Treasure: What’s popular with Christmas collectors

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

At La Belle Antiques’ recent holiday open house, a line formed outside the St. Clair Shores store before the 11 a.m. opening. Owner Dawn La Belle wasn’t surprised. “We usually get a line around the building when we open the first day,” she said. “We’ve had up to 1,000 people in the past. People come from out of state, from Marquette in the Upper Peninsula, from Chicago and Tennessee. I’ve had people say they always take the day off to be here.”

The event kicks off her holiday season, but shoppers come throughout November and December seeking Christmas collectibles. Most are on the hunt for the vintage goodies she shops for all year but only puts out after the open house. “It flies out the door,” she says of the merry merchandise, adding that she keeps some stock in the back so she can constantly refresh the offerings. We caught up with her to find out what’s on antiquers’ lists. (See website at

Q. What are people looking for?

A. “Old ornaments, anything Santa, old Belsnickel (fur-dressed German Santa figurines popular from the 1870s to World War I), figurative ornaments, bottle brush trees. Antique Italian nativity scenes and ceramic trees, the kind everyone’s grandma and mom made when they were kids. Aluminum trees – basically anything that takes people back to their childhood.”

Q. What can’t you find enough of?

A. “ ...Vintage Christmas is getting much harder to come by. I shop all year. The good stuff just isn’t as easy to get anymore. Last year I had four feather trees, and this year I don’t have any. But I’m always looking and buying, and people bring things in all the time.”

Q. What else is hot?

A. “Vintage toys, especially 1950s and earlier. We have a lot of them this year, we have pre-War trains, Tonka in boxes, mid-century space toys.”

Q. You’ve been open since 2006. What has changed since then?

A. “People are still looking for the good stuff, so that hasn’t really changed. People like older holiday decorations in good condition to decorate their home with. Shiny Brites. Bubble Lights. Basically, baby boomers want the things they grew up with.”

Q. How about younger people? Do they shop for antiques?

A. “There are younger people discovering vintage jewelry and clothing. Dramatic vintage brooches are popular and great for New Year’s Eve and other holiday events.”

Q. Has the internet changed things?

A. “Definitely, but the good thing is that when you come into a store, you can see the item and feel it before you buy. The internet can’t offer that. You can talk to the people and learn about the items, the story behind them, which is part of their appeal.”

Q. How about you? Do you have a dream Christmas collectible? What’s on your wish list?

“I’ve always loved “Miracle on 34th Street,” the original one with Edmund Gwenn. There’s a scene at the very beginning when you see him looking in a shop window at a little reindeer display. I’ve always wanted that but haven’t found one yet.”

Learning more about Christmas collectibles

A good place to start is “A Very Vintage Christmas: Holiday Collecting, Decorating and Celebrating,” a new book by expert Bob Richter, whose passion for collecting holiday decor started as a boy. Today, he owns more than 2,500 pieces, including ornaments, lighting, trees, and much, much more. The handy and beautifully photographed hardcover includes peeks into his personal collection (I love the idea of the Velveteen Rabbit tree, named for the well-loved old ornaments on it that have lost their color through the years) as well as tips for creating your own vintage vignettes at home. Another great resource is The Golden Glow of Christmas Past (, an organization dedicated to Christmas collectibles that has an extensive history of just about everything related to the holidays that’s collectible. After all, as their website insists, “Tis’ the season to expand your collection.”