Older Christmas collectibles bring top prices

Terry Kovel

The most popular holiday collectibles are related to Christmas. Most families who decorate a tree buy a few ornaments each year and save them along with decorations from earlier years. There are even special boxes to store the fragile, round ornaments. 

This hardworking Santa in an orange and blue outfit is carrying toys with a donkey not a reindeer. The 8-inch toy was made in Germany.

The first decorated Christmas tree in America was put up in Pennsylvania in 1747, but the idea was slow to catch on. It wasn't until 1832 that another group decorated a tree in Massachusetts. Early trees were decorated with natural items like popcorn, colored leaves or pinecones. But the 1830s tree was the start of the Christmas decorating custom that has grown into a huge business with garlands, ornaments, figurines, dishes and toys. Even food jars, candy bars and cans feature Santa and trees on special holiday labels. 

The most expensive collectible Christmas items today are the older ones. There were dolls and figurines and even postcards in the 1800s. Santa Claus was thin and wore blue or orange clothing, and kugels – large, round, blown glass ornaments often covered in wax, were popular. In more recent times, ornaments are plastic, the tree lights are electric bulbs not candles, and by the 1950s, the trim was often made of strips of aluminum foil or spun glass. 

This Santa with a donkey is a German pull toy made of painted composition material. The wooden platform is covered in mica. It sold a few years ago for $854 at a Pook & Pook auction.

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Q: I have a piece of furniture that looks like a bar inside. I was told it's a Louis XIV reproduction. It has a brass label with the name "Jeffco 1969." Are you familiar with the Jeffco name?

A: Jeffco Furniture was founded by Jeffrey Gaynor and his wife, Paula, in 1969. Company headquarters were in New York. It was known for its high-end reproduction furniture sold in the U.S. and many foreign countries. It made some furniture and components at its factory in Salisbury, North Carolina, did finishing on pieces made in Europe, and did the upholstery. In 2005, Jeffco began using sources in Asia. The headquarters moved to Hildebran, North Carolina, in 2006. Jeffco was bought by American Century Home Fabrics in 2007 and became part of the Chelsea Frank Group. Your furniture might sell for a few hundred dollars to $1,000 depending on its condition. 

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Q: Did they ever make a Betty Lee doll? I have one that looks like a boy and one with rosy cheeks and eyelashes that looks like a girl. I've been told a Betty Lee doll was never produced. 

A: Buddy Lee dolls are an advertising doll made for the H.D. Lee Mercantile Co. of Kansas City, Missouri. The boy doll was made from 1921 until 1962. They were made of composition until 1948 and hard plastic after that. The maker is unknown. "Betty Lee" is a name collectors gave the girl dolls. They are highly collectible and are often collected by Buddy Lee collectors, but they were not made for the H.D. Lee Company. The "Chubby Kid" doll, made by Gem Toy Company from 1920 to 1931, is a girl doll that looks like Buddy Lee and may have been made by the same company. Buddy Lee dolls have been reproduced. Buddy Lee dolls are often dressed in company uniforms, and price depends on how popular the company is. A doll dressed in an Allis Chalmers uniform sold for $800, a railroad doll for only $220. 

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Q: I have a vase with a mark on the bottom that is a crown with the word "Royal" above it. The initials "JM" are in script in a crest below the crown, and "1755" is below the initials. The word "Bonn" is below that with a worn-out mark that ends in "AN." Who made the vase?

A: Royal Bonn is the 19th- and 20th-century trade name used by Franz Anton Mehlem, who had a pottery factory in Bonn, Germany, from 1836 to 1931. Porcelain and earthenware were made. Royal Bonn also made cases for Ansonia clocks. The factory was purchased by Villeroy & Boch in 1921 and closed in 1931. Many marks were used, most including the name Bonn, the initials FM (not JM) and a crown.

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Q: I'd like to know the value of a metal milk can with handles on each side. It says "40 Liq. Quarts, Bordens" on the side and a number is painted on it in red.

A: In the late 1800s and early 1900s, large milk cans like this were used by dairy farmers to haul milk to the dairy or to deliver it directly to their customers on horse-drawn carts. Use of the cans declined by the 1930s when refrigerated trucks were used to transport milk from farm to dairy.

Gail Borden Jr. patented a method for condensing milk in 1856. He wasn't successful producing it until he partnered with Jeremiah Milbank and founded the New York Condensed Milk Co. in 1861. The company's first plant was in Wassaic, New York, and the company name was changed to Borden Co. in 1919. When a dairy closed or modernized, the old cans were sold in antiques shops.

Old milk cans can be used to hold large plants, or you can add a cushion to the top and use it as a stool. Most cans sell for about $25. Those that are painted sell for a little more. 

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TIP: Protect your wooden floors by keeping dirt out of the house. Use floor mats in front of entry doors.

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Terry Kovel and Kim Kovel answer reader's questions sent to the column. Send a letter with one question describing the size, material (glass, pottery) and what you know about the item. Include only two pictures, the object and a closeup of any marks or damage. Be sure your name and return address are included. Write to Kovels, (Name of this newspaper), King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803 or email us at

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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. 

Toy soldiers set, Cavalry Service Dress, 5 soldiers on horseback, 3 black horses, 2 red horses, painted, Britain Proprietors Ltd., box, soldier 3 1/2 inches, $50.

Frog bucket, oval, galvanized steel, hinged perforated lid with latch, single loop carry handle, 4 1/4 x 8 inches, $130.

Rookwood pottery vase, mottled pink glaze, burgundy flowers around top, dark blue drip rim, bulbous, signed LNL for Elizabeth Lincoln, Rookwood mark, dated 1922, 3 1/2 x 4 inches, $270.

Herend porcelain tea set, Christmas holly & berry with plaid ribbon pattern, gold trim, bulbous pot, scrolled finial, cups with scalloped rims, serving plates, c.1980, 10 piece, $315.

Mirror, Queen Anne, walnut, scrolled crest, shaped pendant bottom, molded liner, 1700s, 37 x 18 inches, $345.

Furniture, nesting table set, Edwardian, mahogany, inlaid burled maple, oval top, bamboo turned legs, trestle supports, c.1910, 27 x 19 1/2 inches, 4 piece, $425.

Steuben glass Christmas tree, cone shape, random trapped bubbles, polished semicircular inclusion in base, incised marks, David Dowler, c.1984, 8 x 4 inches, $660.

Rug, hooked, central bull's-eye, blue hearts in corners, black ground, cotton, wool, burlap, 37 x 32 inches, $770.

Beatles, toy drum set, Ringo Starr, snare drum with image of Ringo's face, tripod stand, drumsticks, box with Beatles portraits & handle, Selcol U.K., 1964, $3,250.

Chinese export soup tureen, lid, Tobacco Leaf pattern, patchwork, multicolored flowers, 2 flower form handles, bud finial, c.1775, 8 x 14 inches, $6,875.