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Published: Sunday, 12/19/2004

Christmas collectors

BY RHONDA B. SEWELL
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Joseph Sansbury with a few of his many Santas. Joseph Sansbury with a few of his many Santas.
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Joseph Sansbury has Santa Clauses in all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities. He owns skiing, golfing, and fishing Santas, even one clad in his fraternity colors of black and gold. They are made of ceramic, wood, cloth, and antique leather.

He also has a Santa collection by the collectors figurine company Sarah s Attic, themed for every month in the year. For example, his February Santa is featured with a heart for Valentine s Day, his July Santa is in patriotic colors, and his September Santa is with children and books to represent the beginning of a new school year.

Why such a passion for the jolly old fellow?

Each of them are unique; no two look alike. I have them from the Old World to the contemporary. Some are wearing short coats and others have long coats. But they all have a beard and red and white somewhere on their clothing. They represent the uniqueness of the season.

"You just know you re in the season when you talk about Santa, said Mr. Sansbury, who lives in Sylvania. The retired education administrator owns more than 200 Santas.

While to Mr. Sansbury St. Nick represents the gift of joy, his private collection also holds a far deeper meaning.

My father died on Christmas Eve morning. And during the holidays a lot of things are happening and it can be a time of melancholy. Out of this collection, my passion for these Santas keeps me busy rather than sitting around and feeling sad. I just look at how these Santas bring joy to a lot of people, he said.

Mr. Sansbury, whose friends and family send him Santas from all over the country, represents the many people who collect special items with Christmas and holiday themes. Such collectors, who share the joy their collections bring to others, have been preparing for this season since October, unwrapping figurines, taking items out of rubber bins, and going into their attics and garages and pulling down boxes with the word X-MAS written across the side.

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Collector Bobbi Beagle takes the holiday phrase, Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse, to a whole new level.

While the 9,000 mice in her collection don t stir, some 4,000 of them all in Christmas themes do put smiles on faces, especially children's.

Bobbi Beagle decorates her home with holiday-themed mice. Bobbi Beagle decorates her home with holiday-themed mice.
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At this time of the year, Mrs. Beagle and her husband, Art, open up their Overland Parkway home to neighbors, friends, family and strangers who want to see the very neatly displayed and overwhelming collection. Even Mrs. Beagle admits to the extreme numbers in her collection.

"It's mind-boggling, actually," said Mrs. Beagle. Both she and her husband, who are in their late 60s, are retired.

Mrs. Beagle, affectionately known as "Mrs. Mouse" or the "Mouse Lady" who lives in the "Mouse House," decorated four seven-foot-tall trees with about 700 mice ornaments on each tree.

Why mice and not the conventional collections of snowmen, Santas, snow globes, ornaments, or Christmas villages?

"When I was little I used to love Tom and Jerry, and when my oldest boy, now 46, was 8 he made me a mouse ornament.

"As he got older the mouse got uglier and I kept moving it to the back of the tree. My family kept buying me mice as a joke, and now its grown to this," said Mrs. Beagle, who collects mice at craft shows, garage sales, and through figurine collection companies.

While Craig and Wendy Gordon's collections of bobbleheads and a Christmas village are on a much smaller scale, the Old West End couple said they started their Christmas village, a Department 56 Snow Village, some 13 years ago. The collection features 24 homes and businesses, from suburban and historical-style homes to a Starbucks coffee shop.

"We started it when we were first married so people could find a gift for us to buy. There was just one or two and it just started to grow from there. I've actually run out of room," said Mrs. Gordon, 41. She and her husband display the village atop fake snow and built-in cabinets in the dining room. She also collects teddy bears.

"This is something that we can do together; we like Christmas and we like to entertain," she added.

While Mr. Gordon, 40, takes great pride in placing each home and business in its appropriate place in the village, his other collection has gone straight to his head: Bobbleheads that is. There are more than 200 in all, from those dating back to the 1950s to contemporary models purchased at garage sales and on eBay.

While most of Mr. Gordon's collection are sports-themed - Detroit Tigers, Lions, Red Wings, and Pistons bobbleheads are some of his favorites - he treasures some 30 that have Christmas themes, including Warner Brothers figures in Christmas attire, and an older model of Mr. and Mrs. Claus kissing each other, bobble-style.

"You know, it's just one of those things where if you ask them, 'Do you love me?' and they all go 'Yes'," said Mr. Gordon of his affinity for bobbleheads, as he tapped a few to demonstrate their affirmative nod.

To look outside Ellen Trumbull's South Toledo home you wouldn't know that the resident loves Christmas trees so much that there are 60 displayed, ranging from three to nine feet tall.

Not one Christmas decoration is placed on the exterior of her home, but walk inside and the magic of the season springs from every corner.

Her collections include a 75-square-foot Christmas village, a 50-person nativity scene, and some 100 Santas, but it's her love of trees that brings a smile to her face.

"My uncle had a Christmas tree farm in the '60s and we'd go out and cut a big one for the house. I have trees of all shapes and sizes, half-size trees, an upside-down tree, a spiral tree. Every room has a tree, and there's a theme to every tree," said Ms. Trumbull, 50. Her trees include the themes of Barbie, Disney, rainbow, gingerbread man, peppermint candy, reindeer, cats, dogs, an Ebay tree, antique glass ornaments, and Lenox ornaments, just to name a few.

"For me, Christmas was always neat as a kid, but I started collecting Christmas items around 1974, when I received my first Hallmark ornament that had a date on it. Since then I've purchased a dated ornament for every year. And it sort of grew from there. I'm obsessive compulsive, so it helps, plus, it's my favorite time of year," said Mrs. Trumbull, who like the Beagles, also invites friends to an open house to view her many trees and other holiday collections. She begins placing her displays around early October, and admits to leaving some bare trees on display year-round.

"I used to go all out for Easter and Halloween, but I found that I was still taking down my Christmas decorations," she said, laughing.

Contact Rhonda B. Sewell at: rsewell@theblade.com or 419-724-6101.



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