Father Christmas belongs to the English holiday tradition.
PÃre NoÃ»l was French. Kris Kringle came from Germany in the 18th century. St. Nicholas, who wears bishop's robes, was the patron saint of sailors in the Netherlands. Santa Claus is the American version of the bearded man who gives gifts to children at Christmastime.
By the 1890s in the United States, Santa was known as the leader of a workshop of elves at the North Pole. He had a wife by 1899. Santa's appearance changed from a large man who dropped gifts down chimneys to a jolly little elf who came down the chimney with gifts. By the early 1900s Santa wore a red suit trimmed in fur, and by 1931 he was a large man dressed in red -- and was pictured in a Coca-Cola ad.
Collectors treasure early versions of Santa as a jolly round elf or as a rotund man wearing long robes and a wreath of holly. Any Santa figure that is not wearing red is of extra value because it is probably more than 90 years old. Many people collect Christmas items year-round.
Another group gathers old family Christmas ornaments, cards and figures to use each year in December.
Q: Sometime during the 1950s, I received a 10-inch doll called "Littlest Angel" for Christmas. The joy this doll gave me continued for a whole year, because each month a new outfit for the doll arrived in the mail. Each outfit went along with the month. So there was a slicker and boots for April, a swimsuit and towel for July, a school outfit for September, and so on. I still have the doll and her trunk full of clothing. Can you tell me who made the doll and what it's worth?
A: Check the back of your doll's head. It should be stamped "R & B," the mark used by the Arranbee Doll Co. of New York City. Arranbee introduced its hard-plastic Littlest Angel dolls about 1954. The dolls came with vinyl heads starting in 1957. In 1958 the Vogue Doll Co. of Medford, Mass., bought the Arranbee Doll Co. Vogue continued to sell Littlest Angel dolls marked "R & B" until 1963. Your doll, in excellent condition and wearing her original white outfit, would sell for about $150. If you still had her original box, the doll could be worth nearly twice that much. Each of her outfits, boxed and unopened, sells for about $50. Outfits that have been opened and played with sell for considerably less.
Q: I have a needlework sampler that was once offered as a product premium for Gold Medal flour. It's 15 by 12 1/2 inches and has a label on the back explaining that the sampler is an "exclusive gift from Gold Medal Flour and LeeWards" to honor Gold Medal" more than 100 years of success." It also says that the sampler "required over 25 hours of fine stitching by professional artisans to complete." Do you have any idea when it was given out and what it's worth?
A: Gold Medal flour dates back to 1880, when a Minneapolis milling company called Washburn, Crosby and Co. won a gold medal at an exhibition and named its flour after the first-place award. That means Gold Medal flour was 100 years old in 1980. By then the brand was owned by General Mills, which at the time also owned LeeWards, a chain of crafts stores. General Mills sold the LeeWards chain in 1985, so we can date your sampler to sometime between 1980 and 1985. If it was actually hand-stitched by professionals, it was probably a premium with limited distribution -- perhaps for grocery-store owners who sold a lot of flour. It's not very old, but hold onto it and take care of it. Don't let bugs or the sun destroy the fabric or colors.
Q: When we cleaned out our warehouse in 1974, we found a partially assembled three-wheeled riding-horse toy. The horse's body is molded plastic, but his legs are wooden. The riding base is metal. A child can pull the high front handle toward himself to move the horse forward and pump the footrest to turn the two back wheels. We also found the original assembly instructions, so we put the toy together using original and replacement parts. The instructions list the manufacturer as Hedstrom Union Co., Fitchburg, Mass., and Dothan, Ala. How old is the toy, and is it valuable?
A: The original manufacturer has survived corporate acquisitions and bankruptcy. Its name is now Hedstrom Corp., with headquarters in Arlington Heights, Ill. The company dates back to 1915 and was called Hedstrom Union from 1922 into the 1960s. Hedstrom Union made riding toys beginning in 1936, but your toy's plastic frame is a clue to its age. Molded plastics were first used in the late 1930s to make baby bathtubs and a few toys. But the war years curtailed toy production, so your horse probably dates from the late 1940s or the 1950s. Collectors of riding toys don't mind a few replacement parts, but the value of your toy depends on its overall condition.
Don't wrap Christmas ornaments in newspaper; the ink might rub off. Don't store them in plastic bags; moisture might condense and cause problems. Don't store glass ornaments in a damp basement; mildew will cause damage.