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Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments: Curator Q&A

October 26, 2022 Archive Insight

We are quickly drawing closer to the November 20 opening of our newest permanent exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation: Miniature Moments: A Journey Through Hallmark® Keepsake Ornaments. With just a few weeks to go, we checked in with Jeanine Head Miller, Curator of Domestic Life, and Donna R. Braden, Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life, to collect their thoughts on our collection of nearly 7,000 Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments. Check out their answers below.

What is the oldest Hallmark Keepsake Ornament in The Henry Ford’s collection?


Round white Christmas ornament with image of 5 young children with fine hair holding musical instruments and sheet music around a small Christmas tree
One of Hallmark’s first ornaments from 1973, designed by artist Betsey Clark. / THF178137

Jeanine Head Miller (JHM): The ornaments in this collection date back to the first year that Hallmark produced Christmas ornaments—1973. That year, the company offered six decorated ball ornaments and twelve yarn ornaments. While the shape of Hallmark’s ball ornaments was traditional, the artwork, printed on a plastic sleeve and then heat-shrunk to the ornament, was an innovation. Hallmark’s simple yarn figures evoked nostalgic visions of Christmases long ago—the years leading up to America’s American Revolution Bicentennial celebration saw an increased interest in “early American” traditions.

Toy soldier ornament with blue yarn body, red felt hat, suspenders, and boots, and white felt face
Hallmark’s 1973 yarn ornament series included this colorful toy soldier. / THF177677

What is the newest Hallmark Keepsake Ornament in The Henry Ford’s collection?


JHM: The newest ornaments are the 269 made in 2009. (Yes—the number of ornaments released by Hallmark each year has grown!) These later ornaments reflect the increasing complexity of Hallmark’s designs. The vast majority of the company’s ornaments by this time were figurals (shapes that represent objects), with many being highly detailed. Ornaments sporting traditional Christmas themes were joined by an ever-evolving array of popular culture and technology-themed decorations. Customers appreciated the way that Hallmark’s designs helped them “personalize” their tree—a growing trend in Christmas tree decorating—using ornaments that reflected their own interests and experiences.  

Christmas ornament depicting a boy wearing glasses in a pink full-body bunny suit
Hallmark’s 2009 "Ralphie's Pink Nightmare" ornament from the movie A Christmas Story depicts an unhappy Ralphie dressed in Aunt Clara’s pink bunny suit gift. / THF177263

Christmas ornament showing a reindeer wearing a red tshirt, blue jeans, a backwards red-and-white baseball cap, and earphones, sitting cross-legged while looking at a handheld device
Hallmark’s 2009 "Wired for Fun" teenage reindeer multitasks as he entertains himself with up-to-date digital technology—an MP3 player and a wireless video game. / THF358063

Ornament of a snowman wearing a red apron with a spatula in the pocket and a colander on its head, holding a bowl of dough in one hand and a card labeled "Recipes" in the other
For the passionate culinary wizard, Hallmark’s 2009 "Snow Much Fun to Cook" ornament. / THF357697

What is the most common Hallmark Keepsake Ornament in The Henry Ford’s collection?


Donna R. Braden (DRB): This is a bit of a difficult question to answer. There is no easily available information on ornaments that were either produced or purchased in the greatest quantities, or those that are the easiest to find today. However, we might assume that those might align with the categories of ornaments that tend to be produced in the greatest number and variety. This varies over the years, but today—according to the 2022 Dream Book (and probably characteristic of the more recent years of our collection)—they are ornaments with classic Christmas themes, series favorites, Disney ornaments, meaningful moments and milestones, and popular culture characters, including Star Wars, Star Trek, superheroes, Harry Potter, toys, Peanuts, and Barbie.

What is the rarest Hallmark Keepsake Ornament in The Henry Ford’s collection?


DRB: Again, this is difficult to pin down. Lots of eBay listings for Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments say “extremely rare,” but these don’t necessarily cost a lot of money. Rarity can be based on the look, the artist, the date, the number in the series (especially firsts), and the popularity of the topic. Five rare ornaments I’ve seen listed follow below. The 1973 Betsey Clark ornament Jeanie notes as one of the earliest in our collection also seems to be rare.

