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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Santa Claus Sleigh Candy Container; wooden and loofah; painted composition Santa Claus; 13 inches long; sold for $2,106. Photo courtesy of Morphy Auctions.
Santa Claus is clearly a man with a past. And he’s coming to town next month just like he always does every December.

Child actress Shirley Temple said she stopped believing in Santa at six-years-old. It happened when her mother took her to visit Santa in a department store and he asked for Temple’s autograph.

Most kids probably wise up about Santa at a young age but rarely let on because the goods are so good and Christmas would be pretty darn dreary without him.

Santa’s story is old. He shows up in different guises in different countries. European settlers brought him to America. American authors gave him a makeover transforming him into a blend of various cultures and traditions.

In his 1809 book “Father Knickerbocker’s History of New York” humorist Washington Irving pictured Santa dressed in a red-clad outfit, pipe in hand, and riding over the treetops in a horse-drawn wagon dropping gifts down the chimney of “good” kids. His book was meant to be a satire about New York but went a long way in transforming Saint Nicholas into Santa Claus.

Author Clement Moore used Irving’s description of Santa as a starting point for his 1822 classic “The Night Before Christmas”. Moore replaced Irving's horse-and-wagon with eight tiny reindeer and a sleigh. He also named the reindeer. Moore originally wrote the poem as Christmas Eve entertainment for his own kids but it ended up as a Christmas tradition.

Illustrator Thomas Nast picked up his pen and drew a series of Santa drawings for “Harper’s Weekly” in 1863. His Santa was a kinder, softer-looking old guy, also bearded in a red suit and smoking a pipe. Nast’s Santa was also given a home in the North Pole.

But it was artist Haddon Sundblom and his 1931 Coca-Cola ads that gave us the jolly, chubby, twinkle-eyed, dude with the rosy cheeks and big smile we’ve come to know today. Leave it to the advertising industry to refine tradition.

It’s no surprise people collect these festive effigies from the past. Santa brings back positive memories for many. Most of us are still kids when it comes to the “big guy”.

Vintage Santas are collectible. They have an old world charm about them that’s hard for people to resist. The older Santas were made with cotton batting, paper mache, chenille, twigs and die cut scraps. They’re reproducing them today but most likely they’ll be missing the patina of age that only a vintage Santa has.

The reproductions are also being made with some of the same old world materials. So be careful.

The original materials didn’t hold up well over time. So expect to see some wear. If Santa looks new, he probably is. The cast iron Santas are among the more expensive pieces.

Age, rarity and condition determine value in this arena.

On Oct. 8-10 Morphy Auctions in Denver, Pa., featured a selection of vintage Santas in its October auction. Here are current values for vintage Santas.

Santa Claus

Vintage glass ornaments; Santa Claus figure and other assorted shapes and figures; 19 in all; largest 7inches long; $322.

Christmas Santa pull toy; marked Germany; 8 inches tall; $585.

Christmas Santa pull toy; Santa rides a camel; has composition face; 11 inches by 10 inches; $936.

Santa Claus Rolly Polly; made by Schoenhut Toy Company; colorful; intact label on bottom; 11 inches high; $1,989.

Santa Claus Sleigh candy container; wooden and loofah mass candy container; sleigh has dressed and painted composition Santa Claus holding feather tree sprig; sleigh pulled by painted composition reindeer with glass eyes and metal antlers; 13 inches long; $2,106.

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