Hippity hoppity: A journey down the bunny trail
of Easter collectibles
By Corbin Crable
With the impending arrival of spring’s warmth and flowers in bloom also comes the colorful symbols of the Easter season.
Easter’s myriad symbols, from bunnies to chicks to eggs, found their origins in pagan rituals that celebrated fertility and nature’s rebirth as the bitter cold of winter dissipated. Later, Christianity used those same symbols to herald Christ’s resurrection and victory over death.
This tin toy is one example of the popularity of Easter toys around the globe.
A midcentury tin piece selling for more than $100, it was produced in Japan.
(photo courtesy of Etsy.com)
In our contemporary times, the celebration of Easter and this accompanying rebirth pervades every corner of our existence, from our dining room tables and back yards to the annual Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn, begun by President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1878.
Those traditions, events and symbols have been captured in a diverse array of Easter collectibles for hundreds of years. According to Country Living, the concept of the Easter Bunny himself was brought to the Americas by German immigrants in the 18th century. Children would design and leave out baskets for the beloved “Oschter Haws” (“Easter Hare”) to fill with chocolates and candies. Around that same time, chocolatiers in Germany began to fashion the likeness of the Easter Bunny into sweets both small and large, selling them to Easter revelers with a sweet tooth.
A luxurious tradition – the Faberge Egg
Russia’s Tsar Alexander III commissioned “the Hen Egg” from the House of Faberge for his wife in 1885. The world-renowned jeweler created a total of 50 eggs for the Romanov family until 1916. (photo courtesy of Faberge.com)
The most exquisite Easter-related memorabilia in history can be traced back to the late 19th century, when the jeweler House of Faberge was commissioned by Russia’s Tsar Alexander III to create an Easter egg as a gift for his wife, the Empress Maria Feodorovna. The very first of what would eventually be known as the Imperial Egg series (this and its imitators are referred to more commonly as a Faberge egg) was an egg with a shell enameled on gold; when opened, a solid golden yolk is revealed. And when the golden yolk is opened, a golden baby chick inside reveals a miniature replica of the empress’ crown, from which a miniature ruby egg pendant is suspended.
Under the dutiful watch of Peter Carl Faberge (son of the company’s founder, Gustav), between 1885 and 1916 the House of Faberge crafted an additional 50 eggs from the finest golds, stones and gems. The company’s website describes the eggs as “inextricably linked to the glory and tragic fate of the last Romanov family.” Today, the name “Faberge” is synonymous with the company’s penultimate creation, the Imperial Egg series. Of the original 50, only 43 exist.
On eBay, one Faberge egg crafted for Russia’s Czar Nicholas II, bearing a production year of 1913, remains listed with a price of $59,950, or best offer. The 14-karat gold, blue Guilloche-enameled piece is festooned with jewels and is perched atop a gold-flecked base. The egg features red ruby cabochons and rose cut diamonds on its exterior. Open the egg and you’ll find a hand-painted, porcelain dial clock.
Though not crafted by a member of the Faberge family, its creator was Henrik Wigstrom, head workmaster for Fabrege, who ascended to the role in 1903 and took over the production of the remaining Imperial Easter eggs. Wigstrom’s style is most reminiscent of the Louis XIV period.
A much more affordable egg for those on a holiday budget
Colorful papier mache Easter eggs such as this one are plentiful on
auction sites – and very affordable, too, at just a few dollars apiece. The most common eggs up for bids are from the 1950s and ‘60s.
(photo courtesy of Etsy)
If you’re like most of us and you can’t afford to own a luxurious Faberge egg, you probably spent your childhood admiring and collecting papier mache Easter eggs. Those eggs, also developed and brought to the states by German immigrants, bear traditional Easter images of rabbits, chicks, flowers, and springtime themes, according to the Etsy company ‘A German Girl in America.’ These hand-painted boxes are perfect for holding individual chocolates or small treats.
The more expensive versions of this egg not only feature hand-painted images, but also lace trimming around the edges of the egg. Eventually, in order to make them more affordable to the general public, the lace was replaced by embossed paper known as Dresden trim.
The older eggs, dating back to the early 20th century and earlier, are extremely rare, since they are so fragile.
According to the Etsy seller, you can easily date an egg by looking at the location stamp on the inside. Eggs stamped ‘German’ usually were produced before 1918; eggs stamped with the words ‘German Republic’ were produced between 1918 and 1933; and eggs marked ‘East Germany,’ ‘German Democratic Republic,’ ‘West Germany,’ and ‘Federal Republic of Germany’ all date after World War II.
