By Shaun Markey –
A common characteristic of almost all collectors is that they collect more than one type of antique. It’s not surprising therefore to find collections within their collections.
As we move toward the winter months, many collectors will be hauling out their Christmas decorations. For antique lovers, that often means antique or vintage decorations.
Christmas is a religious and cultural celebration that is observed by billions of people around the world. In North America, the tradition developed over time into what we know as Christmas including the tree, ornamentation, cards, gift giving and, of course, overseeing it all – a veritable saint – Santa Claus. By about the 1860’s Christmas represented a flourishing industry in North America.
Antique Christmas decorations are a fascinating and unique area of collecting. The category fulfills the criteria for successful collecting. First of all, although somewhat hard to find, decorations and cards, the two most obvious items to collect, are available. Families were generally careful to preserve and protect their Christmas items which means every year they were put away in safekeeping.
The variety of designs, colours and forms of both decorations and cards is seemingly endless. I can certainly remember my family’s Christmas decorations from back in the 1950’s and 60’s, mainly the ones made from “mercury glass” – those shiny but fragile balls, bells, Santa Claus figures and clip-on birds with spun glass tails.
Of course, at the time, we all wanted to participate in decorating the Scotch pine tree my Dad used to buy from Kiwanis for $2 and tie to the top of his 1958 Ford Meteor station wagon. But, oh my, woe be the child who, in their haste to place their decoration on the tree, accidentally dropped one on the hardwood floor! At a special time like Christmas, accidents around the tree took on a special significance. Still, after stern looks and the occasional tear, the work of decorating the tree restarted in earnest and the broken ornament was forgotten.
Today, collectors search out these decorations and cards at all the usual venues: garage and estate sales, auctions and flea markets. I don’t know how many times, wandering through a summer time garage sale, I have been transported back in time at the sight of a box of Christmas decorations from the 1950’s or a set of lights from that period, still in their original box. Of course, the Internet abounds with all manner of these items and collectors will often resort to searching and buying online to find a particularly desirable item.
Santa Claus candy containers made from paper mache are popular with collectors. They are fragile of course, but they were manufactured and imported by the thousands, largely from Germany.
Collectors also eagerly seek out die-cut Christmas cards, especially examples from the Victorian era. The variety and forms are almost endless and the cards are colourful and often embossed. Perhaps the best-known manufacturer of these cards was London-based Raphael Tuck and Sons. The company flourished in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s – the heyday of cards. The Hallmark company started in 1910 and quickly rose to prominence in North America.
In addition to cards and ornaments, collectors will also seek out tree lights. Again, the shapes and sizes vary and collectors watch for bubbling lights, electric flameless candles, figurals and specialty shapes like stars and hearts. The teardrop shape in lights came to prominence in the 1950’s and remains with us today. Christmas advertising items are an area that also interests many collectors.
Is there a memory more vivid to us than waking up Christmas morning and approaching a tree festooned with twinkling lights and colourful decorations, gifts and packages stretching out from underneath it and covering the floor in all directions? I doubt it. It is those emotionally charged moments and occasions in life that prompt people to collect objects that remind them of a particular time and place.
The next time you’re at a local rummage sale, church bazaar, garage sale or auction, keep an eye open for the old Christmas decorations and cards. They will likely be there, perhaps still in an original box in which they were kept safe for many years. See if they don’t tug at your heartstrings and take you back, at least for a brief moment, to your Christmases past. Be careful though, you might just start a collection of them!
Church bazaars and fall fairs are a great place to find vintage Christmas ornaments to add to your collection.
Upcoming church bazaars and craft fairs in Kitchissippi
- November 17-18: OHS Auxiliary’s Christmas Craft Sale
- November 19: All Saints Village Fair
- November 19: Champlain Park Craft Fair
- November 19: Fall Fair at First
- November 19: Hintonburg Artisan Craft Fair
- November 26: Churchill Alternative School Craft Sale
- November 26: St. Martin’s Christmas Bake Shop, Bistro & Baubles Bonanza
- December 3: Fisher Park Christmas Craft Show and Sale