Nativity Sets: Antique, Vintage, and Contemporary Collectibles
Nativity sets, also called crèches, are depictions of the birth of Christ. These sets usually contain at least Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, and a stable however some may have numerous pieces.
History of Nativity sets
The first nativity scene is believed to have been created by St. Francis in 1223. This was a living scene where people played the roles of the holy family. The idea was to cultivate the worship of Christ. As these living scenes became popular all over Europe people began to create small scenes with wax, carved wood, or ivory figures. The figures were often dressed in elaborate fabrics. They became a Christmas decoration in the homes of royalty and nobles as early as the 15th century.
As the use of these sets spread through Europe they took on a variety of looks and traditions. Today nativity sets can be found in homes, churches, stores, and even public buildings during the holiday season.
Parts of a Creche
No matter how old the nativity set is or where it was made it will have, at the least, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus in a manger. Angels and the wise men are common, yet important pieces as well. After that the craftsman may add shepherds, townspeople, animals of various sorts, and a variety of plants, structures, and other details to create a scene uniquely their own.
Collecting Nativity Sets: Antique, Vintage, and Contemporary
Like potato chips, few people can have just one. Once they begin to collect pieces to a set they will often continue to do so. When the first set is complete the collector may choose another set.
While contemporary nativities are nice, many aficionados prefer to pick up vintage and antique pieces. What is the difference? In order for something to be an antique it must be at least 100 years old by most standards. Vintage nativities are at usually at least 20-25 years old but less than 100.
Antique and Vintage Nativity Sets
Antique sets are often made of papier mache or chalkware. These figures, sold individually can often command prices of $100.00 or more. The additional figures of shepherds and animals can be more expensive than the common figures of the Holy Family and the Wise Men.
Victorians were likely to collect imported German nativities and you will find these beautiful antiques if you do some searching. They are often more expensive than other sets and include Belsnickle.
In the 1920s cardboard Christmas houses and nativities were often imported from Japan. These types of Christmas decorations increased in popularity because they were affordable to lower income households.
During the 1940s and 50s chalkware sets imported from Italy gained popularity. Many of these sets were manufactured by a company called Fontanini. The chalkware was usually brightly painted and the figures on the large side.
Plastic sets became popular in the 1960s and were available at Woolworth's and other 5 and 10 stores. These sets are nearly indestructible and easily collected due to the large numbers of them available.
In contemporary art the nativity may not reflect the Christian faith in the least because it has become as much an art form as a religious symbol. You can find scenes made b y artists from Buddhists, Muslims, and Jews for example. Often the actual scene will reflect the culture and belief system of the artist. For example, a Native American artist might have the wise men bearing items that were unique to Native American culture rather than the traditional gifts.
The structure may be a cave or a stable, or it may be something completely in keeping with the community the artist is comfortable with. The variety of structures is as unique as the artists that create contemporary nativity sets.
Some examples of Nativity Sets
Antique nativity sets abound on the Internet. Here are some examples:
- Collection of nativity sets from around the globe at Dayton's Marion Library
- Chalkware and composition set from around the 1950s
- 1950s set from Japan
- 19th Century Austrian Set
Contemporary Collectible Sets
Here is a slideshow of contemporary collectible nativities. You can go to the site to find out more about them by clicking on the Amazon links at the right of this article.
No matter whether you are collecting contemporary, vintage, or antique sets, a display of nativity sets is a beautiful way to decorate for the Christmas season.