Ornament with large-headed , brown-haired child/angel wearing a yellow dress with transparent wings sitting on transparent cloud; green box with image of ornament sits next to it
"Mary's Angels Series: Buttercup,” 1988, is the first in its series. / THF182250

Ornament of Santa sitting in an old-fashioned open red car with "1979" on side and bag of toys in the backseat; a green box with clear plastic front for the ornament sits next to it
“Santa's Motorcar,” 1979, is the first in the Here Comes Santa series. / THF176990

Colorful ornament of a blue steam locomotive sits next to a cream-colored box with green velvet insert and clear plastic top
"Tin Locomotive,” from 1982, is also rare. / THF177179

Ornament of Miss Piggy in blue-and-white ice skating costume with long white gloves, arms and legs in dramatic pose, sitting next to box with image of the same ornament on the front
Another rare listing is “Miss Piggy” from 1983. / THF177327

Ornament of spaceship with Christmas light extending from it, sitting next to gold-and-green box with image of the same ornament on the front
"Starship Enterprise" is rare, even though it’s less than 40 years old. / THF177369

What is the largest Hallmark Keepsake Ornament in The Henry Ford’s collection?


JHM: Over the years, many Hallmark ornaments have grown in size—some five inches high or more—and complexity, adding narrative embellishment through visual detail, light, motion, and sound effects. Some—designed to be displayed on a flat surface—are more like figurines.

Ornament depicting Santa Claus sitting behind a desk with sign "Mr. Claus," looking at a piece of paper, with many toys on and around the desk
This large 2006 “Letters to Santa” ornament—about 5 ½ inches high and made to be hung on the tree—not only brims with charming detail, it offers motion and sound features. Pulling the bell below this battery-powered ornament causes several toys around Santa’s desk spring to life, as eight humorous recordings of children reading their letters to Santa are heard. / THF362217

Ornament depicting four men in identical black suits, three holding guitars and one seated at a drum set
This 1994 “Beatles Gift Set,” four inches high, commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Beatles’ 1964 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show—one of the first times Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments had attempted likenesses of real people. / THF352350

Vignette of part of room, with stockings hung from mantel, a Christmas wreath above the fireplace, and a dog and cat lying on pet beds, as well as other furniture
The 2002 scene “The Family Room”—five inches high—was a group effort, with details of this homey design contributed by 19 Hallmark artists. / THF362466

What is the most valuable Hallmark Keepsake Ornament in The Henry Ford’s collection?


DRB: This is difficult to pin down, as it varies by changing collectability over the years—and The Henry Ford doesn’t collect based on monetary value, but instead on historical significance. However, the one ornament that shows up over and over is a 2009 ornament representing Cousin Eddie’s RV from the movie National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

Ornament of rusted beige RV with wreath on door, dangling from round silver button reading "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," sitting next to a white box with an image of the same ornament on it
Hallmark "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation: Cousin Eddie's RV" Christmas Ornament, 2009. / THF361864

What is your favorite Hallmark Keepsake Ornament in The Henry Ford’s collection?


JHM: Hmmm… while I admit being partial to Hallmark’s small buildings, my favorite ornament—if I had to choose just one—is "Christmas Cookies!" from 2004. Why do I love it? This tiny stove with its charming cooking-making details immediately immerses me into happy childhood memories of baking Christmas cookies with my mother and sisters. A few years ago, my husband located one of these nearly 20-year-old ornaments online and gave it to me as a Christmas gift.

Ornament of cream-colored stove with one oven door cracked to show a tray of cookies inside; another tray of cookies, a bowl of dough, and a teapot and two mugs of hot chocolate are on top of stove
Hallmark’s "Christmas Cookies!" ornament, 2004. The lights inside the oven glow, and a fragrance insert emits the sweet scent of cookies “baking.” / THF177744

DRB: “Baby’s First Christmas,” from 1990, is my favorite ornament for personal reasons. My daughter Caroline was born that year. We were not big Hallmark ornament purchasers yet (that mushroomed later), but we saw this and it really “spoke” to us as a perfect symbol of this important milestone in our lives. We imagined being able to relive the memories of that milestone every year. And we do! More than 30 years later, it still occupies a prominent place on our Christmas tree every year.

Ornament with a baby or toddler in a walker with "Baby's 1st Christmas" written on it and "1990" on a bib around the baby's neck; it sits next to a green and red box with an image of the same ornament on it
Baby’s First Christmas, 1990. / THF177026


Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford, Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford, and Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

popular culture, Miniature Moments, home life, holidays, Henry Ford Museum, Hallmark, Christmas, by Jeanine Head Miller, by Ellice Engdahl, by Donna R. Braden

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