Santa Claus Is Coming to Town: Bertoia Auctions’ December 2023 Holiday Sale
Santa Claus is definitely the talk of the town these days! This seasonal ambassador was brought to life as we know him today by Thomas Nast in 1863. Today, fine antiques in Santa’s image, or featuring it, are in high demand by collectors from every corner of the globe. Bertoia Auctions’ December 1, 2023 Holiday Sale featured over 100 Santa Claus-themed antiques and rarities. Here are a few highlights from this exciting event to put you in a holly-jolly state of mind. All prices noted include the auction house’s 25% buyer’s premium.
Christmas candy containers were a popular category in this festive sale, with several generating five-figure results. Lot #0195, a supersized Santa candy container, was estimated at USD 3,000 to $5,000 and traded hands at $18,750. This 31.5-inch tall, full-bodied Santa figure was standing and wearing a traditional Santa suit including a matching red coat and hat trimmed in white, a big black belt, and chunky black boots. His well painted face came to life with prominent white eyebrows, big blue eyes, and a fuzzy beard and sideburns. He held a small green Christmas tree in one hand; it was decorated with ornaments and a candle made from glass.
Candy containers– literally novelty packaging for sweets of all sorts– “officially” debuted in 1876. That year, two examples, one in the form of Independence Hall in Philadelphia and the other as the Liberty Bell, were offered at the Centennial Exposition. This event celebrated the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the American Revolution, so these forms were a perfect tie-in. Once the candy was removed from its elaborate packaging, candy containers were often repurposed as toys, souvenirs, ornaments, or other decorative items. Over time, Santa Claus became a popular theme for candy container manufacturers, given his beloved status as a Christmas ambassador. One can only imagine how much candy this nearly yard-tall example held when he left the factory a century (or more!) ago.
This Santa-centric event also featured a fine selection of Christmas-themed nodders or clockwork items. Lot #0013, a clockwork Santa riding in a moss sleigh pulled by a reindeer, was estimated at $12,000 to $18,000 and delivered $18,750. Likely used as a store display, this huge and well-rendered example from Germany measured 52 inches long and 27 inches high. Nodding Santa donned a matching red and white coat and hat, a black belt, and blue pants. He held a small green tree in his hand. His sled was detailed with dried moss seats and sides and brass runners and trim. It was pulled by a handsome reindeer with oversized antlers; he wore a festive leather and cloth harness. This big beast doubled as a candy container, making this work of art the best of all worlds.
Clockwork nodders– figures with repetitively moving heads or limbs– were originally designed as dynamic store window displays. They first appeared in the late 19th century. The earliest ones were activated by winding up their spring mechanism with a key; later ones were plug-in style and used miniature engines to bring them to life. Nodders were produced in many forms through the mid-20th-century. These included fairy tale characters, animals, Easter season pieces, and even popular cultural figures.
Toys and playthings in the form of the big guy in red also caught the eye of holiday shoppers. Lot #0404, an oversized Santa Claus roly poly toy, was estimated at $800 to $1,200 and made $15,000. This 25-inch tall tumbler was in the form of a smiling Santa holding a pipe in one hand and a pony and a doll in the other. A toy horn was attached to his belt via a piece of string, and a small watch or clock was integral to his ball-shaped bottom. Santa was dressed in his customary garb with a big black belt, which defined his presentation and proportions as a roly poly.
Roly poly toys were first patented by The Schoenhut Company in 1900. These round-bottomed, egg-shaped toys always rebound to a “standing” position when rolled about. Roly poly toys have a hollow upper body and a weighted lower body with a precise center of gravity which enables this movement. Although roly poly Santa toys appear with some frequency on the secondary market, this one appears to be among the most expensive to trade hands at a public auction.
Seasonal displays and decorations were also well represented in this signature sale. Lot #0406, an Old King Cole Santa sleigh store display, was estimated at $1,500 to $2,500 and made $11,250. This 34.5-inch tall example was dimensional and painted on one side and flat and unfinished on the other. In this rarely seen configuration, a traditional Santa carries a gift bag laden with treats, including a doll and tree, and rides in a “Griffin Sleigh.” The sled embodies a mythical creature with four legs and big claws, wings and feathers, and a friendly face that resembles a dog. The back retains its original red sticker label which reads, “manufactured by Old King Cole Papier Mache Company Canton, Ohio, USA.”
The Old King Cole Papier Mache Company created static and moving displays, primarily for retail stores, for much of the 20th century. Its items were manufactured from papier mâché, and often in the form of popular advertising logos or cartoon characters. Christmas decorations were another big category for the company. The company held a license with Disney for a few years just before WWII to create window displays and likenesses of Disney’s most popular characters, including Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Pinocchio, and others. Old King Cole’s prewar RCA Victor Nipper Dogs, Mr. Peanut, and mannequin characters remain popular with collectors today.
This Santa-centric sale rounded out with match safes, biscuit tins, lanterns, cards, ornaments, and other ho-ho-ho-liday themed novelties. Lot #0026, a large Father Christmas chocolate mold, was estimated at $1,000 to $1,500 and sold for $10,000. This elaborately detailed, full body mold measured 20 inches high and marked with #22 and #13020. Santa was detailed with a waist-long beard and wore a cross-body bag; he carried a Teddy bear, books, and other holiday goodies in his hands.
Looking for additional coverage of rare collectibles at auction? Check out our review of Ashcroft and Moore’s cast iron doorstops single owner collection sale from December, 2023.