Modern antiques expert Tracy Martin is back with a sumptuous selection of Christmas collectables to get you in the mood for the festive season.
From the first-ever Christmas card to a selection of vintage decorations, Tracy journeys across Christmases past and present to put your valuation skills to the test, as well as bringing you tinsel-covered top tips and all the best bargains.
Henry Cole Christmas Card
It was commonplace in the 19th century for people to write seasonal messages in letters or on calling cards, but in 1843, in order to save himself valuable time, Henry Cole invented the first-ever printed seasonal card which had the message A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year printed inside. Designed by artist John Callcott-Horsley, the front illustrated two acts of charity - feeding the hungry and clothing the poor, and the centre featured three generations of an affluent family celebrating Christmas, which caused controversy as one of the family members drinking was a small child. One thousand cards were printed in total, and Henry Cole used some for his friends and family then sold the rest for one shilling each. In November 2001 Henry Aldridge & Sons auctioneers sold a signed card which Cole had sent to his Granny and Auntie Char for £22,500, although generally these cards make between £8,000 and £9,000.
People originally used candles to decorate their Christmas trees. The idea was that the candles would illuminate the other decorations if strategically placed onto the branches. In Victorian times candles were placed in holders known as illumination lamps. Made of glass they resembled a pineapple shape with a diamond design on the outside so when the lit candle shone through it reflected what resembled fairy wings – hence the name fairy lights was born.
Edward Johnson, assistant to the inventor Thomas Edison discovered in 1882 that a Christmas tree could be lit with electricity. By 1900 most department stores used his lights in their window displays. However, people continued to use candles as the lights were too expensive to buy but by 1930s the electric Christmas lights became more popular and part of everyone’s Christmas celebrations.
From the 1950s onwards it was customary for every home to have their trees and their homes decorated with Christmas lights. By this time there were so many to choose from. Pifco was one of the most prolific makers of lights and today one of the most desirable manufacturers in vintage Christmas Lights collecting. The most desirable being Cinderella carriage lights which now if in their original box can sell for over £100. The bell lights were also a popular design and could originally be found on boxes of Disney Mickey Mouse lights manufactured by the British Thomson-Houston Company in the 1930s. This design followed through as shown on the Pifco Nursery Rhyme set.
MAKE SURE you get a qualified electrician to check any vintage lights before using them.
- Pifco 1950s bell lights, £30
- 1930s glass bauble, £25
- 1960s decorated glass baubles, £40
Top Tip: Always buy Christmas collectables out of season otherwise the prices rocket during the festive period.
Decorating trees and bushes dates back to ancient man as they believed the spirits would be attracted to the decorations and keep them away from people’s homes during the winter months. Later people made a complete turnaround and would bring evergreens such as holly, mistletoe and Ivy into their homes to give shelter to the spirits of nature.
The heavy glass balls or globes know as kugels translated from German simply means ball or sphere, and were too heavy to hang from branches of trees so were suspended from ceilings. Collectors crave the early Victorian kugels which are thicker glass and have decorative metal tops.
- 1930s large orange glass bauble - £25
- Boxed 1960s glass decorated baubles - £40
Matchbox lorries dating from 1964/5 cost roughly 10p each to buy and are worth £20-£30 - £6,200
- 1960s yellow matchbox lorry, £20-£30
- 1960s green cab matchbox lorry, value £6,200
Both courtesy of Vectis Auctioneers: www.vectis.co.uk
Both British Teddy Bear manufacturers - Farnell closed in 1970s and Merrythought is still in operation today from Ironbridge. When you have a collection of bears it is known as a ‘hug’ because they are so huggable and today toys are the biggest growing collectors market with people trying to buy back their childhood memories and of course they are great to play with.
- A 1940s Farnell mohair Teddy Bear - £130
- A 1930s Merrythought Mohair button in ear bear - £390
Both bears from All You Can Bear: www.allyoucanbear.com
The Christmas cracker was invented by baker and confectioner Tom Smith after a trip to France where he discovered sugar coated almond sweets known as Bon bons. He brought them home to London and tried to sell them but for some reason they only sold well at Christmas. So Tom set about trying to find a way of housing the sweets so that he could cash in at Christmas. It was when he threw a log on his fire and heard a snap crackle that he decided he wanted the sweets housed in something that snapped. Eventually his Bangs of Expectations were made and now Christmas Crackers are a festive tradition.
Unopened and unused boxes of drackers can really shoot up in value - a 1970s Mr Men box sold for over £200 so if you don’t use the crackers they will increase by hopefully five times their original value depending on the imagery.
- Tom Smith red berry crackers, TK Maxx £7.99
- Christmas Sprout sprint crackers, amazon.co.uk £13.99
- Box of clockwork Brussel Sprout crackers each with a wind up brussel inside, amazon.co.uk £13.99
Emma Bridgewater Ceramics
One of our most desirable British ceramicists Emma Bridgewater’s ceramics are eagerly collected all year round.
Her prices always increase the minute the range is discontinued. Each piece is hand made and hand painted.
- Tom Smith red berry cracker £7.99, TK Maxx
- Clockwork brussel sprout crackers £13.99, Amazon
- Emma Bridgewater ½ pint mug £17.95
- Emma Bridgewater pudding basin £49.95
TOP TIP: invest in Christmas collectables as they are only available during the festive period and once they have sold out or taken out of production you have to pay a premium to get your hands on them.