Collecting for Christmas

Collecting for Christmas

Edward, Linda

When you’re a collector, Christmas can last all year long.

Many of the same aspects that draw doll lovers into collecting can also lure the unsuspecting collector into the world of Christmas-related dolls and decorations. I have been so lured! Over the years, while traveling to antique shows in the never-ending quest for dolls, I began to pick up a Christmas item or two. Consequently, now I need a good two weeks to unpack and set up my Christmas collection every year.

Some of the pieces in my collection are related to my love of dolls. The wax creche figure at top right is an example of this. Early modelers of wax figures worked primarily in making religious pieces. It was only in the mid 19th century that these craftsmen seriously turned their talents to making play dolls. Families such as the Montanaris and Perrottis created some of the most beautiful wax dolls the world has known. Meanwhile the German tradition of Christmas decoration was embraced by the Victorian world, and many fine holiday objects were made. This creche piece comes to us out of both traditions. The modeling on the Christ child itself is very well detailed, and his inset glass eyes bring him to life. The bisque angels that surround him are of German origin, as are the little wooden sheep. He resides within the same glass dome that has held him for the last 110 years or so. The metal tinsel and star are lovely antique Christmas items in themselves. The fact that these items were brought out to display only once a year explains why pieces like this are so often found intact.

The next creche scene shown at the top of the next page is a 20th-century product made by George Henri LeClerc of New Bedford, Mass. Mr. LeClerc spent much of his career working as the chief production manager for the Tynietoy Co. in Providence, R.I. Tynietoy was a cottage industry that made charming dollhouses and miniatures from about 1918 until 1953. LeClerc left Tynietoy in 1938 and continued to make miniatures almost until the time of his death in 1972. Many exhibits of his room boxes were held during the 1930s and ’40s. One of his favorite themes was the stable depicting the birth of Christ. Many examples of his creches have been found over the years. As is typical with all LeCerc room boxes, both the wooden exterior and interior walls have carved details. The exterior walls were often given a plaster coating on the outside that was painted to simulate other materials. His creches were made with this faux-stone finish. The pieces inside were primarily the imported figures typically found in American stores during the time, but his additions of carved wooden trunks and tools add a special touch to his depiction of the holy birth.

Doll collectors have long favored paper dolls, and the piece on page 59 has a place in both the worlds of ephemera and Christmas collectibles. It is a paper cut-out toy that was printed in the Boston Sunday Globe on Dec. 22, 1895. The image is made up of a number of separate pieces that fit together with slots and tabs, much like many of the more conventional topic paper dolls of its day. Another delightful paper holiday toy is the lithographed puzzle shown here. Lithography is a process of making a print from a design etched onto a metal plate. These prints were then hand-tinted. Made shortly before the turn of the 20th century, it shows a more European-looking Father Christmas, who appears to be lecturing a little boy hopefully waiting for the toy monkey in St. Nicholas’ hand. Children’s puzzles like these portray the highly sentimentalized visions of perfect childhood holidays so favored by the Victorians.

Santa dolls have been made of every material conceivable, and in both European and American garb, they remain as popular as ever. Santa candy containers, such as the Edwardian one at the top of page 59, are one of the many versions of the jolly old elf. From the late 1950s to early 1960s comes the vinyl mask-faced Santa with red flannel body. He was probably made by Knickerbocker.

The mercury glass reindeer shown on page 12 were made in the 1930s, and considering their fragility, it is a wonder that so many examples survive for the collector of today.

The possibilities for collecting Christmas items seems nearly endless and ensures that Christmas lasts all year.

Copyright Ashton International Media, Inc. Dec 2003/Jan 2004

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