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Unexpected Gifts

Jeffrey Pearson ISA

11/1/2011


Decorations come in all shapes and sizes, but did you know that some are rare and one of a kind?  For years we have traditionally placed these trinkets of beauty amongst the confusion of twigs and branches upon that tree sitting in our living room not realizing just how far back some of the decorations have traveled in your family lineage. From wooden  nutcracker soldiers to glass tree ornaments, this appraiser hopes to help you identify what vintage or antique Christmas items might be in those dusty boxes stashed away for so many years that might have collectible interest. 

Our culture started decorating trees with basic home items such as popcorn and garlands.  This was so until the mid 1800's when German craftsmen began producing images of fruits, hearts, stars, and angels of all colors in glass and their popularity soared.  In the 1880s American entrepreneur F.W. Woolworth began importing these German treasures to his retail five and dime stores all across the country thus jolting a Christmas ornament craze.   After World War I, American innovators began mass-producing similar ornaments and sent them to other American companies to be decorated by hand; and by 1930 Christmas had become a big business, and children eagerly awaited the arrival of Christmas toy catalogs from Sears and Montgomery Ward. 

Department stores decorated huge Christmas trees, established places for kids to meet Santa, and designed over-the-top window displays of their toys often encircled by a life-like Lionel train set reminiscent in the Christmas classic A Christmas Story.  All the trappings of this era are highly collectible. 

Other collectibles began with the 1892 debut of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite ballet which helped established nutcrackers as a Christmas holiday tradition. The "crackers" we are most familiar with were first produced by German craftsmen in the early 1800s as functional decorations in the shapes of soldiers, kings and woodsmen.  With their iconic beards and painted rosy cheeks, German nutcrackers soon found a large audience in America with soldiers bringing them home during World War II that spurred a wave of collecting. Several makers still produce collectible limited edition nutcrackers which depending on condition may help you have a very Merry Christmas. 

Coca-Cola was one of the first major companies to jump on the Christmas bandwagon helping to define Santa in the process. In the 1930's the company began producing a number of Christmas advertisements featuring Santa enjoying a Coca-Cola.  Santa Claus likeness stems from such advertisements and many Christmas antiques and collectibles are modeled after an advertisers imaginative image. Celluloid figurines were among the earliest such incarnations for its easy molding.

If you think you might have something of value consult an appraiser who will guide you in the right direction.  So whether you consider them antiques or vintage collectibles, hold on tight to those hand-me-downs in the boxes in the attic, not to mention the new Christmas items you pick up this year.  You may never know if in twenty years your children will look up in the attic and see the old dusty boxes of ornaments and have the same thoughts of unexpected gifts.



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