Mug Shots of Antique Santa Clauses

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009


Santa Claus’s face is one of the most recognizable faces in the world – a  face known the world over and also a face that none of us have actually seen in person in order to verify his accepted appearance.  We all have a concept of what Santa looks like.  Some of those concepts have been influenced by the best advertising minds of our time to sell the latest and greatest widget.  Some of us have been influenced by Santa Clauses that were made over one hundred years ago and look very different from the Santa we see portrayed today.  I thought it might be interesting to see how Santa Claus’s face has changed over the years.  The Santa face pictured above belongs to a German roly-poly dating to the 1930s.  Click on images to enlarge.


The Santa Clauses in these images all belong to a couple who have been collecting holiday antiques for a number of years.  I was fortunate enough to be able to photograph a small part of their collection.  This German paper-mache Santa dates to the late 19th century.


These early German Santa Clauses almost always have blue eyes.   This one has a hand-painted paper-mache face with a rabbit fur beard and dates to the latter part of the 19th century.


When I started collecting early Santa Clauses one of the things I noticed was that some of them had teeth.  The smiling faces of Santa that I grew up with seemed not to be showing their teeth.   Santa Clauses with teeth seemed somewhat disturbing to me.  This is the face of a Shoenhut roly-poly Santa made in the US of paper-mache in the last quarter of the 19th century.


This late 19th century German Santa has a very rare beard made of glass icicles.  He has a serious, concerned expression on his face.


Most German Santa candy containers had paper-mache faces.   This rare 19th century Santa has a bisque porcelain face with glass eyes.  He also seems to have very bright white bisque teeth.


German Santa candy container with a red mohair suit and a lambs wool beard dating to the early 20th century.


This paper-mache Santa dates from the late 19th century and seems to have the face of a tired old gentleman.  He looks rather wizard-like with his long white beard.


Belsnickle Santa with a yellow-green coat.  Belsnickles were made in Germany from the late 19th century into the early 20th.  They were made in a large variety of sizes and colors.  All Belsnickles have hand-painted faces done by a number of different crafts-persons so the facial expressions vary quite a bit.  I have seem Santa Clauses that look totally inebriated as well as those with a stern authoritarian countenance.


This German candy container Santa looks like he is up to no good with a whimsical expression.  He dates to the late 19th century.


Toy Santa Clauses from the 19th century are unusual.  This one has a wooden body that “dances” when you pull on a string.  His head is made of composition and shows great brushwork in the painted details.


This German Santa has bushy white painted eyebrows and a fur beard.  He dates from the last quarter of the 19th century.


Another bisque face Santa Claus with glass eyes and a long fur beard.  His facial details are very different from the other bisque face Santa.  This face seems more joyful, even with his teeth showing.


Chromolitho Santa face on an advertising tin dating to the early 20th century.  This wonderful warm Santa face shows the influence of 20th century illustrators such as Reginald Birch and E. Boyd Smith, who drew from the late 19th century work of  Thomas Nast.


This is one of the largest German Santa lanterns that I have ever seen.  The face and beard have been modeled beautifully in paper-mache and the eyes and teeth are painted on paper so they would glow when the candle was lit.


Chromolitho on paper Santa face applied to the top of a wooden box containing picture blocks.  These boxes usually date from the late 19th to early 20th century.


This Santa has a very nice face but it seems to be overshadowed by the beautiful head on the reindeer.   The paper-mache German reindeer has gilt Dresden decoration on his bridle and glass eyes.   The reindeer is also a nodder so his head gently moves up and down.  Click on images to enlarge.


Santa Belsnickle holding a baby.  This Belsnickle is rare, rare, rare, and I’ll type it again, rare.  Not only is the Santa holding a baby but the baby has red polka-dots all over it, including his face.  Even Santa seems surprised by this one.


This is a cloth faced Santa dating to the 1920s.  He has a sweet gentle face and a long fur beard.


German paper-mache lantern from the late 19th century.  This is an unusual form for a Santa head lantern and has an expressive face showing us his very large teeth outlined in red.


As I noted earlier Belsnickles come in many sizes.  This reindeer seems to be responding the same way I did upon seeing this white feather tree. Wow!  Wow, that’s many, many rare tiny little Belsnickles all dating from the late 19th to early 20th century.  Not a one of them have teeth.  I like that.  So if any of you happen upon “the” Santa Claus in the flesh, not of these modern day department store varieties, let me know.  I would like to find out if his teeth really are that big and scary.  Merry Christmas!  Click on images to enlarge.