Purchasing Used Cardboard Christmas Houses
When most of today’s collectors started out, the best places to find used putz houses were usually garage sales and flea markets. Then folks who had old putz houses that they had no use for began to realize that there was a market for them and adjust their prices accordingly.
About the same time, Ebay caught on, and houses that had been worth five dollars were suddenly selling for $100. Ted Altof’s site even included an article about how people were paying outrageous prices for very common pieces. Nowadays prices there seem more reasonable, but try not to get carried away by a “feeding frenzy.”
Also, don’t assume that because some item really seems to be worth $120 today that it will necessarily be worth $120 in the future, when the generation who grew up with these is gone. (This happened to thousands of Lionel collectors who imagined their collections would always grow in value and are now discovering that the number of collectors is going down, and so is the value of their collection.)
If you are tempted to shop for putz houses on Ebay, educate yourself first. Read Papa Ted’s articles on the history and categories of putz houses so you have some idea of which ones are most common and which ones are most rare. (In fact, the more time you spend on Papa Ted’s site in general, the better off you’ll be, because other articles, like the House of the Month series, can also be very informative.
In addition, it would be helpful to view Tom Hull’s articles on restoring putz houses, so you have some idea of what it would take to get a damaged house back into display condition. (Those articles are indexed on our Restoring page.). As an example, missing cellophane doors and windows can be replaced, but some pieces had unusual windows or other components like unusual figures that you may never be able to replace exactly.
At the same time, you could be watching the Ebay auctions, but don’t spend any more than $20 on a single piece until you’re sure it’s NOT a common piece. Don’t believe what the advertisers say - many of them know nothing about putz houses, so to them, they’re all rare and priceless.
Over a several week period, you’re likely to see more than one example of the same basic house come up. This isn’t scientific like Lionel collecting, where the pink version is theoretically worth more than the black version or any such thing. If you see a style of house you like, pay attention to the average selling price, and you’ll be better equipped to bid. Don’t get into the situation where you pay a premium for a house that the seller insists is unique, only to see three come online the next week and go for peanuts.
Finally, don’t try to own “one of each.” You never will. Decide what periods or kinds of houses you like the best and try to create a small collection that you can easily display every year. Five nice, complementary houses in good condition that you can get out and play with once a year are much more useful than fifty houses in different styles and conditions that you almost never get out because you have no place to store them.
Again, my “standard” for an intelligent, useful, and attractive display is Antoinette Stockenberg’s annual putz. A relatively small number of complementary buildings with appropriate accessories, arrangement, and lighting is far more satisfying than a bunch of mismatched stuff you bought on impulse and never have time to display correctly.
In the meantime, if there’s a particular kind of house you “have to have,” and you’re not seeing it come up, consider contacting the guys in the “Buying New” page to see what they have or what they could make for you.