M Papel Design

As founder of M Papel Design, I am the proud granddaughter of Phil Papel and daughter of Stanley Papel, making me the 3rd generation of Papels in the business. The giftware industry has been home to the Papel family for over 60 years, where the name Papel is recognized as one of the pioneers of social expression giftware.

I grew up in the family business. In fact, my grandfather was the first person to bring personalized name mugs to the gift retail trade. Those nostalgic “World’s Greatest” and “#1” mug series were conceived by my dad and aunt. My education in the industry actually began at home. In elementary school, I remember organizing my dad’s project folders. In high school, I helped put portfolios together for his clients. When I got my driver’s license, my dad had me bring mug samples to show retailers and their customers in an effort to gather feedback. I assisted our Marketing Director on catalog photo shoots when I would come home during college breaks. These tasks all proved to be invaluable lessons and the foundation for what I was to do later.

In 2001, I started working at Papel Designs full time with my father where we created a line of social expression mugs, socks and other giftware. In 2003, the Papel trademarks and intellectual properties were repurchased (see the PAPEL TIMELINE). Alongside my dad and one other product manager from CastArt Papel, we redeveloped nearly a thousand SKUs under license, covering classic Papel concepts such as Midlife Crisis, Professions, Golf, a Retirement Series, a Family Series, another popular Name Mug Program, along with several other lines. These were licensed to The Encore Group domestically and ito nearly 20 other countries internationally, including Russ. The Papels were back in the swing of things.

Then in 2008, there was the recession and retail took a big hit. The Encore Group closed down and eventually Papel downsized. In 2009, Santa Barbara Design Studio offered me a product development position where I was to help build collections beyond their #1 wine glass line and diversify the product offering. I took tremendous satisfaction working with the SBDS team and with licensors like Curly Girl Design®, That’s All®, Naughty Betty®, Christopher Vine Design® and others. In March 2015, Papel signed a licensing agreement through 2017 with Christian Brands, which was launching a secular division named CB Gift. At this time, I rejoined my dad to oversee all of the new Papel branded product development with CB Gift.

Now, it’s a new day for the Papel name in the giftware industry. In June 2017, I opened M Papel Design to keep the spirit of social expression that is inherent in the Papel bloodline thriving and growing into the future.

M Papel Design is a giftware company that specializes in developing relevant, contemporary social expression gift items.

We strongly believe that a gift is the means of connecting two people, for any occasion, and the sentiment on the item speaks directly to the relationship itself.  There’s an experience that happens when one person gives a gift to another; the feeling of being thought about upon receiving it; and the experience of using it after it’s been given. When it’s a mug, it can say a lot about what someone thinks of you; and it can also tell the world at large what you want it to know about you.  And after being a part of a family business, we also appreciate when you hold our gifts in your hands.


◙ 1955      Phil Papel launches  Ruggles China & Gift Stores. Ruggles grew to 20+ locations and Ruggles also begins wholesale distribution.

◙ 1962   The wholesale division is incorporated as Phil Papel Imports.

◙ 1970   Stanley Papel joins the company and together they are the first to introduce the concept of a mug as a social expression/personalization gift item.

 1976   Papel Giftware goes global with a network of distributors selling Papel in over 20 countries.

◙ 1985   Company changes name to Papel Giftware and is recognized as a leader in the giftware industry for Social and Personal expression Giftware.

 1987   Papel Giftware is sold to Russ Berrie & Company, Inc.

 1990   Stanley Papel leaves Papel Giftware and launches Papel Designs, which consulted and licensed over 3000 designs to companies such as Hallmark, Ganz, Enesco, Giftcraft, Gund, Russ Berrie, The Encore Group, Xpres, Dakin, Figi, Otagiri as well as several internationally based importers

 1996   Russ Berrie sells Papel/Freelance to Zebra Capital which later sells to Cast Art.

 1999   Papel Designs reemerges in the wholesale market with a line of social expression mugs, socks and social expression giftware.

