With Alan Blakeman of BBR Auctions, Elsecar
In the middle of cataloguing for BBR’s ‘Winter Wonders’ mixed antiques auction on December 3rd, I came across a delightful small tin featuring a heartwarming image of a truly jovial Santa Claus, aka Father Christmas, writing the name Alan on his Extra Good list.
As the festive season draws nearer, it seemed rather appropriate to consider collectables linked to this magical time of the year – and there’s a whole myriad of items to seek out which have survived from early Victorian times up to more recent years.
Sending Christmas Cards
While many of us send out Seasons Greetings to our family and friends, the very first Christmas card didn’t appear on the shelves until 1843. The idea was dreamt up by civil servant, Sir Henry Cole, who had assisted in forming the ‘Public Record Office’ which we now call the Post Office. Made up of three panels, Sir Henry’s first card’s design was helped by his artist friend, John Horsley, and sold for one shilling each.
Around 1,000 are believed to have been printed, but the originals are now very rare; you can expect to pay a few thousand for one – but beware of clever copies. From around 1860 the idea really took off and large numbers were produced; 1.5 billion were sent in America in 2010 – that’s some big tree felling!
Decorating the Tree
Speaking of trees, Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition we know today as early as the 16th century when devout Christians decorated trees inside their homes. It is a widely believed that Martin Luther, a 16th century Protestant reformer, was the first to add lights to his tree; inspired one evening whilst composing a sermon, he was in awe of the brilliance of the twinkling stars amidst the evergreen trees, he wired his tree branches with lighted candles.
Queen Victoria took on the Christmas ‘craze’ in 1846 and the entire country immediately followed suit. By the 1890s, Christmas tree ornaments from Germany were arriving and soon the UK started to create ever more wonderful ideas of their own.
Past tree decorations are highly varied and, with perseverance, can be gathered in a variety of shapes and colours. Red glass was the most expensive – needing gold in the mix – hence it is the rarest and most desirable in glass baubles and night lights.
For those who wish to dig a little deeper, there is a whole host of Christmas collectables out there to put together.
Snowbabies – or cake decorations – are delightful small figures, as the name implies, found in a multitude of humorous, playful designs.
In more recent years, the likes of Royal Doulton and other pottery companies latched onto Christmas collectables made for the market; most are all low cost, affordable buys.
We have covered tinplate toys in Aroundtown before, but sweet, biscuit and chocolate makers really were exceptionally imaginative in creating containers which had a dual purpose after the contents were emptied.
From tins shaped like trains, boats and buses, to airplanes, motorbikes and even clocks, some of the Victorian examples can now demand extremely high prices which may deter a collector starting out. But these have, in truth, proved sound investments; BBR has had some £3,000 and £4,000 high fliers, whilst John Morgan at Sheffield Auction Gallery has specialised in kiddies past playthings for several decades. Some men simply never grow up…
One year, whilst I was travelling to collectors’ fairs across America, I stayed with a couple who had a very serious bout of ‘collectoritis’. I was offered a choice of five guest bedrooms in which to sleep overnight, all adorned with differently themed collections. I declined the ‘rat and mouse trap room’ and hesitated over the ‘sweets and chocolates room’, instead I finally plumped for the Christmas one – secretly because I knew there’d be a lot of red which would remind me of being at the beloved Oakwell.
But, I digress. There are many fairly affordable old Christmas tins out there to still be picked up. If condition is not your major remit, you can gather together a wide spread which can be brought out at this time of year to decorate your home in a slightly different way to the modern store purchased made-for-the season pieces everyone else has.
I know one Mexborough collector who has compiled a very large gathering of old shop and public house lightboxes which connect to the mains. Every December he fills the front of his house and all the windows with such – hopefully people don’t think he is a shop and knock on the door.
Nowadays many of us condone the financial aspect of the season: “It’s all money, money, money.” But if you delve deeply into past advertising you will find nothing new – once the merry season took over, the hard sell of the retail world kicked into touch. From the European enamel sign shown here, to the many promotional adverts, most used the Christmasy ideas of Father Christmas, playing in the snow and the interior family home with adorned Christmas tree to sell their festive wares.
Happy Christmas to all readers, here’s to a happy collecting New Year ahead. Should you encompass the full Christmas collectomaniac bug, perhaps you could invite me round to review it to compare to that fantastic, vibrant red, American Christmas themed bright red bedroom I stayed in years ago!