Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow...

QUESTION: I have the opportunity to purchase a collection of about 30 snow globes. Are these collectible, and if so, is this a wise investment?

ANSWER: While many people call these little snow wonders snow globes, others call them water domes, water balls, snow shakers, snow storms, snow scenes, blizzard domes, and snow domes. They have delighted children and adults for more than a century.

In the late 1930s, Hollywood drew attention to snow globes by featuring them prominently in a number of films. In the movie “Heidi, “ starring Shirley Temple movie, the curly-haired child peers into a snow globe of a miniature cabin. And in the film classic, “Citizen Kane,” Charles Foster Kane drops a snow globe with a replica of the sled known as Rosebud onto the floor as he dies.

Collectibles experts believe French glass paperweight makers first crafted them during the early 19th century. They were basically decorated glass paperweights filled with water and white powder. But they didn’t catch on until they appeared at the Paris Universal Exposition in 1878.

Snow globes containing a miniature model of the new Eiffel Tower became a much sought after souvenir at the International Exposition in Paris in 1889, thus becoming the first souvenir snow globe. These snow-filled domes also became popular in Victorian England. By the early 1920s, they made their way across the Atlantic to the U.S. where the Atlas Crystal Works produced many of them from that time period.

The U.S. Patent Office granted  Joseph Garaja of Pittsburgh a patent for new method of manufacturing snow globes. His process required assembling the globes under water, thus eliminating trapped air. His invention allowed the snow globe industry to go into mass production, dramatically lowering the prices of snow globes. His company, Modern Novelty of Pittsburgh, supplied plastic-based snow globes in every size and shape to retailers around the world for several decades.

In the 1950's, one manufacturer decided to add antifreeze to his globes, so they wouldn't freeze during shipping. However, public outcry against this procedure forced the company to abandon it.

Today, most of the world's snow globes, made mostly of plastic, come from China. But before World War II, the Germans and Austrians made them mostly of glass. The snow found inside has been produced from many materials, including bone chips, camphor and wax, ground rice, pottery flecks and porcelain.  In time the glass became thinner, so manufacturers began to use flecks of gold foil. Currently, makers use white plastic or metallic glitter for snow. In addition, each globe contains distilled water mixed with a little glycol to slow the movement of the flakes.

Today, you’ll find snow globes combined with a wide variety of souvenir-type items, including  drinking glasses, salt and pepper shakers, sugar containers, soap dishes, ashtrays, calendars, thermometers, banks and pencil sharpeners. They can feature landmarks, World's Fairs and other  historical events, as well as famous and even infamous characters from the past.

Snow globes are usually inexpensive, however, they have sold for as high as $1,000. Vintage souvenir snow domes sell for a modest $8 to $25. And while some collectors might mix old and new snow globes, most prefer vintage ones from the late 1930s through the 1970s. Souvenir snow globes from the 1960s and 1970s hold their value best, so if the ones in this collection date from that period, you should have a good investment, provided you don’t pay too much for it.

You also need to see the potential of adding to this collection. You can get a head start with it, but only you will be able to judge what direction you want to take it. Buy only vintage ones. Make sure the water is high and clear and that any decals that may be attached to the base of the snow globe are securely attached and in one piece.

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