Through cautious investing, couple compiles collection of Santas


December 23, 1993|By MICHELLE HOFFMAN

Don and Virginia Stenley of Taneytown were very good this year. They had to be; Santa was watching them closely.

For over 15 years, the Stenleys have collected almost 100 items of Santa Claus memorabilia, which they displayed when they participated in the Taneytown Heritage House Tour.

The majority of pieces are classified as "Saint" Santas, which originated in Germany. They have elongated faces with pointed beards and wear a hooded cape or a robe.

One of the Santas in the Stenley collection wears a leopard pattern. Mr. Stenley pointed out the simplicity of one man, calling it "very plain. It has a bag over its head as a hood."

Some of the men wear garland halos on their heads instead of hoods.

Each Santa carries a bag of goodies, many of which are handmade by the doll's creator. Tiny drums, teddy bears, snowshoes, wreaths, dolls and other trinkets are for good girls and boys. Long switches are meant for naughty ones.

The men are created from corn husks, papier-mache, pottery, clay, wood, pipe cleaners, cloth, canvas, tin, glass and other materials. They are hand-molded, so each Santa is an original. There are few smiles among the stern old faces.

In other times, Santas were given as gifts. Some were functional. When the top of one Santa was removed, it was used as a candy dish. Other Santas brought candy in their sacks. When the treats were gone, children played with the dolls.

The oldest Santa in the Stenleys' collection is a 6-inch papier-mache "nodder" made in the late 1800s. It has an $H oversized body and a small head that moves forward and backward as if he is agreeing with every word you say.

"When you look at it, you'd say, 'God, that's ugly looking,' " said Mr. Stenley.

But beauty is in the simplicity of the model and the eye of the beholder. Many collectors can overlook ugliness to see a piece's value. The more ornate the statue, the more value it commands.

Mr. Stenley sees his entourage as an investment. A retired antique dealer, he previously shopped for antique Santa Clauses for his mother. When a revival of Santa memorabilia surfaced about 15 years ago, it drew his interest. He says that what currently spurs him is finding a Santa he knows will bring 10 or 20 times its value in 10 years. It may not necessarily be an antique. It could be an original from a new artist.

The Stenleys are cautious when they shop, as Mr. Stenley said the market is flooded with replicas. His advice to newcomers is to choose carefully, and make sure the statue is something you like and can afford.

Mr. Stenley said he has not become as addicted to Santa collecting as some of the people he has seen in magazines that display their collections year-round.

"They have thousands that are just stuffed everywhere," he said. "I like them around the holidays. A week or two before and after, and that's basically all."


There will be a community blood drive at the Activities Building on Memorial Drive in Taneytown from 1:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

hen you give blood, personal notes will be available for you to sign if you would like a teddy bear to be given in your name to a child at a local hospital. The bears are courtesy of Principal Health Care of the Mid-Atlantic Inc.

If you would like to donate blood, call Waneta Sackman at 756-6655 or 751-1356 before Monday.

Walk-ins will also be welcome, and baby-sitting will be available.

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