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Classic poem creates image of Christmas and lots of collectibles

Dec. 02, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

With a stroke of a pen Clement Moore changed the whole perception of Christmas and gift giving. On Dec. 24, 1822 he was reportedly so taken with a horse drawn sleigh ride that he was inspired to sit down and write a poem as a gift for his children. The poem known as, "A Visit from Saint Nicholas," goes like this:

"Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there."

The rest of the poem is well known to most of us and has become the fairy tale we now associate with Christmas. Like most myths, this one also has some truth associated with it. Saint Nicholas really was a priest who lived in Turkey around 300 AD and gave presents to those in need, especially children at Christmas. Moore just expanded this idea a bit and in doing so changed how Christmas is celebrated in our country. This change also wrought many a collectible from artisans, craftsmen and writers seeking to enhance and enrich the tail with their products.

Thomas Nast was the most noted artist to draw Old St. Nick as the "jolly old elf" that Moore described. Copies of his early publications and those of a variety of other famous artists seeking to give life to the poem are highly collectible.

The poem itself has been published in lots of formats besides books. The lyric has appeared on postcards, puzzles, films, piano rolls, Coca Cola memorabilia, magazines and more. Collectibles associated with this poem run the gamut from the original missive itself to all sorts of illustration and figurines commemorating Santa Claus and scenes from the poem.

The original poem was held by Moore descendents until a few years ago. Now it and two other signed copies are in museums. There is a fourth copy that was last sold for $211,500 although it was later consigned to Nieman Marcus to sell for a cool $795,000 in 1999. There were no takers.

Many of you will sit down this Christmas Eve to read the cheerful poem to your family. As you read the last line consider what changes this simple fantasy has wrought in the last 150 years. "Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night."

Jean McClelland writes about antiques for The Herald-Dispatch.

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