Christmas is famously the most wonderful time of the year, and one of the most fun things about it for many people is putting up the festive decorations. In most cases, people simply try to choose ornaments that look nice or maybe mean something to them. But for others, Christmas items can be collectibles or a way to show off wealth and taste.
There are plenty of Christmas collector’s items out there for those who can get a hold of them or afford the eye-watering price tags. Some are modern but unique or rare, some are centuries old, and others have been owned or designed by famous figures. So, for a bit of festive fun, here are ten of the rarest and most unique Christmas items from around the world.
Related: 10 of the Most Unusual Christmas Traditions
10 Three Little Kings
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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas—through a microscope, that is! To bring a “little bit of hope and happiness” to the world over the holiday season in 2023, micro-sculptor Willard Wigan unveiled a unique sculpture of the Bible’s three wise men. Called “Three Little Kings,” the microscopic model features the three biblical kings wearing 24-carat gold crowns as they sit atop their camels.
What is amazing is that the entire scene was constructed in the eye of a needle. To get an idea of just how small that is, each camel is smaller than a full stop, and the artist had to use his own eyelash as a paintbrush and hold his breath to be able to paint the figures accurately. Even the tiny movement of his pulse in his fingers could have led to a catastrophic mistake. He hopes the tiny sculpture, which he made from nylon, helps remind the world of how even the little things in life can bring happiness.
9 The World’s Most Famous Christmas Tree
Admittedly, no collectors will be getting their hands on this one for two main reasons: Firstly, because it is a real tree that will decompose once the festive season is over, and secondly, because it is more of a concept than a single, physical object. The tree in question is the massive spruce gifted to Great Britain every year by the people of Norway as a thank-you for their support of Norway in World War II.
When the Scandinavian nation was occupied by Nazi Germany, King Haakon VII of Norway was sheltered in London, which is also where his country’s exiled government set up their temporary headquarters. After the war, in 1947, King Haakon started the tradition of sending a tree to London each year as a token of thanks. It goes on display each year in London’s Trafalgar Square after having arrived in the country by boat. The tree is selected months before it is cut down and cannot be any old tree as it must be “the queen of the forest.”
8 A Century-Old Christmas Tree
If real trees are too messy, then an artificial one can be used to decorate the house, and it could make a surprisingly good investment, too. That is assuming one lives long enough to see the profits. At an auction in 2023, an artificial Christmas tree originally bought in 1920 sold for over $4,000, which might not sound like much, but it is many times higher than the estimated price and far, far more than the mere pennies that it cost when it was new.
The tree was described as “the humblest Christmas tree in the world” because of its petite size, being just 31 inches (78.7 cm) tall and with a sparse 25 branches. Impressive though its 103 years are, it is surprisingly not the oldest surviving Christmas tree. That belongs to the Parker family in the UK, whose family has owned the same Christmas tree since 1886. It is even smaller than the one from 1920, at just one foot (30.5 cm) tall.
7 The Most Expensive Christmas Tree
We’d all probably agree that $4,000 might be pricey for a small Christmas tree, but it is nowhere near the most expensive. Although the Christmas season is meant to be about giving, for hotels, it is often about spending and showing off. And so far, no one seems to have spent more than Spain’s Kempinski Hotel Bahia did in 2019. The estimated value of its 19-foot (5.8-meter) tree was $15 million, with around one-third of that figure being contributed by a single diamond-encrusted ornament.
In total, it was decorated with over 500 opulent ornaments, which had been curated by the designer Debbie Wingham, who describes herself as “the world’s most expensive designer.” She has a history of similarly plush projects, including an $11.4 million Christmas tree in 2010. All the pieces for the Kempinski tree were handcrafted by luxury fashion houses like Louis Vuitton and Chanel. The materials included diamonds, sapphires, furs, gold, and ostrich eggs.
6 Christmas Trees by Famous Artists
Another way Christmas decorations can be used to show off, but without spending such big bucks, is by having a world-renowned artist design them. A surprising number of living artists have had a go at the humble Christmas tree, with unique and unusual results. London’s luxury Connaught Hotel has had trees designed by British artistic heavyweights Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, and sculptor Sir Antony Gormley in the recent past.
Hirst’s tree was decorated with medical equipment, including pills, syringes, and scissors. The artist wanted to feature some of the amazing things that give the world hope. Emin composed a poem that spiraled around her tree in neon lights while the trunk of Gormley’s tree lit up like a beam shooting toward the sky.
