box, which came with the doll, is inscribed on all sides as “A Paramount Star.”

Lifesize Betty Boop figures are likely more rare. One that was probably made in the last few decades was a cast aluminum statue standing 61in tall that earned $750 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2022 at Redlands Antique Auction. Wearing a body-hugging red jumper with white cuffs and collar, Betty is depicted as a car hop waitress.

A Betty Boop cast aluminum car hop statue earned $750 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2022. Image courtesy of Redlands Antique Auction and LiveAuctioneers.
A Betty Boop cast aluminum car hop statue earned $750 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2022. Image courtesy of Redlands Antique Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

Jewelry is one collecting category in which Betty Boop pieces are modestly priced. A statement piece is a Don Dewa sterling silver with inlay shell and coral Betty Boop ring that realized $200 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2021 at Billy The Kid Auction House. Known for his fine inlay pieces, the Zuni artist has been making jewelry since the 1970s.

Though she continues to draw new generations of fans, many Betty Boop items are nonetheless affordable, making them attractive to collectors across the spectrum. As long as she remains a pop culture icon, Betty Boop will continue to win new hearts and inspire a sea of boop oop a doop merchandise.

Betty Boop