Christmas Collectors Celebrate Every Day

This old German Santa lights the way with tiny electric lights run by a backpack battery system in which little cords are attached directly to battery terminals hidden inside a brass basket on his back. It dates to 1900-10.

Christmas collectors are the most passionate collectors around. These enthusiasts love to gather antique Christmas treasures and display them no matter the season.

One of the stars of the season is that jolly old elf, Santa Claus.

You would be amazed at the number of images, figures and variations available to Santa enthusiasts. There’s even a Santa saver who amassed more than 4,000 versions of the elf who posted a movie about this collection on You Tube.

Collectors save Santa figures, made in everything from celluloid to plaster, but also collect tree ornaments, postcards and novelties, like ice cream molds and dishes.

Also known as Saint Nicholas, Kris Kringle, Pere Noel and Father Christmas, Santa is famous the world over, which means there are many interpretations of him in the advertising and pop culture world.

New Yorker Clement C. Moore popularized the Santa legend when he penned his 1822 poem that began, “Twas the night before Christmas.” Santa became the jolly elf with sled, reindeer and a down-the-chimney slide right into your home at night.

Antique versions of this book and Golden Book images from the beloved poem are often part of a Christmas enthusiast’s collection.

Perhaps the most beloved image here in the United States is the Thomas Nast version of Santa that dates to 1881. An illustrator active in the Victorian age, the era when so many of our Christmas customs began, Nast is often credited with creating our modern image of a jolly, whiskered, round little Santa.

Nast sketched this happy Santa, complete with toys and pipe, to illustrate the article, “Merry Old Santa Claus,” in Harper’s Weekly magazine. It was an instant hit.

Before this, Santa Claus was commonly portrayed as Saint Nicholas, a stern, tall patriarch in bishop’s robes and miter that more closely matched European tradition.

These early versions of Saint Nick often featured blue, green or white attire, not red. During the 19th century, the two opposing portrayals of a jolly Santa and a stern religious Santa were both common.

There was even a cranky German Santa known as Belsnickle, who was thought to be the companion of the good St. Nicholas on Christmas Eve. This old man was the bearer of good or bad news depending on the behavior of the children since he brought sugarplums to good children and switches to bad ones.

Collectors seek all these Santas dressed in unusual colors that portray his changing status. There are blue, pink and green versions in the antique world, made of many different materials. A recent version of Santa shows him kneeling at the creche and this too is popular.

Postcards also chronicled Santa’s appearance and collectors enjoy saving antique Santa postcards with their beautiful designs, top grade papers and rich colors. These make a decorative Christmas book, when slipped into a photo album and placed on the coffee table, for visitors to flip through.

Another big boost to Santa’s image here in the U.S. occurred in the middle of the 20th century when the Coca-Cola soft drink company hired artist Haddon Sundblom to develop an ad to boost sales in the winter. The Coca-Cola Santa is cheerful and possibly the one most often copied today.

Collected by both Coke fans and Santa enthusiasts, the soft drink ads and memorabilia are huge today – but beware the reproductions.

Another common collectible in the retro Santa world is ceramics. I have managed to collect a group of Santa mugs over the years, which I display every Christmas, along with vintage Santa ornaments.

Some are old, some are new, but they are all cheerful holiday depictions of everyone’s favorite visitor.

There really is a collectible version of Santa for everyone! So Merry Christmas and enjoy your favorite version, ho-ho-ho!

For comments or suggestions on local treasures to be featured in Antique of the Week, Maureen Zambito can be reached via email at zambitomaureen@hotmail.com or by writing in care of this newspaper.

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