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Antique Collectible

Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Japanese Christmas tree lights-some of comic-strip characters, circa 1920-1950. Photo courtesy of Rosemary McKittrick
The custom of decorating with Christmas trees has been around longer than most of us might think. Trees were regarded as a symbol for life in early Egypt.

During the winter solstice each house was decorated with palm. Rome’s biggest celebration, the feast of Saturn, fell about the same time as our Christmas. During the holiday, houses and halls were trimmed with fir trees.

In old England, the Druids also decorated with evergreens so that the spirits might protect them from the chill of winter. When Christianity spread throughout Europe, this custom of tree decorating was incorporated into the new order of thinking and handed down through tradition.

In England, Prince Albert brought the first Christmas tree into the palace of Queen Victoria. All of England accepted the custom from then on. In Germany and other European countries, children trusted that Christmas trees filled with candles and decorations were the work of Saint Nicholas.

The first Christmas tree salesman in our country was thought to be Mark Carr. During a blistering Catskills winter in 1851, he cut down two sled-loads of fir and spruce, hauled them to the Hudson River and down to New York City.

There he rented a strip of sidewalk at the corner of Vesey and Greenwich Streets for one dollar and sold every tree. Unfortunately, he depleted his Christmas earnings merrymaking in New York and returned home penniless. A symbol of celebration and holiday solace, Christmas trees have been around a long time.

Before 1870, most tree ornaments were homemade and generally edible. Victorian era trees displayed paper cornucopias full of candies, dried fruits, popcorn and nuts. The earliest store-bought ornaments came from Germany, from Dresden and tiny villages in the Thuringian Mountains where cottage craftsmanship had existed for centuries.

In the late-1700s these artisans crafted lead-alloy tree ornaments that were faceted like jewels in the shapes of stars and other geometric figures. Later they would use wax to profile angels and children in the form of festive decorations for the tree.

German families in Lancaster County, Pa., continued the custom of tree decorating in the 19th century. In the fall of 1880 blown-glass ornaments were first offered to Lancaster dime-store owner Frank Woolworth by a German importer. He believed these blown-glass decorations for Christmas trees would never sell and purchased just $25 worth.

“In two days,” he later said, “they were gone, and I woke up.” In 10-years, his annual order escalated to 200,000 blown-glass ornaments. The expertise of German craftsmen allowed them to produce not just Christmas tree balls, but also all kinds of sculpted shapes from animals to Santas.

Age and rarity determine value with antique ornaments. Yet many of the old molds were used over and over again. And then, some designs were produced for a single season by one glass blower. So, deciding age and rarity can be misleading. Prices also vary on old Christmas ornaments. Depending on condition, you can expect to pay $1 to $500.

Q. I have a doll about 5 inches high that I found in cleaning out an old house. The pamphlet says “Storybook Dolls.” The doll has a taffeta dress and pantaloons. Any information you could provide would be most helpful. Janice Headrick, Pittsburgh.

A. Dolls are currently the world’s second most popular collectible, ranked between stamps and coins. One of the things that make a doll valuable is supply and demand. The more demand for a doll on the market, the more it is going to be worth.

Also, age, rarity, condition, manufacturer and detailed workmanship play a big part. Beyond these considerations, the original box, unusual history or size of a doll are further points in valuation. The choicest dolls you’ll see today are those made of “bisque” between the years 1875-1925.

Most collectors focus on two areas, dolls dating from the “Golden Age of Dollmaking” from 1875-1925 and modern dolls dating from 1920-1950.

Unfortunately, your doll was produced in the 1960s and has not really climbed in value. The range for “Story Book” dolls in good condition with original clothing is $25-$35.

For more information on dolls contact: Doll Castle News, PO Box 247, Washington, N.J. 07882. This popular magazine focuses on dolls, miniatures, dollhouses and related items. Another publication is The Collector’s Magazine, 170 Fifth Avenue, 12th floor, New York, N.Y. 10010. Full-cover magazine covering antique and contemporary collector dolls.

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