A Charming Article as appeared in the December 2011 issue of the 'Busy Bee Trader' 


Collecting Vintage Christmas Ceramic Novelties Today : Santas, Snowmen, Angels, Elves, Choirboys & Mice

By Diana E Bullock

Following WWII , returning GIs wed their hometown sweethearts and what followed was the most historic population explosion ever.  Millions of newly formed families flourished, filled newly constructed sub-divisions and babies were born! This burgeoning growth in population triggered today’s economic expression “baby boomers”  ‘cause there were so many of us reaching maturity in this decade!  These babies grew into the small children who ultimately became the recipients of all that Santa would bring !

Life in the 1950s was a time of peace and happiness. This feeling spilled over into the Christmas season big time! Once the war was over and imported goods from Japan were once again welcome on our shores, several importers of Christmas novelties became enormously successful  in bringing a deluge of Christmas décor into our homes.  Japanese manufacturers were eager to supply the American market with a host of imaginative and creative products.  Some of the most prolific importers during this era were Napco, Kreiss Co. , Lefton, Enesco, Holt Howard, Norcrest, Relpo and more.  The competition between these companies was out of control and they blatantly copied popular designs from each other.  Several companies are seen producing the same items with no attempt to alter the design at all.

While US-made Lionel trains brought smiles to every little boy when pint-sized trains raced around beneath Christmas trees on Christmas morn,  F.W. Woolworth advertised themselves as “America’s Christmas Store” and offered a huge and amazing selection of “Made in Japan” holiday lighting, novelties, inexpensive five & dime quality gifts and decorative items.

Our walk down memory lane begins in the 1950s.  Eisenhower was our hero and America was in a good place. It was a gentler time and Christmas was magical with explosions of color and light.  Our fervent wish was always for a white Christmas!  And who didn’t hate those awful aluminum Pom-Pom trees that modern moms thrust at their families?

What I, as a ten-year-old in the 1950s, remember most were those adorable ceramic knick-knacks, Santa candy cane holders, snowmen salt and pepper shakers, candle-hugging angels and pixies of every description brought grins to the kiddies as well as to the grannies.  Our mantle at home was festooned with greenery, bottle brush trees, colorful bubble lights and a host of these little ceramic beauties. My Mom was a nut for grabbing bargains at Woolworth’s and Newberry’s 5c & 10c stores in town the day after Christmas and our collection of knick-knack Santa Clauses grew.  That’s how I got my Donald Duck lunchbox too! 

In today’s collectible marketplace, these nostalgic “Made in Japan ” ceramic novelties have become increasingly popular in an attempt to fill our lives with items from a more peaceful and mellow time which is now over sixty years ago. Some examples have become quite pricy as demand for certain rarities grows.  One can find these in antique shops or collectible markets for as little as five dollars or as high as a few hundred dollars.

Modern day collectors have found their collecting niche in the comfort of owning these magical “friends” of Christmas.  Most popular are the angel or choir boy figures as they fit so nicely into village scenes or nativity sets.  Others, myself included, simply adore those plump Santa fellows.  A difficult-to-find Christmas ceramic category due to their scarcity is the NOEL letters.  They come in sets of four, each letter spelling NOEL and one can find Elves, Children in pajamas, Santa Clauses or Angels entwined or perched on top of the individual letters.  They are so very cute but oh, so hard to find but that makes the hunt for them all that much more rewarding.

Many of these figurines are enhanced with what is called “spaghetti” trim.  This was a unique process where the ceramic clay was put through a garlic press to create the lacy effect.  It was intended to mimic “fur” and was made hard and glass-like during the kiln firing.  The examples shown here demonstrate the effect of “fur” with the illusion that it is crusted with snow and ice.  Truly a lot of artistry for very little money!

These and hundreds of others are on display at our year-around Christmas Nostalgia booths at various Antique Malls in the Middle Tennessee/Kentucky area.  For more information see our ad on the front cover and join us in experiencing “All the Glitz and Glitter of Days Gone By”... And a Merry Christmas to all!


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