Not A Creature Was Stirring, Not Even Chris Mouse
December 8, 2020
When Hallmark introduced these in 1973, no one could even begin to imagine how, over the next 40 plus years, the company would lead the industry through an unprecedented demand for Christmas ornaments.
That first year, Hallmark only had 18 different ornament designs available for sale. Apparently buoyed by the success of sales that year, however, the collectible ornaments were expanded the next year. Betsey Clark – a popular artist featuring whimsical big eyed children- had two entries that year, up from one the year before. Seen also for the first time were scenes from Currier & Ives as well as an iconic Norman Rockwell holiday painting. The number of balls was tripled but yarn figures – prominent the first year – were only half of what they’d been in 1973.
It went this way for several more years with more and more Ornament balls being offered… but with a catch. A shopper could not just walk into a Hallmark store or retailer and purchase the exact same ornament they saw the previous year. Each ornament incorporated the production year into the design. Once the baubles were sold out, that was it.
The introduction of annual ornament series spurred interest. Each fall, collectors would rush to the store to snap up the newest one.
Surprisingly (at least to this author) is that the Infallible Wikipedia does not have a page devoted just to the Hallmark phenomenon. It does, however, offer up this information on a more generic page:
“In 1973, Hallmark Cards started manufacturing Christmas ornaments. The first collection included 18 ornaments, including six glass ball ornaments. The Hallmark Keepsake Ornament collection is dated and available for just one year. By 1998, 11 million American households collected Hallmark ornaments, and 250,000 people were member of the Keepsake Ornament Collector’s Club. There were as many as 400 local Keepsake Ornament Collector’s Club chapters in the US. One noted Christmas ornament authority is Clara Johnson Scroggins who has written extensively on the topic and has one of the largest private collections of Christmas ornaments.
In 1996, the ornament industry generated $2.4 billion in total annual sales, an increase of 25% over the previous year. Industry experts estimated more than 22 million US households collected Christmas ornaments, and that 75% of those households collected Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments.”
And, according to the official Hallmark webpage, “What began as glass balls and yarn figurines has grown to more than 8,500 ornaments past and present, and a reputation for quality, craft, and above all, spirit.”
My first foray into the world of Hallmark ornaments began, coincidentally, the year I got married. During a trip into Hallmark I happened to go peruse the ornament section and, there it was, the perfect ornament to commemorate a couple’s first Christmas together.
I had to have it despite the fact that it was an extravagance not in the budget. The hubby was okay with the purchase of it and even another one which featured everyone’s favorite Christmas mouse, Mickey.
From that initial addictive purchase came more. Two more Hallmark ornaments were acquired in 1981. It was 1985, however, when things started to ramp up in my household.
That year saw the introduction of an ornament titled ‘Chris Mouse.’
Mr. Mouse was just about the most adorable creature you’d ever seen. His tiny little self was wearing what looked to be a sky blue night shirt and a red night cap. In his teeny hands he held a hunter green book with ‘1985’ on the cover in gold. But best of all was that he was sitting at the base of an old fashioned gold candle holder, leaning against a 4 inch tall red candle. At the top of the candle glows a yellow ‘flame’ which, when the ornament’s cord is plugged into a socket on a string of Christmas lights, is lit up.
I was enchanted and had to have that ornament.
Soon I discovered that my Chris Mouse was only the first in the series. I eagerly looked forward to the next year’s entry. When it arrived in the stores the next fall I wandered in one day to take a look. Like the previous year, it was cute and this time featured Mr. Mouse asleep in a pinecone house, a tiny night light adding to the magic. I didn’t like it quite as well as the first one so I decided I might wait until after Christmas to buy it, maybe even find it on sale.
Sometimes, however, things work against you and such was the case in 1986. Just before Christmas I came down with a bad cold and was laid up for several days including on Christmas. The mouse was forgotten until, a few days after the holiday, I ventured out to the stores to do some bargain hunting. Alas, the second in the series was nowhere to be found.
In the following years, my lesson learned, I always purchased the ornaments I wanted well before Christmas. The Chris Mouse series? Ended up being 13 ornaments in all, each starring the adorable mouse in the blue nightshirt and red cap, each time doing something which featured a lovely little lighted object. It just so happened that I only had 12 of them and, every Christmas, I lamented not having the missing ornament.
That was until a few years ago when there, under the tree for me one Christmas, was an unexpected surprise. Santa’s helper – who I call hubby – had located the missing Chris Mouse and bought it for me. The prodigal rodent joined his brother’s on the tree, the series now complete.
It takes several large Rubbermaid totes to house all the Hallmark ornaments in their original boxes. One bin is full of the lighted and motion ornaments, the other primarily a collection of whimsical critters. A third tote holds glass balls but only a dozen or so are part of the Hallmark collection.
By the late 1990’s with more than enough decorations to fill at least two trees, I stopped buying ornaments.
2020, however, seems like the perfect excuse to purchase a new bauble with which to commemorate this unusual year. An online search revealed that my local dealer is just down the hill. Time for a shopping adventure…