Cottontail collectibles are every bit as adorable -- and abundant -- as bunnies themselves. For more than a century, rabbits have been a motif for springtime goodies, be they vases for daffodils or stuffed toys in an Easter basket. Rabbits' longtime association with spring started with the Easter bunny. Protestants in Europe celebrated the iconic figure as early as the 17th century, but the custom became more common in the 19th century when German emigrants to Pennsylvania brought the tradition of the Osterhase, or Easter hare, to U.S. shores in the early 1800s. In their tale, the multitasking, multitalented Easter bunny not only lays eggs, but also decorates and delivers them. Here is a look at some bunny collectibles going back more than a century, with cameos by a few living, breathing, highly lovable little guys and gals.
If it was cute and ceramic, it was likely a Lefton. Sold at U.S. department stores after World War II, Lefton figurines and planters are often identifiable thanks to the stamps or paper labels on the bottom. Most bunnies are a few inches tall and can be found for as little as $5; large ones are rarer and cost more. The planter was probably a premium offered by department stores.
Children's literature teems with lovable rabbits -- the Velveteen Rabbit, the Runaway Bunny, Peter Rabbit -- and kids have long clung to adoringly to toy bunnies.
The bunnies featured are from the 1930s through the '50s; the largest one belongs to Martha. They're mostly made from mohair or cotton, thought the white one on the right, from the 1950s, is fashioned from real rabbit fur. The most collectible stuffed toys are using those made by the German company Steiff, which has produced them since the 1920s.
Consider these the wealthy great-grandfathers of drugstore bunny candies. Sold at fine candy shops that catered to affluent children during the late 1800s, these papier-mache and plaster candy holders were made in Germany. The finest examples had papier-mache bodies, with feet and legs made of wood, and earlier ones, such as the white bunny, had glass eyes. Depending on condition and age, they can run from $30 to a couple of hundred dollars.
With its soft, white hue, milk glass is a perfect medium for bunny collectibles. Milk glass dishware dates to the 1870s, though it surged in popularity in the 1940s and '50s. The bunnies perched on a nest or fence, which were used for keeping eggs warm, are more common now than the full-bodied ones. You can find pieces from the 1950s for $20 to $70, depending on the style; those from the late 19th century are harder to come by and pricier.
How did a 1950s housewife impress the ladies in her bridge club? By hosting a luncheon that included the whimsy of the latest novelty gelatin mold. The chocolate bunnies (bottom) were made from such aluminum molds, which were usually freebies from gelatin companies. Cookie cutters are fun to amass, too; tin ones date to the 1800s and plastic ones to the 1950s. In addition to the standard size used to shape the cookies, tin cutters were often made in two smaller sizes for children. Prices can start at a few dollars and run into the hundreds for large tin ones.
These little guys were designed to carry Easter candy. In keeping with the holiday's imagery, many had wheelbarrows made to look like eggshells. These were available throughout the 1950s and '60s, when novelty companies such as Knickerbocker and E. Rosen churned out all kinds of five-and-dime fodder. Today, the ones with intricate parts intact are the most valuable.
What looks like an innocent, bunny-shaped hunk of iron could be worth $3,000. Such is the big business of cast-iron doorstops made in U.S. foundries from the 1880s until World War II. While $3,000 is at the high end, doorstops and lawn ornaments can fetch a few hundred dollars each. Reproductions are rare, so you can feel pretty confident you're getting an original; here, only the design of the tall brown bunny (middle) has been reproduced. Penny banks, the smaller pieces here, cost from $100 to $500.
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