“I always said I would die with the dolls,” he told The Associated Press. “I’m just putting the family first.”
The figures were made by Japanese puppet maker Ichiro Komuro and used for the filming of the show at Tadaito Mochinaga’s MOM Productions in Tokyo.
They’re made of wood, wire, cloth and leather. Rudolph’s nose, after some minimal maintenance through the years, still lights up. The realistic bristles of Santa’s beard are made from yak hair.
“I always said I would die with the dolls. I’m just putting the family first.”
- collector Peter Lutrario
Lutrario, who bought them about 15 years ago after seeing them appraised on “Antiques Roadshow” on PBS, says that even after well over five decades you can manipulate them as the original animators did.
“They’re still malleable,” he said, “and it’s very detailed. Not only can you move the arms, the legs, the head, you can move the fingers, the thumbs.”
The show, produced by the company that would become Rankin/Bass Animated Entertainment, first aired Dec. 6, 1964, on NBC in the United States. It’s been a TV staple ever since with its tale, based on the 1939 song, of a year when Christmas was almost canceled, the misfit reindeer who saved it, an elf with dreams of being a dentist, and an island full of castaway toys.
The figures would make their way to the New York offices of Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass. Rankin later gave them to his secretary, who gave them to her nephew, who owned them until Lutrario bought them in 2005.
The figures, among several used to make the special, are the first encountered by the auctioneers at Profiles in History, which specializes in selling rare and coveted Hollywood memorabilia.
The company said in a statement that the “rarity of these puppets cannot be overstated.”