Question: We have a number of Christmas ornaments that have been in the family for years. Could they be considered collectibles?
Answer: Christmas ornaments and related items have been considered in the collectible family for years.
One obvious problem is the care that must be taken in the storage of what are usually very fragile materials. Another problem is the ability to spot fakes. Newer ornaments generally will be brightly colored and show little wear.
Collectors seek out pre-1900 ornaments and decorations that were handmade. European families that migrated to the United States brought ornaments with them that were handed down from generation to generation, and these are fairly difficult to find.
It's believed that the first glass ornaments began appearing in the country just after the Civil War along the East Coast. Pennsylvania Dutch items, for example, would be in this category, and such ornaments are eagerly sought by collectors.
Old ornaments, such as angels and clowns, if somehow authenticated, can sell for anywhere from $10 to $30 or more if they're in good condition, according to dealer catalogue prices. Figurine light bulbs also appear to be within this price range. Candleholders can cost you more.
While we're on a holiday kick, there are other holiday-related collectibles. For example, candy molds are popular among collectors who seek interesting shapes produced before the turn of the century and right up to World War II.
What makes them interesting is that local candy stores often made their own products and, therefore, fashioned their own molds. Shapes and sizes vary widely and incorporate a number of different subjects, such as Christmas trees and clowns or a number of different animals, such as bears and ducks.
Generally, candy molds carry higher price tags than Christmas ornaments. Prices of $50 and up are not uncommon.
And what holiday collectible column would be complete without a reference to the old gentleman himself--Santa Claus? There are a number of Santa Claus collectible categories.
Aside from Christmas ornaments and candy molds, there are items such as dolls, buttons, books, toys, advertising posters, toy banks and trading cards. Prices range all over the lot.
Author Washington Irving is credited by many as giving Santa Claus his round, jolly appearance in "History of New York by Diedrich Knickerbocker," published in 1809. Then, poet Clement Clarke Moore gave us the traditional image of Santa Claus in " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas," which he wrote in 1822.
Toys, of course, are practically synonymous with this time of the year.
We've answered many questions on the subject over the years and recognize that this is a major collectible category that is popular nationwide. There are literally thousands of toy collectors who are well organized and who hold meetings and conventions throughout the year.
In evaluating this broad subject area, condition may well be the most important factor in determining a toy's value unless it is so rare that slight damage has no impact on price.
At dealer shows we've attended, cast-iron toys a half-century old or more were very popular--and expensive. Several hundred dollars changing hands for a rare cast-iron truck or train is not unusual.
American toy production began picking up after the Civil War, particularly in the cast-iron area. European toy production can go back another 100 years or so, particularly among the German toy makers.
The new collector might do well to specialize in a particular area rather spreading oneself too thin in myriad toy categories. Thorough research of your subject could save you a pocketful of cash at a dealer show in terms of spotting fakes or authenticating an item's age.
Ronald L. Soble cannot answer mail personally but will respond in this column to questions of general interest about collectibles. Do not telephone. Write to Your Collectibles, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.