By: Alicia Weaver – ISA AM
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite times of the year, the perfect opportunity to get together with friends and family to enjoy a feast. Of course, it’s also a great time to collect and display Thanksgiving-themed antiques and collectibles.
I’ve been collecting Thanksgiving antiques for many years, and love to pass along advice whenever I can. Here’s a closer look at some of the most popular Thanksgiving antiques, including decorating ideas and tips on identifying potential valuables.
Ceramic turkeys have been popular for decades, including the years immediately following World War II, when they were commonly given as housewarming gifts. You’ll find them in all shapes, sizes, and types. Aside from ceramic figurines, other common options include salt and pepper shakers, candle holders, and planters.
When searching for antiques with potential value, look for the following manufacturers:
I like to use these items for their intended purpose when possible. For instance, I’ll use a salt shaker to hold salt. But you can also get creative. I have a vintage turkey-shaped planter that I line with a cloth napkin and use to hold dinner rolls.
From the early 1900s through the 1920s, a popular way people would celebrate Thanksgiving is by sending postcards to family and friends. Vintage Thanksgiving postcards typically featured elaborate, full-colored illustrations of turkeys, children dressed as pilgrims, and other seasonal scenes.
Postcards led the trend around the turn of the century, but Thanksgiving greeting cards also became quite popular. Hallmark released their first Thanksgiving cards in the early 1920s, featuring the same lavish illustrations found on postcards.
If you’re just looking to decorate, you’re in luck, because reproductions of classic postcards are easy to find. I like to place reproduction images behind glass in a frame to hang on the wall.
If you want a genuine article, you have several options. Thanksgiving postcards were significantly popular for decades, and many are still available today from online sellers, flea market vendors, and more. To determine the age of a postcard, consider the following factors:
- The price of the stamp
- The type of paper
- The printing method
- The fashions worn by the characters
The condition of the postcard also plays a role in its value, as postcards free from tears, watermarks, and other damage are typically worth the most.
Gurley Thanksgiving Candles
Gurley candles are some of my favorite decorations for every holiday, but especially for Thanksgiving. If you’re unfamiliar with these delightful collectibles, here’s a quick primer.
In 1927, Franklin Gurley opened a company called W&F Manufacturing. They made candy, chocolate, and other tasty treats. Many of their confections were coated with edible paraffin shells.
As the company became increasingly adept at molding paraffin, they attracted the attention of the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company (later Exxon-Mobil), who needed help reusing non-edible paraffin created during the oil refinery process.
In 1939, W&F Manufacturing became the Gurley Novelty Company, quickly gaining national fame for their handcrafted, charming candles. They made candles for every major holiday, including Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and Thanksgiving.
Their Thanksgiving candles feature a wide variety of characters and objects. Some favorites include:
- Pilgrim Girls and Boys
- Indian Chief, Brave, and Maiden
- The Mayflower
- Leaves, Pinecones, and Acorns
Each Gurley candle is incredibly detailed, with vibrant colors and a cheerful style.
The Gurley Candle Company closed down in the 1970s, but you can still find many vintage candles available online and from antique dealers, often in great condition because people rarely lit them. When searching for authentic Gurley products, check the bottom of the candle for a sticker that reads Gurley or Tavern (an alternate name used by the company).
Do You Own Valuable Thanksgiving Antiques?
Although I mainly use my collection of Thanksgiving antiques for decorating my home during the holidays, there’s certainly something special about finding a rare and valuable treasure.
Truthfully, determining the true value of a Thanksgiving collectible isn’t always possible for a non-expert. Although the tips above can help point you in the right direction, the best way to identify a valuable collectible is by working with a professional appraiser.
Professional appraisers offer several benefits:
- Experience – A professional appraiser understands how to correctly identify and evaluate ceramic collectibles, Gurley candles, vintage postcards, and practically all other Thanksgiving-related antiques.
- Legitimacy – Professional appraisers can create USPAP-compliant documents, which are required for legal, financial, and insurance purposes.
- Help with Additional Actions – Appraisal services can also help you sell any valuable items via auction or estate sale.
If you own a Thanksgiving item or two that you suspect might be valuable, look for a professional appraisal company that offers online appraisals. With an online appraisal, you’ll send digital images to the company, so they can appraise your items without requiring an in-person visit.
A digital appraisal isn’t accepted by courts or financial institutions, but it’s a fast and affordable way to learn more about the history of your favorite Thanksgiving decorations. Even if your item isn’t worth much, it’s still fun to learn more about its history.
Antique fans and collectible collectors will find lots to love about Thanksgiving, from figurines to candles to postcards and more. Whether looking for seasonal decorations for around the house, or antiques you can use to hold food on the table, you’ll find plenty of excellent options.
Are any of your Thanksgiving decorations potentially valuable antiques? Check with a professional antique appraisal service to learn more. Your favorite Thanksgiving collectible might be worth a bundle – and that’s an extra reason to be thankful!