Snow domes aren't always tat: just ask Citizen Kane

They might seem like cheap trash, but the prices can be anything but. So have a 'Rosebud' moment of your own

Think snow dome, think Christmas tat. Or, perhaps more generously, a happy holiday trinket.

You could be wrong on both counts. For these tawdry treasures offer a serious collecting opportunity.

"The recent wave of interest in ultra-kitsch paraphernalia and culture is fuelling new collecting fields such as the phenomenon for snow domes," says Kirsty Wallace from Grays Antiques in London.

"They are interesting as new collectables, not because they are beautifully crafted or skillfully designed but because they are fun, ridiculous and encapsulate a moment of time or history - whether a popular current Disney character or Millennium celebrations in Trafalgar Square."

Cheap throwaway gifts made in relatively small numbers are "the perfect collectable antique" for the next generation, she adds. "We're sure to see prices climb as the collecting market grows and strengthens, as it has done already in the US and Canada."

Some prices have already displayed impressive growth. A 1990s snow dome based on The World of Brambly Hedge range of children's books by Jill Barklem originally sold for around £20; it can now fetch around £200, according to Fiona Shoop, editor of the Antiques and Collectables magazine.

Meanwhile, a figurine of the famous cartoon character Bugs Bunny holding a snow dome was recently snapped up for $1,000 (£520) in the US.

And in the UK, snow domes picked up for only a few pounds at a car boot sale can go for £15 in specialist shops if they are in reasonable condition and have unusual designs.

For many fans, their appeal is emotional. "They are perfect, little, untouched worlds that remind you of the lost simplicity of childhood," says London collector Lucy Summers.

Actor and director Orson Wells tapped into that emotional power in his Oscar-winning 1941 film Citizen Kane.

In one of its most evocative sequences, Wells, as the dying Kane, drops and smashes a glass dome encasing a snow scene idyll - the symbol, "Rosebud" of his one and only innocent love.

Deep symbolism aside, they are also great fun. "The more absurd they are, the better," says Ms Summers, whose 300-strong collection leans heavily towards the world of kitsch. "I've got snow-blasted popes, nuns, flamenco dancers and Viking plunderers being showered in gold glitter. A Dolly Parton snow dome is top of my wish list."

Many consider them the height of bad taste but their origin as descendants from the European glass paperweights of the late 19th century is far from trashy. The earliest domes date back to the Paris Exhibition in 1889, when some bright spark with an eye on the souvenir market put mini Eiffel towers (the original had been intended to be dismantled after the show) into glass globes filled with water and fake snow.

Astonishingly, the idea caught on and, thanks to improved transport, snow domes took up residence on many a mantelpiece in the late Victorian era.

Mass production began in the US during the 1920s and, in 1950s Germany, the development of a new type of plastic led to the birth of the ubiquitous blue-backed "domes" found in tourist shops all over the world.

Asia snaffled a large chunk of the market in the 1960s but ran into trouble when Hong Kong snow domes were found to contain water from the polluted Hong Kong harbour and were temporarily banned from the US.

As with any other type of collection, pick a theme and then stick to it.

Religious snow domes, ones featuring famous buildings or those with a political theme are all collectable and should translate into value. There are some ground rules, however.

"Go for glass rather than plastic - and thick plastic rather than thin," advises Ms Shoop.

Anything that marks out a snow dome's individuality against its mass-produced rivals will make it more valuable. That said, it is worth looking for mistakes in mass-made domes, such as a mis-spelt name or upside down figurine inside. One much sought-after commemorative globe features Parliament House in the Australian capital of Canberra. This was suddenly withdrawn from the market when someone spotted that it seemed to be flying the Japanese flag rather than the Australian one.

"Look for domes that were made for a one-off event, such as the Barcelona Olympics where only a limited amount will have been produced," advises Ms Shoop. Domes made for advertising purposes fit the bill too, as they are usually only available for a short period.

Keep an eye on the news, adds Ms Shoop. The ups and downs of figures in political life can affect prices. A dome featuring a miniature Spitting Image puppet of the former Soviet Union president Mikhail Gorbachev is currently on offer on a US website for $50.

World events may also push up the price of some snow domes. "One of my favourites is a musical number I bought in New York in the late 1990s," says Ms Summers. "It features the World Trade Center twin towers, which means it will eventually be worth quite a lot.

"But even if I wanted to sell it, it wouldn't fetch a great deal now because feelings about 9/11 are still so raw."

Once you've decided on the type of snow dome you want to collect, they shouldn't be difficult to track down.

Car boot sales - particularly those taking place a few weeks after the holiday season, when people have grown tired of their souvenirs - are usually a rich source.

Most of the best websites for both finding and selling domes are based in the US or Australia. But wherever you buy from, don't skimp on the packaging.

As Citizen Kane knew better than most, there's nothing so sad as a smashed snow dome.

THAT'S SNOWBIZ

More information

'Snowdomes' by Nancy McMichael (Abbeville Press): a book written by a collector for collectors.

www.snowdomes.com: a US site featuring a catalogue of domes for sale.

www.antiques-collectables.co.uk: online version of the magazine.

A reproduction of the Citizen Kane snow dome, made from the same mould as the original, is available from www.snowdomes.com for $33.50. (£17).

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

    Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

    Selby Jennings: Quantitative Research | Equity | New York

    Not specified: Selby Jennings: Quantitative Research | Global Equity | New Yor...

    Selby Jennings: SVP Model Validation

    Not specified: Selby Jennings: SVP Model Validation This top tiered investment...

    Selby Jennings: Oil Operations

    Highly Competitive: Selby Jennings: Our client, a leading European Oil trading...

    Day In a Page

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect