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Real "Snow Baby" Started Collecting Trend

Learning About Snow Babies

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German Snow Baby

Vintage German Snow Baby

-Pamela Wiggins

Quick Tips for Collecting Snow Baby Figures:

- The oldest Snow Baby figures manufactured in the early 1900s and sold in popular department stores measure a mere one to three inches tall.

- Antique snow babies that were made in Germany are the most desirable and valuable to collectors.

- Newer Snowbabies figurines by Dept. 56 probably won’t increase drastically in value over time unless they are limited edition pieces or special character editions.

- Older German snow baby figures have been widely reproduced, and some of them are good enough to fool even seasoned antiquers. Take care and study up before investing in what you believe to be an old snow baby.

The “Real” Snow Baby

You might be familiar with Snowbabies figurines many card and gift shops carry these days. Lots of collectors love them. But the story behind the real snow baby, and collectibles made more than 100 years ago to go along with that true tale, doesn’t often come up these days.

I started thinking about this topic when I ran across an Internet article about a book written in 1901, The Real Snow Baby, by Josephine Debitsch Peary, wife of the famous North Pole explorer Rear Admiral Robert E. Peary.

The author of this interesting feature, Patsy Moyer, detailed how the Peary's daughter, Marie Ahnighito, was “the first white child born that far north.” She also notes that her middle name honored the Eskimo woman who made the child her first fur clothing, a sweet sentiment.

The First Snow Baby Figurines

The feature on baby Peary depicts two German snow baby figures as well. Little porcelain figurines like these were usually one to three inches tall and covered with bits of ground white porcelain to give them a snowy look, just like the one shown here.

These little collectibles gained popularity as news of Admiral Peary’s trek to the North Pole traveled around the world in 1909. They were revived again in the late 1920s when adventurer Richard E. Byrd flew over the South Pole.

Moyer also notes that snow babies were called "Alaska Tots" in a Marshall Field’s catalog dated to 1914. The adorable one and three-quarter inch figures sold for 90 cents a dozen back then. They often bring $50-100 each now, depending on their pose, and they're getting harder and harder to find.

Mass produced figures like these, according to author Mary Morrison on her Web site (no longer linked on About.com at Morrison's request), weren’t made to last. The paint used to decorate these little cuties wasn’t fired on, so it washed off very easily over the years. Collectors accept this type of wear nowadays, because old snow baby figures are indeed hard to come by and most from this era do exhibit signs of age.

The Oldest and Most Desirable Snow Babies

The oldest and most desirable snow babies from a collecting standpoint were made in Germany with great care and thoughtful detailing in limited quantities. The faces on these pieces generally have a more realistic look to them when compared to those made later in Japan and other points of origin. Older pieces featuring blue snow can also be very desirable and even harder to find.

Pieces depicting animals, Santa Claus and other themes decorated with porcelain “snow” can be found as well. While these go-with collectibles don’t actually feature babies, they are often advertised as snow babies and grouped together in displays due to their similar appearance. And these can be even costlier than the baby-shaped figures in some cases.

Keep an Eye Out for Reproductions

Of course, where you find expensive collectibles, you’ll also find reproductions. Many show up on eBay regularly, and you’ll find them at flea markets from time to time, too. The really bad part about these reproductions, like so many other antiques, the new items are being made from old molds, according to Morrison. Some look so much like the originals that it’s hard to distinguish between old and new.

One sign of new “snow,” however, is the presence of little black specks among the white. Older pieces might be a little dirty when you find them, but you can tell the difference when you compare old and new figurines side by side.

Some dubious sellers, in an effort to transform ordinary collectible figurines into more desirable pieces, are adding porcelain snow specks to plain figures produced in Germany during the same era. Many of these are marked correctly on the foot so unless you inspect them closely, you may not know they’ve been altered.

To spot the fakes, look for new snow that is too white compared with the rest of the colors on the figure. And, keep an eye out for snow that has been applied haphazardly to clothing on figurines as another clue.

Collecting New Snowbabies Figurines

While many purists seek only older snow baby figures for collections, others don’t care for the expense of hunting down these rare items. They still like the sweet features and adorable poses though, and opt for new collectibles such as those produced by Dept. 56 and a host of other modern manufacturers. Since the new Dept. 56 figures are marked on the base and have a distinctive look when compared with the older snow babies, there’s no problem confusing old with new.

You might be wondering though, will new Snowbabies be worth more than their original price tag in the future? In most instances, these mass-produced figurines have been sold specifically as collectibles so they won’t rise greatly in value over time. The exception to this rule is with limited editions made in lower production runs and special character editions that could have crossover collecting appeal. The short answer: if you like them, buy them and enjoy them.

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