 2001   Melissa Papel joins the company and begins to oversee all new product development.

 2003   Stanley Papel repurchases all Papel trademarks, trade names and copyrights which were originally sold to Russ Berrie & Company in 1987 from Cast Art. Expands licensing of social expression products to 20 countries in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa/Mid-East

 2008   Giftware industry affected by economy resulted to several major licenses lost to Papel Designs including major USA customers. Papel downsizes business.

 2008   Melissa Papel Moscot joins Santa Barbara Design Studio to oversee licenses such as licenses such as Curly Girl Design ®, That’s All ®, Naughty Betty ®, Christopher Vine Design ® expanding , but took great satisfaction in  such as Christopher Vine, Curly Girl Design, and get That’s All

 2012   Papel Designs obtains new licenses in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and UK with product introductions beginning 2013. USA license for socks confirmed with Evolution Avenue.

 2014   The Little Shop on Main Street authored by Dave Mason is published. Book tells story of Ruggles and Papel. Book sells out by 2015.

 2015    Papel signs license agreement with Christian Brands (secular division “CB Gift) introducing new mug designs in the USA in 2016 and 2017. Melissa rejoined to oversee all new social expression/personalization product management of the major projects.  Subsequently, CB Gift acquires Santa Barbara Design Studio and signs a license agreement with That’s All which was launched at SBDS by Melissa while she was there. The Papel agreement comes to an end 2017.

◙ 2017    Melissa Papel Moscot launches social expression product development and design company M Papel Design ™ to continue the Papel legacy while Stanley plans his retirement.

 2018    Publication planned for Beyond The Little Shop on Main Street by Stanley Papel. Further announcements to be published.

by Dave Mason

It was July 6, 1955, just days before the Grand Opening of Disneyland in Anaheim, California.  Phil and Sophie Papel had just been issued their Disneyland identification cards which would prove to one and all that they had been chosen as opening day merchants on Main Street USA.

Disney imagineer Harry Johnson’s original concept sketches had been fully realized in the fixtures and furnishings of a turn-of-the-century China & Glass shop.  The task that lay ahead would include unpacking and carting the merchandise that Phil and Sophie had purchased to fill the shop.   The product was stored in a farmhouse in the near-by community of Garden Grove.  The select merchandise would feature Wright Glass, Smith Glass, and a large selection of imports from England and West Germany.  Little did Phil and Sophie know at the time that what they imported would lead to a dynamic wholesale business and a chain of retail gift shops in Southern California malls and tourist areas for the years to come.  Along with the shop at Disneyland, their success would quickly spread to include locations at attractions such as Movieland Wax Museum, Ports O’Call Village, and the historic Queen Mary ocean liner.

Phil Papel started Ruggles China & Gifts as a single gift shop in Disneyland that resulted in a 20-store retail chain and wholesale corporation with sales in over 15 countries.  Beyond the Papel family’s wildest expectations, over 250,000,000 mugs have since reached consumers worldwide through their giftware companies.

Ultimately, this little shop in Disneyland resulted in associations over the years that touched the major giftware corporations including Hallmark, Enesco, Russ Berrie, and Ganz.  Today, the offset of the retail shop is the same corporation, with their giftware designs having been distributed in over 15 countries.

Phil Papel knew the tremendous value of being at the right place, at the right time.  Those who excel in their chosen field realize early that success doesn’t happen by accident, but is the result of hard work and a relentless drive to carve out new opportunities within uncharted territory.

In that sense, Phil Papel was the perfect partner for Walt Disney.  Both men had spent a lifetime celebrating that moment of serendipity when a customer discovers the perfect expression of their personal interests.  When a merchant can cause that moment to happen over and over again, that person has tapped into the stream of public expectation and the result can be unprecedented success.

Nothing like Disneyland had existed before 1955.  The traveling circuses, carnivals and amusement shows were well known, and most American homes had the souvenir pennants and postcards that were saved as a remembrance of the excitement that had come to town.   Still, when Walt Disney introduced Disneyland on ABC television in October 1954, the entire nation could sense that something extraordinary was about to unfold.   For Phil Papel, his lifetime of experience in the giftware industry would position him as a front-runner in the most exciting entrepreneurial venture of the twentieth century.

