Bygone Treasures - The Stuff In Your Stocking

By Michael Rice

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With every respect to other cultures and ethnicities, the memories I’d like to share here are not about “winter festival” or “seasonal celebrations,” they’re about Christmas.

During our first winter in Canada on Vancouver Island, we lived in an old rented house with a sawdust burner for heat; family transport was a bicycle; and my Dad was out of work. My sister and I were enrolled in Catholic school, and I was overwhelmed by my classmates’ excitement regarding the Christmas presents they expected to receive. With a career in accountancy decades in the future, even at age six, I knew my folks had little money. I was fine with that, and whiled away my time looking at toy photos in the Eaton’s catalogue.

We snipped holly from a neighbourhood tree (without fear of arrest or being sued), Christmas cards from Ireland and Wales were hung on string, and Mom planned dinner and made pudding. But as the big day grew closer, I dreaded returning to school to hear my friends recite their lists of what Santa had left beneath the tree. “I got a Red Ryder BB gun.” “I got a whole set of Cameron Highlanders toy soldiers.” “What did you get, Michael?” “Umm, well...” On the Richter scale of anxiety, I was off the chart. There’s still a groove on my back where the cold sweat trickled down.

The previous Christmas in Wales, Santa had visited our little school in Fishguard Harbour and given everyone a present. When my turn arrived, Santa was obviously anxious to return to his reindeer and eggnog, and reaching into his sack, he thrust into my eager trembling hands, a doll! The stricken look on my face would have won an international photo award. Another delve into the sack, and I was given an early 1930s tin wind-up auto, well over a foot long. Alas, when emigration day came, it wouldn’t fit in the shipping tea chest and was abandoned in the farmhouse. Likely made by the toy company Marx, it would be worth several thousand dollars on today’s market.

Christmas stockings in our home were traditional. At the foot of our beds, we found one of Dad’s work socks containing some candies, nuts in the shell, an orange in the toe and (wait for it), a pair of socks. Stockings now seem to come with an overflow box with as many wrapped presents as kids expect to receive in the main round.

Sadly, so many children’s modern gifts are not “keepers.” Their future is bleak due to the huge numbers produced and sold in response to blitz advertising and peer pressure to have the latest toy. When next year’s candidate arrives, this year’s lot will be sold off at garage sales along with Beanie Babies and Tickle-Me-Whatevers.

For those of you who grew up in a simpler time, you may have received some gifts that have considerable collector interest today. I’ve included a few examples with online values, and I can hear the cries of anguish “I had one of those!” all over the Island. Remember that condition and other factors may affect the values noted, some of which may make your eyes water. A 1968 Beano Annual $55; 1949 Superman comic book $85; Gene Autry cap pistol $135; 1930s boxed Shirley Temple Doll $475; 1931 Buddy L dump truck $1,500; Amos & Andy boxed Fresh Air Taxicab $1,000; and a Marklin handpainted horse drawn beer wagon $9,000.

If you haven’t looked at your early toys in years, consider selling them and investing in your grandchildren’s RESPs, as well as dropping some cash in a Salvation Army kettle. If you need a hand identifying or valuing your old toys, please e-mail me, as I’m always happy to help.

But I can’t leave you without telling the rest of the story. After we’d looked in our stockings and the time came to open presents, I had faint expectations, but there, tucked away among the clothing (some new and some mended), were two packets with my name on them that didn’t squish when poked. Somehow, Mom had found 39 cents and bought me a little plastic clicker pistol and a small rubber pirate’s sword. After dinner, I tore into the street waving them about. I would fit in! I could brag! I was in heaven! It was a wonderful Christmas.

Comments and suggestions for future columns are welcome and can be sent to Michael Rice PO Box 86 Saanichton BC V8M 2C3 or via e-mail to





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