Art galleries can also be good places to find artists’ unusual trees. For example, Michael Landy’s controversial effort at the Tate Britain gallery in 1997 was a dumpster filled with dead trees and other Christmas waste, such as empty bottles and cans, torn wrapping paper, and toy packaging.
5 Salvador Dali’s Christmas Cards
Christmas trees are not the only items artists have turned their attention to. In 1960, the eccentric Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali created a controversial range of Christmas card designs for the greetings card company Hallmark. It was part of an initiative by the company’s founder to share great art with people who might otherwise never see it.
Since the 1940s, Hallmark has been printing paintings and designs by artists such as Picasso and Van Gogh on their cards. Salvador Dali submitted ten designs for the cards, but eight of them were thought to be a bit too avant-garde for commercial use, featuring such strange sights as headless angels and a Christmas tree made of butterflies. It might be reasonable to ask what they expected by asking Salvador Dali to design the cards. Even the two designs that were sold proved controversial and unpopular with the public. They were swiftly pulled from the shelves but became collectors’ items in the decades that followed.
4 One of the World’s First Christmas Cards
His name might not be widely known, but Sir Henry Cole left a legacy that endures today and is likely to continue long into the future. He was the inventor of two things that have been widely adopted around the world: postage stamps and Christmas cards. Amazingly, Christmas cards from the first ever set he designed way back in 1843 have survived, but they can sell for several thousand dollars each.
Cole made 1,000 copies of his original Christmas card design, which features a hand-drawn picture of a Victorian family drinking around a table and the words “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.” These were sent to his friends and family as well as sold. Color copies cost six pence, or about ten cents, back in the day, while black-and-white copies were five pence each. As of 2013, only around 15 of the black-and-white cards remain. Their rarity has seen them sell for almost $7,000 at auction.
3 The Original Rudolph
Visitors to Dartmouth College’s Rauner Library will get a seasonal surprise if they head up to the fourth level. Among the stacks of rare books enclosed in a glass case is a papier-mâché model of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. However, this is not any old Rudolph sculpture but one that belonged to the reindeer’s creator, Robert Lewis May.
May wrote the story while working as a copywriter in the 1930s. His plan was to give the books away to children in an effort to attract customers to Montgomery Ward department stores over the 1939 Christmas season. It was a resounding success, and despite a whopping two million copies of the first edition being printed, the stores actually experienced shortages.
In 1947, Montgomery Ward generously returned the copyright for the red-nosed reindeer to May, who licensed it for hundreds of items, a TV show, and, of course, the famous song, which was written by his brother-in-law. Copies of the original book, as well as various Rudolph toys and items, are on display at Dartmouth, where May studied.
2 First Images of the Modern Santa Claus
The jovial, bearded bringer of gifts that children know today predates his famous pet reindeer by around 60 years. While the concept and celebration of Saint Nicholas had existed in America since the early 1800s, Santa as he is often seen today would only appear in the second half of the 19th century. Unlike Rudolph, he did not originate in a children’s book (nor with Coca-Cola); in fact, quite the opposite.
The modern Santa Claus was drawn by a political cartoonist called Thomas Nast as Union propaganda during the U.S. Civil War. In the very first picture Nast drew of him, Santa was even wearing a stars and stripes-themed outfit and handing out presents to Union soldiers. Between 1863 and 1886, Nast produced 33 pictures of Santa for Harper’s Weekly. His 1881 picture called “Merry Old Santa Claus” became his most famous and shows a rotund Santa in his red suit with white fur linings, just as he is typically found wearing today. The original Harper’s Weekly images still exist and can sell for over $100 each.
1 Antique Clockwork Santa
Some people can get carried away with their spending during the holiday season. However, the bidder who doled out $161,000 for an antique Santa toy in 2010 could not use that excuse—the auction was in the summer. So, what was so special about this Santa and his sleigh that made it worth splurging such a silly sum? To start with, this particular antique was considered to be the most significant early American toy, and it was the finest of the three examples known to survive.
The clockwork toy dates back to around 1880 and was made by Althof Bergmann. When wound up, Santa’s sleigh rides along while two goats, which are pulling it, gallop up and down, ringing bells on their backs. While it would not have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars originally, American clockwork toys were expensive back in those days. Those which are well-preserved can fetch large sums at auction. The Bergmann Santa toy was auctioned with a collection of other early toys, which collectively sold for more than $2 million.