The word Easter is a derivative of the name “Eostre,” a goddess of spring whose festival was celebrated in April long before the birth of Christ. It wasn't until 325 A.D. that the Council of Nice set the first Sunday after the full moon appearing on or after March 21 as the date to celebrate Easter. While that sounds a bit complicated, understanding the origin of using eggs and bunnies as Easter symbols, and the collectibles that followed, is a little more straightforward.
Symbols Found in Easter Collectibles
When it comes to collectibles, those with Easter flair most often reflect joyous secular celebrations held around the world during springtime. These traditions have been around for a very long time.
The ancient Persians are thought to have presented eggs, scarce and highly valued commodities at the time, as gifts during the spring to symbolize new life. As eggs became more plentiful, people began to color them with bright hues to signify the end of a long, cold and often dreary winter.
As for the Easter bunny, he actually originated as a hare, which is the rabbit's larger cousin. Ancient Egyptians aptly held the hare as a scared symbol of fertility. Some writings imply that the hare was the earthly form of the goddess Eostre, Easter's namesake, linking it to springtime as well.
German Easter Treats and Collectibles
It wasn't until the 19th century in America that the word for hare was translated into rabbit.
Around the same time, German candy factories began producing chocolate rabbits, eggs, chicks, and a host of other goodies as Easter confections. The custom was brought to the United States with German immigrants, and the containers that held all those scrumptious treats are now widely collected. Other sweets were sold in glass figures, and those candy containers are also collectible.
Candy wasn't the only thing abundantly produced in Germany when it comes to Easter, however. Many of the most coveted decorative Easter collectibles were made there as well. In her book (now out of print but available through used booksellers online), A Guide to Easter Collectibles, author Juanita Burnett offers some general guidelines for dating German Easter items.
Pieces marked German were generally produced before 1918, while items with a German Republic stamp can be dated between 1918 and 1933. East Germany, German Democratic Republic, West Germany and Federal Republic of Germany marks all date after World War II.
Easter Collectibles from Other Parts of the World
Not all Easter collectibles originated in Germany though. You'll find toy rabbits, celluloid candy containers, and small porcelain figurines featuring Easter themes with Japanese marks as well. Most of the items made in Japan were produced from mid-1930s on. They generally don’t have the detailing of the older German pieces, but are still very cute and quite often more affordable.
Some Easter collectibles made in the United States and the United Kingdom, especially early 20th century postcards, are also attractive to collectors.
In fact, any related collectible dating prior to 1960 would likely be welcomed by an Easter enthusiast regardless of the country of origin, at the right price, of course. Postcards, even those that are heavily colored and embossed, are some of the most affordable collectibles available today when it comes to Easter.
Valuing Easter Collectibles
Although all Easter collectibles are fun to own, even newly made pieces and reproductions of older examples, the authentic German items dating back to the turn of the last century probably hold the most value and appeal to dedicated collectors. If you'd like to find something special along these lines to enhance your own Easter festivities, be prepared to look long and hard and pay a good price.
For instance, paper-mâché rabbit candy containers with removable heads dating from 1900-1930 can easily sell for $100 or more.
Find a rabbit of the same composition standing on four legs pulling a cart filled with vintage eggs and you can plan on tripling that figure to bring it home.
If you're a bargain collector, look for some of the plastic Japanese items produced since the '40s and tin eggs made as recently as the '90s as colorful-yet-affordable collectibles. Some collectibles from the 1940s are also still reasonably priced including two-piece egg shaped candy containers and simple glass rabbit candy containers of the more common variety.
If you prefer religious themes for occasions such as these, don't discount the postcards, pamphlets, and Sunday School cards distributed at Easter time during the early 1900s. Themes featured on these collectibles range from Easter lilies to crosses and depictions of Christ with children, and most can be purchased very affordably at antique malls and flea markets.