Both men knew they couldn’t achieve success on their own.  Walt didn’t have the resources or experience to operate a large shopping center.  Disney was a specialist in filmmaking.  He knew that it would take time for his team to learn the art of merchandising on this scale, and he needed experienced partners to meet the expectations of a worldwide customer base that understood and appreciated his commitment to the finest in quality.

Phil Papel believed that this was the opportunity he had been working toward all his life.  Upon learning that Disney would be interviewing potential merchants to fill the shops of Main Street, Papel was among the first to express interest.  He was eager to place his merchandise in this new marketplace, and he understood that this would be an expansion that could put him at the forefront of a whole new wave of commerce.

The hurdles to Papel’s involvement were not insignificant.  Main Street’s original merchants would be required to pay for the furnishings and decor of their shops.  Not the humble decor that would have been suitable for Anaheim’s downtown business district, but Disneyland was to be Walt Disney’s personal showplace.  The shops would be finely appointed and designed by Hollywood’s most talented art directors.  Main Street’s design would rival the finest Victorian homes and businesses to be found anywhere in the country.  Beveled glass doors and windows, antique gaslamps, velvet curtains, brass fittings; these were finishes that came at a high price, and that price was paid, in advance, by this first generation of Main Street merchants.  In addition, each shopkeeper would be required to pay their entire first year’s lease, again, in advance.

Clearly, Disney needed the money.  Their seventeen million-dollar financing package was completely exhausted.  Walt Disney had mortgaged his home in Palm Springs and had cashed in his life insurance.  The negatives to “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” were leveraged in order to obtain the studio’s share of funding for Walt’s new project.  The well was completely dry.  Without the inflow of operating capital from this new group of merchants, Disneyland would not have been able to open that summer.  If that were to prove true, it would spell the end of Walt’s dream.  Even so, Walt Disney never looked back, and neither did Phil Papel.

Papel had learned about ceramics from a small production studio that was originally housed in his mother’s garage (converted from a prohibition-era distillery in the Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles).  This enterprise eventually grew to become a successful domestic ceramic and gift manufacturer called Ever Art Ceramics, and likely contributed the incentive Papel would have needed in founding a small business of his own.

When he was notified of his selection as one of the original merchants for Walt Disney’s new theme park, Papel was asked to choose a new name for his shop.  His excitement over this new opportunity reminded him of the 1932 Paramount Pictures film, “If I Had a Million.”

In the film, famed character actor Charlie Ruggles played “Mr. Henry Peabody”, the owner of a China Shop who had just received a million-dollar gift at the bequest of a complete stranger.  Upon learning of this unexpected wealth, he picked up a broom and began smashing all of the glass and china in his shop with an unbounded expression of total rapture.

So complete was Papel’s joy in hearing that he had been selected for Walt Disney’s new venture, that he immortalized Charlie Ruggles in the name of his brand new shop on Main Street USA: “Ruggles China and Gift Shop.”

It is interesting to note that Charles Ruggles was not known to work for the Disney organization until his unforgettable role as Hayley Mills’ adoring grandfather in the 1961 film, “The Parent Trap.”  But for Phil Papel and his family, Ruggles early film role in “If I Had a Million” gave perfect expression to the pinnacle of opportunity which had suddenly placed them in 1955 on Disneyland’s Main Street USA.

The Papel family found a way to generate the funding needed in order to demonstrate their commitment to Walt Disney and to the Disneyland project.  During the busy days before the park’s opening, each member of the Papel family was pressed into service so that the shelves could be stocked and merchandise cleaned and tagged for sale.  Phil and his wife Sophie worked tirelessly until the shop was ready for opening day on July 17, 1955. Something dynamic was happening, and it felt right to all involved.  There was a new hope, and a new future unfolding before this young family.

