The History of the Snowman
By Tom Carrier
If you’re one of those folks who wears a sweatshirt in December that says “Let It Snow,” then you should be talking to Bob Eckstein. He has had such a fascination with the snowman that he not only has a unique collection of snowman memorabilia, he has written a book about them.
Eckstein first amassed a personal collection of about 1,200 antique paper and historical objects—probably the world’s largest known collection of snowmen. Many are advertising memorabilia, such as Snowman brand ‘Can’d Ice’ that “cools everything,” and magazine covers featuring the snowman for its winter editions. There are also postcards from the turn of the 20th century featuring the snowman to sell ice or to illustrate children at play in the winter. There are plastic snowmen on skis, Christmas ornaments, some made of paper mache, others used for holiday decorations.
“The book began about six years when I decided I wanted to solve a big mystery: Who made the first snowman,” Eckstein says. “I’ve talked to top professors and leading historians on the subject and I’ve learned that the snowman has this amazing history. I started initially that the snowman would originate at the turn of the century or with the movies or with TV.”
Instead, he says, he discovered that the snowman can be traced back to the Middle Ages. The colored images of early depictions of snowmen show them as part of the illuminated manuscripts of the era, drawn to illustrate an aphorism or to define a part of the written story. Over time, the snowman is depicted as benign or wicked in children stories, too.
However, by the early 20th century, the snowman, particularly in postcards, has been depicted as a drunkard or a womanizer, and used increasingly in advertising something cold, like beer. “This is known as the ‘Dean Martin Years,’” Eckstein says. A plastic snowman he has holds up a plastic bottle of Oertel’s Lager Beer, circa 1950, for example.
But with the environmental issue of global warming and the disappearance of ice from the world’s glaciers, the fate of the snowman may be meeting its inevitable end. All we will have left, like the life of dinosaurs, are books that show the evolution of a once common feature of everyday life, like “The History of the Snowman.” Perhaps, in time, there will be a museum of the snowman, too, right next to the museum of the tree. Not any time soon, I hope.
So, it’s true that whatever you collect, whether it is fine art, classic cars, or snowmen, it all has to start somewhere. Eckstein’s book “The History of the Snowman,” with its warm side as well as its cool side, makes me want to find snow and relive its ancient history by building a snowman, right next to the snow angel. And I’m cool with that.
By the way, the world’s largest snowman was created in Bethel, Maine, in 2008. Technically, it’s not a snowman, but a snowwoman, as “she” stood 122 feet, 1 inch tall and was named in honor of Olympia Snowe, the senior senator from Maine. Global warming isn’t winning yet.
Watch a video of Bob Eckstein discussing the history of the snowman here.
Tom Carrier is a general Worthologist, with an expertise in a wide variety of subjects.
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