Dare I say that Christmas can be competitive? When it comes to bidding on Christmas decorations at auction, yes, a good-natured biddy frenzy can erupt over a single ornament.
There’s a big market for vintage Christmas collectibles, and I bet some people are unpacking their boxes right now, getting ready to decorate their homes right after Thanksgiving. Not only will the outside of their homes be decorated, the inside will look like a winter wonderland with everything from Santa Claus and reindeer figurines, bells, sleighs, nutcrackers, nativity scenes and villages to Coca-Cola Christmas advertising, vinyl records, holiday-themed dishes, hand towels, hummels and more.
There’s a lot of nostalgia associated with these decorations, which is why I think people get competitive when bidding for them. As with any collectible, rarity and condition will affect the value of collectibles. Some of the antique and vintage collectibles that do well include:
Aluminum Trees: You might be tempted to throw this out, but collectors will pay a pretty penny for these silver, pink and other colored aluminum trees from the 1950s. If you have the rotating electric tree stand, that’s even better!
Tree Ornaments: Thick-blown glass ornaments from Germany, known as a kugel, can date back to the turn of the 20th century and command several hundred dollars at auction. Rare cotton ornaments, such as those made by Heubach, can also realize several hundred dollars at auction. Shiny Brite ornaments, made in America in the late 1940s, sold at Woolworth for as little as 2 cents for a box of six. We’ve seen them sell for $200. Vintage wood and silver ornaments can also do well at auction.
Nutcrackers: Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet, The Nutcracker, established nutcrackers as a holiday tradition in the late 1800s. While there are so many varieties that can be found in the secondary market, nutcrackers made by Otto Ulbricht and the Steinbach are highly collectible. One-off, hand-made folk art nutcrackers also do well at auction.
Vintage Lights: Holiday light sets were first sold in the mid-1920s, but the lights we most often see are the colorful teardrop-shaped string of lights from the 1950s. Bubble lights, which were introduced in 1946, are also in demand. When buying vintage Christmas lights, look for condition of wiring and bulbs. Make sure they are in safe, operable condition if you plan to use them in your Christmas display.
Unfortunately, many Christmas collectibles that were highly collectible have lost value over the years. Hummels are a good example of this. They’ve flooded the market, but younger buyers have little interest in collecting them.
Don’t let that damper your holiday spirit, though. The most important thing to remember about Christmas or any holiday decorations is that they are meant to help you celebrate with family and friends. And, you can’t put a price on those happy memories.
Erik Hoyer owns EJ’s Auction & Consignment in Glendale.