Attention fans of the classic Christmas special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: two of the original stop-motion puppet figures from the 1964 television film are coming to auction on November 13, and are expected to fetch between $150,000 and $250,000.
Offered by California auction house Profiles in History, the figurines were created by Japanese puppet-maker Ichiro Komuro for the perennially beloved stop-motion animation movie.
“These were hand-made. They weren’t toys,” pop culture memorabilia appraiser Simeon Lipman told PBS in 2006, when Santa and Rudolph turned up on Antiques Roadshow. “They had mechanisms to make them move, to make them come alive almost. No mass manufacturer of toys, especially in the 1960s, made things like that. It was made to be on film.”
At some point in the 1970s, the puppets came to Barbara Adams, a longtime secretary at the production company that made the film. She used them as decorations around the Christmas tree, and let her nieces and nephews play with them.
Most of the figures ended up melting in a hot attic, but her nephew brought the survivors, Santa and Rudolph, to the roadshow, where they were valued at $8,000 to $10,000.
A toy aficionado, Keith Kriess, owner of Time and Space Toys, purchased the puppets—reportedly for quite a bit more than that appraisal.
He then spent another $4,000 to have the rare collectibles painstakingly restored by a team from stop-motion animation studio Screen Novelties and Atlanta’s Center of Puppetry Arts. Before that, Rudolph had lost his nose, and Santa was missing half his yak-hair mustache.
Today, Santa and Rudolph are in great shape, according to current owner Peter Lutrario, a Staten Island pop culture collector.
“Not only can you move the arms, the legs, the head, you can move the fingers, the thumbs,” he told the Associated Press.
The Santa doll stands at 11 inches tall, while the young Rudolph is a diminutive six inches high, made from cloth and leather with lead wire and wooden armatures.
At least one museum has already expressed interest in purchasing the duo: Castle Noel, a private Christmas memorabilia museum in Medina, Ohio, run by Mark Klaus.
The museum is the “largest year-round indoor Christmas museum in North America” and home to “the largest privately held collections of Christmas movie props and costumes in the world,” Klaus wrote on a Go Fund Me page to fund the acquisition, which has raised close to $12,000 to date.
Without crowdfunding, the pre-sale estimate “would be an impossible number for us,” Klaus admitted. But he is hopeful that the public will help make his dream of owning the “holy grail of Christmas props” a reality.
“My hand shakes a little as I am writing this,” he added. “Could it actually happen?”
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