The eggs were designed to be disposable, but thankfully, plenty of vintage eggs from the 1950s and ‘60s remain for sale on websites like eBay and Etsy. There, they usually sell for only a few dollars. More modern versions of this Easter classic can be found there as well.
Of all the vibrant colors you might find on these highly collectible, vintage eggs, you’ll find that red is the base color on many German-made pieces. Using red to color eggs, says vintage lifestyle blogger Marianne Kuzmen, dates back to early Christianity. Other popular colors for vintage papier mache eggs included blue, black, turquoise, pink, purple and yellow. These eggs, Kuzmen notes, weren’t just made specifically for Easter – German immigrants crafted papier mache eggs for the Christmas holiday, too.
The Easter Bunny portrayed in chalkware and in fabric
Chalkware rabbit figurines remain among the most popular of Easter collectibles, due to their affordability. Auction sites contain multiple listings for these pieces at any given time. (photo courtesy of eBay)
For those collectors who might not have the financial means to secure such jeweled wonders, Easter collectibles are easily found as antique sellers prepare for the annual changing of the seasons.
Collectors of Easter antiques also have German immigrants to thank for items such as papier-mache Easter bunny figurines. Bunny figurines made of chalkware were just as common between the 18th and 20th centuries – these figures were gypsum or Plaster of Paris formed into a mold, then painted with oils of watercolors, according to Country Living. Throughout the early and mid-20th century, such figures were commonly sold in F.W. Woolworth’s stores across the country. Vintage chalkware rabbit figurines are sold today on sites like eBay and Etsy for as little as $20 or as much as $200. Rarer designs can go for several thousand dollars.
Bunnies of the fabric, stuffed variety, meanwhile, soared in popularity around the same time that chalkware bunnies found their way to store shelves. Those dolls were usually made of mohair, velveteen, or felt, then stuffed with cotton or straw, according to an April 2017 article published by The Post-Bulletin in Rochester, Minnesota. Again, vintage stuffed bunny dolls representing a rainbow of colors, materials and ages can be found on sites like eBay and Etsy, as well as among the shelves of antique dealers.
A common but colorful candy dish
Hen-on-Nest glass dishes are common and extremely collectible items that commonly hold candies and nuts at Easter celebrations. They are available in a variety of colors and models. (photo courtesy of eBay)
A more delicate collectible often found on the dining room table for Easter dinner is the hen-on-nest glass dish. Used most commonly as vessels for candy or nuts on one’s coffee table, especially during holidays, these dishes’ origins can be traced back to 18th century England, shortly arriving in the Americas thereafter. At first, they were trinkets only the rich could afford, and were produced in a variety of models and colors.
But items made from pressed glass became cheaper to produce with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, and the market became saturated with knockoffs and imitations. By the early 20th century, the list of these dishes’ manufacturers swelled to include West-moreland, Fenton, and Boyd. Even today, collectors don’t have to venture very far to find hen-on-nest dishes; they remain readily available for sale at most antique dealers, and at much more affordable prices than their counterparts from three centuries ago.
Tins bearing beloved characters, such as author Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit, are also commonly found in Easter baskets. Such tins and cardboard eggs containing small toys began being produced in the early 20th century. (photo courtesy of Beatrix-potter-shop.co.uk)
In addition to the chocolates, candies and other confections a child might find in his or her Easter basket on Easter morning, small figurines and toys began to be added to baskets in the early 20th century after the end of World War I. Before the mass production of plastic eggs, German two-piece eggs were made of cardboard and festooned with images of chicks, rabbits, ducks, or religious icons. These were a bit more durable than papier mache eggs made around the same time. Lithographed candy tins also bearing such images were produced alongside those eggs, and today they are being reproduced, so collectors should be aware before purchasing tins that may appear original.
Inside those eggs and tins were small toys – in the early 20th century, some celluloid figure toys, such as a rabbit pushing a chick in a baby carriage, accompanied such eggs and rose in popularity quickly. Today, according to the Press-Republican newspaper, celluloid Easter figurines can fetch up to $150 on auction sites or at estate sales.
Like items mass produced for other major holidays, the abundance of vintage Easter collectibles on the market reveals that its popularity won’t diminish anytime soon. And since Easter is rife with the themes of rebirth and resurrection, adding these well-loved pieces to your collection just in time for the holiday will ensure they are enjoyed by visitors to your home for years to come.
Corbin Crable can be contacted at email@example.com.
Feature Stories Archive past articles