> TELEPHONE US 212.355.5710

Holiday Puppets Make History

November 25, 2020

Santa Claus and Rudolph the red nosed reindeer standing on snow with presents

Wishing everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving, and with that we have officially entered the holiday season! And so begins the onslaught of holiday television specials… One of those specials has aired yearly since December 1964 as part of NBC’s General Electric Fantasy Hour… it features the most famous couple of Christmas characters – Santa and Rudolph.

The stop-action movie was based on Jonny Marks’ song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (which was inspired by a poem [by the same name] written by Marks’ brother-in-law Robert May in 1939). The tune has become so culturally significant and instantly recognizable over the years – Gene Autry recorded the song, and it hit No. 1 on the U.S. charts Christmas week of 1949.  It has also been re-recorded by countless bands and singers including Bing Crosby, The Supremes, The Temptations, The Jackson 5, Destiny’s Child, and Alvin and the Chipmunks, just to name a few.

Recently, two of the original puppets that were made for the original movie flew across the auction block. They included the most famous reindeer of all and his partner Santa, as well as Santa’s sleigh and some misfit toys.

In 1964 the puppets cost $5,000 each to make and were created by Japanese puppet maker Ichiro Komuro;  Santa stands at 11 inches tall and Rudolph is just 6 inches in height… both were crafted from wood, wire, cloth, leather, and yak hair.

The puppets had been housed in the NY offices of Rankin/Bass Productions (the creators of the movie) until the early 1970s when Arthur Rankin, Jr. gifted them to his secretary. She, in turn, gave them to her nephew. In 2005 he brought them to the Antiques Roadshow where they were appraised at $8-10K.  With that, he decided to offer them on eBay and was contacted by Kevin Kriess, the owner of a toy store in PA, who purchased the puppets for an undisclosed price.

Rudolph and Santa underwent some minor restoration, and Kriess sold them to a collector (Peter Lutrario) for “significantly more than $30K.”   Lutrario fully intended to hold onto the puppets until his death but recently decided to sell them to help his family…

All the items were presented in one lot and were estimated to make $150- 250K.  Bidders “shouted out with glee” as the estimate was quickly surpassed – the little puppets made history, selling for $368,000!

If you are looking forward to watching Rudolph this year, you can see it on CBS on December 12th, at 8PM…Enjoy!