Belsnickle — the old man remodeled into Santa Claus' modern look — is a German name said by some to be taken from the words "belzen," meaning "to wallop," and "Nickel," a form of the name Nikolas. Others say the name is from "pelz," the German word for fur.
Modern tradition prefers the friendlier idea of an old man dressed in fur and rags who gives toys to good children. The Belsnickle figure represented a poor man who wanted food or money. He was usually made with a bent back, large face and long beard. Many were shown with their hands hidden in the rags as if they were cold.
Those images disappeared in 1862 when Thomas Nast created the fat, smiling Santa image for Harper's Weekly. Today, most representations of Santa look like the one from the 1930s Coca-Cola ads.
Early Belsnickles did not wear red, so figures with green, gray or dark blue coats are the oldest and probably the most expensive.
But be careful, very good reproductions are still being made. They are originally sold as modern copies, but after going to a house sale, the history is lost and they may fool an unwary collector.
This Pennsylvania German folk art Belsnickle was sold a few years ago by Bertoia Auctions for $18,400. It was made of brown chalkware in the late 1800s.
Folding pool table
Q: We have a wooden folding pool table from the late 1950s or early 1960s. It's 40 inches by 22½ inches and folds down for storage. There are two cues, the balls, and the triangle to set them. The original tab on the underside reads "The Burrowes Corporation, Model 408, Pool/Billiard Tables, Portland Maine." It's in great condition. Is this of any value?
A: E.T. Burrowes was founded in Portland, Maine, in 1873. The company made wire screens for doors and windows, folding card tables, cedar chests, billiard and pool tables, and parts for automobiles. A 1903 ad listed Burrowes combination billiard and pool tables that could be set on top of a dining room or library table. Legs could be added to stand the pool table on the floor. Prices ranged from $6 to $15 for small tables and $25 to $75 and up for larger versions. Your table might sell for $50 to $150 at auction.
Patty Berg golf clubs
Q: I have a set of Patty Berg original Wilson golf clubs for ladies. There are the woods and also the irons, all in good condition. Do they have any monetary value?
A: Patty Berg (1918-2006) played golf as a pro from 1940 to 1962. She won more major golf tournaments than any other female player. Wilson made several different sets of Patty Berg golf clubs. Collectors want old clubs with wooden handles, not relatively new used clubs. Some of the old clubs sell for thousands of dollars, but more common modern clubs are difficult to sell.
Dick Tracy radio
Q: I have a Dick Tracy wristband AM radio. The radio is 2 inches by 2¾ inches and snaps onto the vinyl strap, which is 1¼ inches wide. The radio has three knobs: On, Off, and one to dial the station. It's marked "Design Patent Pending." Is it worth anything?
A: Your wristband radio came with an earphone and two batteries and was packaged in a colorful box. It was made about 1975. A watch like yours, but in its original box, sold a few years ago for $115.
Q: I bought a full-size (5 feet 8 inches by 6 feet 2 inches) brass elevator cage with an expanding scissor door. It was made by Standard several years ago. I couldn't use it in my house. How can I sell it?
A: Elevator cages are too large to attract many collectors, but they sell at auctions occasionally. A fancy 19th-century brass cage sold for more than $1,900 last year.
Terry and Kim Kovel will answer as many letters from readers as possible through the column only. For return of a photograph, include a self-addressed, stamped (55 cents) envelope. Write to: The Kovels, c/o King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019. The website is kovels.com.
Prices are from shows nationwide.
Nutcracker, dog, mechanical, cast iron, movable jaw, painted white, Tex-a-Toy label, 1950s, 5 by 11 inches, $25.
Picture, theorem, winter scene, Richland, Pa., signed A. Wiest, 1970s, 10 1/4 by 12 1/4 inches, $140.
Coca-Cola sign, Santa, holding bottles and sign, stand up, cardboard, 1950s, 11 1/2 inches, $150.
Christmas figurine, Santa, hitchhiking, on vacation, plastic fiberglass, 73 inches, $180.
Cloisonne dish, partridge, storks, enameled center, blue ground, Japan, about 1910, 11 3/4 inches, $235.
Toy, Yeti, the Abominable Snowman, vinyl head and hands, fur, remote control, 11 inches, $240.
Christmas ornament, carousel horse, rabbit, sterling, Cazenovia Abroad, box, 4 by 3 1/4 inches, two pieces, $245.
Sterling silver bread plate, leaf rim, round foot, turned-out rim, monogram, Gorham, 1930, 6 1/4 inches, 12 pieces, $605.
Gaudy Dutch cream pitcher, oyster pattern, helmet shape, 5 1/2 by 4 3/4 inches, $885.
Sleigh bed, Louis XVI style, fruitwood, padded back, scrolled headboard, about 1910, 65 by 85 inches, $1,720.
Stoneware chicken feeder, cobalt-blue leaves, ear handles, dome top, tiered finial, 16 inches, $2,480.
Tip: Don't try to wash and clean vintage glass Christmas ornaments. The paint could easily flake off. Just dust.