During those early years, Phil’s son, Stanley Papel, then age 13 and future owner of Papel Giftware unpacked the German Lead crystal toothpick vases that Phil and Sophie developed for the store.  Phil proudly said these cost only 1 mark each (then 20-cents) and I am going to sell them for 79-cents, or 2 for $1.50.   This item later wholesaling for 40-cents ended up selling in the millions in the USA and was the item that started the Papel wholesale division then named Phil Papel Imports.

Daughter, Arlene Papel, then age 8 and now the Vice President of Product Development of Ganz, spent her early summers wrapping grab bags at the store. Phil bought closeouts that were then wrapped in colorful grab bags that were to be a main feature in the store.  Originally retailing at 50-cents (with values up to $5.00) the counter display sign read, “Odds much better than Las Vegas”.  Arlene proudly bragged that she was making 60-cents an hour based upon Phil’s rate of 1-penny per grab bag.  This became her summer job for many years when the family would move from their Los Angeles home to Anaheim for the busy summer season.

Stanley Papel remembers that his father’s shop at Disneyland focused only within the China & Glass category.  Specifically excluded were authorized Disneyland souvenirs, as these were sold at the Disneyland Emporium.  However, Ruggles’ would be allowed to sell a narrow line of collectibles featuring the word “Disneyland” on the item.  Phil developed gift items that did not infringe but created the feeling of what people liked about Disney and Disneyland.  “ The number one item that I remember my Dad developed”, states Stan, “was a fairy that looked remarkably similar to Tinker Bell.  Of course, it never said, “Tinker Bell”, but this fairy had wings and a pin going from her head to a stand.  You’d blow on the wings and the fairy would spin.  We had them right by the cash register and the sales girls (and, my Dad) would blow on the wings and that fairy would spin!  During a good summer day we would go through 2 gross of them.”  This may have raised a few eyebrows at the Emporium, but Disney cleared the concept for the Ruggles store, and led to one of their most successful products in the history of the shop.  The spinning “fairy” sold for only $1.98 when it was introduced.  Almost five decades later, when this line of rare ceramics appears on eBay, it is not unusual for the final auction price to surpass two hundred dollars.

While other merchants at Disneyland found that they either lacked the experience or capital to survive in those early days, the Papel family found that Main Street visitors were enthusiastic about Ruggles China and Gift Shop.  So much so, that when the Hollywood-Maxwell corset shop closed next door, Ruggles jumped at the chance to expand with an upscale new line of china, ceramics and decorative glassware.

Millions of customers found their way through Ruggles during that first decade of Disneyland’s operation.  Papel’s personal philosophy insisted on only the highest regard for his customers.  This was clearly articulated on the display tables of the Main Street gift shop: “Relax. We do not charge for accidental breakage.”  This was in stark contrast to the sign hanging in the china shop of the Charlie Ruggles film, “If I Had a Million”, which read: “Fragile: Anything You Break You Pay For.”  Phil Papel won over the hearts of his customers with kindness and respect, and that first generation of Disneyland guests learned quickly that there truly was something special about this “Magic Kingdom.”

As with all of the early lessees of Main Street, this family business was eventually required to close as Disneyland exercised their option to assume operation of the Main Street shops.  While this may have seemed catastrophic at the time, the succeeding years were good to Phil Papel and his family.  In fact, it was Walt Disney himself who ensured that they were treated fairly during this transition, and as a result, the Papel family has a deep appreciation for both Walt Disney and for their own contributions to the continuing success of Disneyland.

Today, Phil’s son, Stanley Papel and granddaughter, Melissa Papel Moscot provide the primary leadership to Papel Designs (www.papeldesigns.com) as a successful worldwide giftware corporation.  Papel Designs continues to be blessed with a hope and a future that is rooted in the early commitment of its founder, Phil Papel.  The family and friends who have joined in this continuing story carry forward this same promise.  It’s probably safe to say that Phil would be very proud.  And come to think of it, so would Walt.

Dave Mason is an author and Disneyland historian living in San Diego, California.  His book, “The Merchants of Main Street”  was released in early 2004 by Town Square Publishing.