Hard-to-Find Vintage New Year’s Memorabilia Makes for a Unique Collection
A favorite among New Year collectors is this set of porcelain candle huggers made by Holt Howard (and manufactured in Japan) in the late 1950s. They sold for $32 in November 2016.
Vintage holiday memorabilia are a popular collectible genre, probably because there are so many different types of items available on the secondary market. There’s always a reason (and a season) to display a treasured collection. Christmas, Halloween and Easter are the most popular holidays to collect, followed by Valentine’s Day, 4th of July, Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day.
But, other than postcards, it is much harder to find those mid-century (and older) collectibles for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. And there’s a good reason why: most holiday centerpieces and decorations were used for annual family events or children’s parties. Glass ornaments, papier-mâché eggs, folding crepe paper turkeys, candy containers and jack-o-lanterns were put away and saved for the next year.
Conversely, New Year’s Eve was for merrymaking adults. The attention was more on the celebration itself and less on the decor. Table tokens, paper horns and confetti were disposable and abandoned, as late-night revelers focused on getting home. Thus, it is much more challenging to find heirlooms for this particular holiday. Noisemakers are the easiest to locate, so they are at the top of the list.
Vintage noisemakers are plentiful on the secondary market but very few have a true New Year’s Eve theme. This 1940s tin lithographed ratchet by U.S. Metal Toy Co. is a good example with classic illustrations of the holiday.
In ancient times, some believed that the old year’s evil forces were driven away by loud noises. Therefore, rattles, ratchets, clangers, clickers and knockers have become traditional accompaniments to New Year celebrations. Most collectors look for wood and lithographed tin, not plastic. And it is important to have images representing New Year’s Eve (not generic designs or clowns). Those signed by their original manufacturing companies are the most desired, including Kirchhoff, Chein, U.S. Metal, Bugle, and T. Cohn, among others. They are relatively inexpensive, with most selling for under $15.
New Year’s Eve china was usually reserved for higher-end hotels, restaurants and catered events. Sometimes napkin rings, coffee mugs or bread plates were marked with the occasion and given to dinner guests as commemorative keepsakes. They were saved (at least for a while), so some have survived the passage of time. Dated dinnerware is especially desirable. And pieces with venue advertising add an extra boost for collectors.
This 6-inch piece of restaurant china, dated 1913, is from the Hotel Bond in Hartford, Conn. It was given to guests who purchased the hotel’s New Year’s Eve dinner and sold for $19 in July 2016.
Porcelain decorative items can also be found. These might be in the form of candleholders, tiny bells (to ring in the New Year) or figurines. Companies promoting a “doll of the month” for birthday gifts sometimes dressed their January figure in New Year’s Eve attire.
A 4-inch porcelain “doll of the month” by Josef Originals dates to the 1950s. The January figurine was dressed with New Year’s Eve embellishments. This one sold for $45 in May 2018.
New Year memorabilia mostly consists of paper. Old posters, handbills and tickets for nightclub parties are popular, especially when dated, but are easily reproduced so buyers should be wary. Paper hats, invitations, napkins and streamers were naturally used and discarded, but collectors can sometimes find unopened packages that were stashed away and forgotten. Dated menus are always fun, because they give snapshots of prices and foods from long ago. And if the New Year’s Eve dinner was at a famous restaurant, the menus were sometimes signed by celebrities. It is very hard to find these in unsoiled condition, as they seem to often be the recipients of sprayed champagne or splashed coffee.
A 1938 New Year’s Eve menu (from the Grotto on Fisherman’s Warf in San Francisco) has a lot going for it, including an autograph by Joe DiMaggio. At the time, $1.50 purchased a five-course dinner with appetizer, soup, pasta, meat and dessert. The menu sold for $69 in September 2016.
Cloth items are harder to come across. They were often just everyday service pieces, quickly hand-embroidered by somebody’s grandmother with “Happy New Year” and stick figure champagne glasses. Printed linen tablecloths and napkins, purchased at department stores, usually ended up stained with food or faded in the wash so most haven’t lasted. Figural wax candles were normally burned, but those that were saved have generally not survived storage. A few examples of themed costume jewelry were created, usually in the form of brooches or earrings, and these will occasionally surface on Internet auction sites.
A New Year’s Eve cotton tablecloth is a rare discovery. This 1950s version, covered with the holiday’s iconic images, sold for $38 in 2006.
Vintage New Year collectibles are surprisingly affordable, so the fun is in the hunt for something really interesting and different. Generic party themes won’t do. Collectors look for archetypal images of formal attire, top hats, orchestras, ballroom dancing, coupe-style champagne glasses, festoons, bannered babies and clocks striking midnight. A lot of today’s cheaply made New Year mementos have a retro look, so care must be taken to assure proper age. And the best time to buy is in the off-season. Prices naturally rise closer to the holiday.
Have fun, good hunting, and have a happy New Year!
Liz Holderman is a Worthologist who appraises books and collectibles.
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