Santa Claus is as popular a figure in antique Christmas collectibles as he is in today’s decorations. Most are more festive than this papier-mache figure. Santa is usually portrayed holding a small Christmas tree, carrying his famous sack of toys, surrounded by reindeer or accompanied by a child.
Depending on the age and origin of the collectible, he might be dressed in an unexpected color like green or blue. Here, he can be recognized by his red coat and hood, trimmed with fur as white as his beard. This papier-mache figure looks plainer than many popular Christmas collectibles. There are no reindeer pulling the sleigh, and instead of a sack of toys, there is a stack of firewood on his back. There’s a surprise in store; the bundle of logs isn’t what it seems. Lift the lid, and it has a hollow compartment meant to store candy.
Papier-mache candy containers were popular from the 19th to early 20th centuries. The most famous ones were made in Germany and often themed for holidays like Christmas or Easter. They are eagerly sought by collectors, often selling for high prices. This Santa sold for $6,250 at a Hindman auction, where its high presale estimate was $500!
Q: I have a Christmas ornament that needs help. Can mercury glass that is blue be restored?
A: Mercury glass, or silvered glass, was first made in England in the 1840s. It was made in the United States from the mid-1850s to the early 20th century. The silvery mirrored look was made by blowing clear glass into a double-walled shape and filling the small air space between the walls with a mercury solution. First, air was vacuumed out of the space, then the solution was poured in through a hole in the bottom of the piece, coating the inside of the glass, and then the hole was sealed. After the 1850s, mercury glass was made using a silver nitrate solution. If the seal is broken, exposure to the air will cause the color to deteriorate. You can try to reseal it but won’t be able to restore the original color. Mercury is toxic. If you have a very old Christmas ornament that might contain mercury, you should call the poison control center near you to see how to handle it.