Early Christmas decorations are very popular today with collectors and those lucky enough to have inherited them. Santa Claus and Father Christmas, as well as reindeer, elves and sleighs, have long been part of the holiday. Santa as we know him today - fat and jolly, with a short red coat and a full beard - grew from two old traditions. One was St. Nicholas, a fourth-century Christian bishop known for his generosity; the other was the Belsnickle, a rather fearsome adult helper of St. Nicholas with whiskers and a fur coat. The Santa of the 1822 poem "The Night Before Christmas" was small enough to slide down the chimney. Other 19th-century pictures showed a normal-size Santa in a suit of red, blue, green or purple. But by the 1880s, the popular Santa was pictured as a chubby man in a red suit. It was in the 1930s when the familiar Santa Claus was featured drinking Coca-Cola in ads. But that was a continuation of the 1880s Santa, not a totally new image. Old figures, candy containers and Christmas decorations will sometimes show the earlier versions of Santa. Some collectors prize these for their age; others want only the newer, jolly Santa of their childhood.
Q: My rubber Santa Claus squeak toy is at least 54 years old. It is 11 1/2 inches tall and was made by Rempel Manufacturing of Akron, Ohio. I have the toy's original box, too. The box says the Santa toy is "One of the Little Folk from Sunnyslope." What is the toy's value?
A: The box adds value to your toy. If both the box and the toy are in excellent condition, they could sell for $50 to $80. Rempel Manufacturing opened in 1946 on Morgan Avenue in Akron, then the rubber capital of the world. The company's founder, a Russian immigrant named Dietrich Gustav Rempel, called his line of latex squeak toys "Sunnyslope." The first Sunnyslope toys were barnyard animals. The most famous one is Froggie the Gremlin from the radio (and later TV) show "Andy's Gang." Rempel's last rubber squeeze toys were made in 1968.
Q: I have a 1942 Rosenthal Christmas plate in perfect condition. The decoration is a blue-and-white painting of Marienburg Castle. Is my plate part of a Christmas plate series?
A: Rosenthal has been making porcelain in Selb, Germany, since 1879. It introduced limited-edition Christmas plates in 1910. The plates were issued annually, even during World War II. But plates from the war years might be harder to find than others. Your 1942 plate sells for about $175.
Q: We use my husband's old briefcase to store Christmas ornaments. But a friend who saw it said it is valuable. Is that true? My husband was an insurance agent and bought the briefcase in 1933. It's embossed with a logo that says "Guaranteed Genuine Walrus Leather." The case opens at the top, has a drop handle on each side and closes with two buckles and a key lock.
A: Bags like your husband's, made of walrus leather or seal leather with a simulated walrus grain, were popular during the early decades of the 20th century. We see them at Western shows and auctions, where they sell for up to $300 each, depending on size and condition.
Q: My mother-in-law left me a 3-foot-long 1950s Hallmark store Christmas display. It's made of thin cardboard. I was told that it came from a window display at a Hallmark store in St. Louis. Four white horses are pulling an old-fashioned coach filled with riders. There's a banner on the front of each horse, so that together they say "Merry Christmas, Happy New Year." The signature-and-crown Hallmark logo is printed in gold on the side of the red-and-blue coach. I'm trying to find out what it's worth and how to take care of it.
A: Your Hallmark advertising display is delicate and should be handled carefully. When you put it out at Christmastime, keep it away from direct sunlight or bright artificial lighting. Don't display it near a fireplace or in the kitchen; keep it out of the reach of children and pets; and be sure your hands are clean and dry when you touch it. Store the display in an acid-free box, not a cardboard box or plastic bag. You can find acid-free storage boxes at stores that sell archival products. The Hallmark logo was introduced in 1949 and registered as a trademark in 1950. Your display could sell for $30 to $50.
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.
Current prices are recorded from antiques shows, flea markets, sales and auctions throughout the United States. Prices vary in different locations because of local economic conditions.
Blue Ridge dinnerware bowl, tab handle, Poinsettia pattern, 7 inches, $55.
Poodle cookie jar, gray, sitting upright, pink bow, Sierra Vista Ceramics, California, 1956, 13 inches, $90.
Bing & Grondahl Christmas plate, "Going to Church on Christmas Eve," 1912, $110.
Coca-Cola tray, soda-fountain worker, white jacket and hat, serving drinks, c. 1928, 13 x 10 inches, $180.
Christmas-tree light set, 7 different Disney characters, Paramount, original box, 1950s, $255.
Christmas-tree stand, receptacle outlet, painted green, cast iron, Peerless, 1930s, $410.
Bud Abbott and Lou Costello dolls, "Who's on First," baseball uniforms, 1983, Ideal, 10 inches, pair, $520.
Sled, wood, metal braces and runners, stenciled scene of lake and trees, 1910, 40 inches, $675.
Cast-iron bank, Santa Claus at chimney, mechanical, Shepard Hardware Co., c. 1889, $2,675.