Collecting vintage Nativity figures covers a variety much larger than first meets the eye and can be considered a wonderful collectible regardless of the religious connotation. The challenge becomes the variety involved based on countries (Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Spain, USA, etc.) or media (paper, papier mache, plaster, terra cotta, salt, etc.) or scale (from pocket-sized to enormous floor-sized figures for churches). Then there are all the endless varieties involved within each of these areas. Where to begin?
Those collectors who lean toward the fine quality and detail of early German items might also consider including Nativity figures that were created in similar fashion as the popular Belsnickles with just as much detail in the facial expressions and into their clothing. The top photo shows three rare German figures (hollow papier mache, circa 1890) with extended hands and arms that involved several extra steps in production; the stick-leg camel has glass eyes. Collectors who grew up in the 1950/60’s period might collect the other end of the spectrum: Woolworth’s Nativity figures (right) that were sold in bins so the consumer could pick and choose what to put in their scene. These hollow composition figures were from both Japan and Italy where molds were often copied with slight changes leaving today’s collector with a seemingly never-ending variety.