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Published December 24, 2010, 12:00 AM

Kovels Antiques: Santa’s look has changed over the years

Santa Claus hasn’t always been a fat, jolly man with a beard and a red coat. He hasn’t even always lived at the North Pole. The Santa of today often is called the “Coca-Cola Santa” because he was first drawn in the 1930s for a series of Coke ads.

By: Terry Kovel, INFORUM

Santa Claus hasn’t always been a fat, jolly man with a beard and a red coat. He hasn’t even always lived at the North Pole. The Santa of today often is called the “Coca-Cola Santa” because he was first drawn in the 1930s for a series of Coke ads.

Before that, a similar Santa had been drawn for magazine covers by N.C. Wyeth and Norman Rockwell. Even the name “Santa” isn’t very old. The child of the 19th century called the famous Christmas figure “Santa Claus” only after 1863, when Thomas Nast’s illustrations included the name and pictured him at the North Pole.

Santa’s early suits were shown in many different colors, including blue. Earlier 19th-century Christmas figures were named “St. Nick” or “St. Nicholas” because of the poem “The Night Before Christmas.” He was then a plump elf, small enough to fit down a chimney. Why he had become so small is a mystery, because in the 18th century he was a tall saint dressed in a bishop’s coat. He had a long white beard and a staff. Early Dutch settlers in America added a round belly and a clay pipe. And all of these versions of Santa go back to the original saintly Bishop Nicholas of Myra, who lived in Greece in the third century. He was known for good deeds and for secretly putting coins into shoes left outside.

Q: You recently answered a question about a 1976 Joey Stivic doll and said it was the first anatomically correct boy doll. But I have a Mattel “Baby Brother Tenderlove” doll with a body marked “1975.” He’s also anatomically correct.

A: It’s likely that both dolls were on the market around the same time in the mid-1970s. Mattel may have introduced its 12-inch Baby Tenderlove “brother” doll a little earlier than Ideal sold the 14-inch Joey Stivic doll. Stivic is better-known because the baby was a character on the TV show “All in the Family.” Both dolls sell for about $50 today.

Q: I have a chair with the label “Stanley Furniture Co., Stanleytown, Virginia.” I would like to know the history of this company.

A: Stanley Furniture Co. was founded by Thomas Bahnson Stanley (1890-1970) in 1924. A factory and houses for workers were built on 150 acres of open land in an area that became known as Stanleytown. The company owned the houses and rented them to workers for a few dollars per month. The first Stanley furniture was a dining-room suite, produced in 1925. Your chair was made after 1929. During the Depression, the company promised that no one would be let go, and the workers and executives took pay cuts so the company could stay open. The company is still in business in Stanleytown. The founder became active in politics, and in 1953, Thomas Stanley was elected governor of Virginia.

Q: My mother left me a china plate that’s marked “Xmas 1916 with compliments from James Norris Ltd. Wine and spirit merchants, Burslem.” Can you tell me something about it?

A: James Norris Ltd. was the name of a bottling plant and brewery in Burslem, England, from at least the late 1800s into the 1930s. Its buildings were demolished in the 1950s. James Norris apparently contracted with local potteries to make Christmas gifts for his customers. Unless you can find a manufacturer’s mark on the plate, it’s impossible to tell which pottery made your plate. But at least you know that it dates from 1916.

Q: I have an old Christmas ornament that has been in the family for a long time. It is a glass clown with the number 500,000 printed on his chest. What does that mean?

A: You have an ornament from the days of German inflation after World War I; 500,000 was the number of marks it cost to buy a loaf of bread. There was actually a 500,000-mark bill. Why that was a Christmas message, we can’t imagine. It is a rare ornament, but be warned that reproductions have been made since 2000.


Never burn Christmas greens in a fireplace. The wood will send sparks up the chimney, and some evergreens burn so hot they could cause a fire in the flue or a buildup of creosote in the chimney.

For more information about antiques and collectibles and free price information, visit Kovel’s website,

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