Dear Helaine and Joe:
I received this Nativity set as a gift for my first birthday – I am now 68. The people who gave it to me were neighbors in our apartment building who came from Eastern Europe. Somehow, they managed to take this with them. It must have had great value to them. I still display it for Christmas. On the bottom is the word “Elastolin.” I found the company in Germany but they made mainly military figures and I could find no Christmas objects. I am considering having the pieces repainted because the colors have faded. Can you help me with the value?
J. C., The Villages, Fla.
Dear J. C.:
You are exactly correct, this nativity set was manufactured in Germany – specifically in Ludwigsburg, which is near Stuttgart. It was manufactured by O&M Hausser, which was founded in 1904 by Christian Hausser and his sons, Otto and Max.
Originally, they made their figures and models from a composite material, named “Elastolin,” but in 1955, they switched to a hard polystyrene plastic. Elastolin was made from kaolin (a clay-like substance also used in making porcelain), glue and sawdust. It was first made in 1912 and was compression-molded.
During our exploration of this subject, we found a note that all Hausser Elastolin figure production stopped in 1943 due to the German economy being put on a total war footing in that year, but we also learned limited production resumed in 1945. We do not know if this is actually correct, but if it is, it would suggest a parameter for this nativity set having been made between 1912 and 1943, and we believe it was probably manufactured in the 1930s (the late 1920s is a possibility).
Hausser made all sorts of military figures, including representations of Roman, Viking and Medieval soldiers. They also made soldiers in uniforms from such countries as England, France, Belgium, Ethiopia, Switzerland, Italy, India, China, Japan and the United States.
Unfortunately, they are most famous for their figures of Nazi troops and Nazi personalities (such as Hitler, Goering, Hess, Goebbels and others). They also made a rare figure of Ernst Rohm, leader of the SA, who was executed during the Night of the Long Knives. The latter figure was quickly removed from the Hausser line.
These pieces depicting the Nazi era in Germany are more than a little disturbing in today’s world, but military collectors can pay some rather large bucks to own the rarer of these pieces. But Hausser made other things that collectors love. There is, for example, a wonderful zoo, as well as representations of cowboys and Indians from the American West.
There are depictions of farm animals, figures to be used with train sets and Noah’s ark with animals. We did not find a Hausser nativity set, but we did find the Christmas tower and feel that the Nativity set – as it is with NO REPAINT (these pieces should be kept in their original condition. so please leave them as they are) – should be valued for retail in the $1,000 to $1,500 range.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques. Do you have an item you’d like to know more about? Contact them at Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d like your question to be considered for their column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus, with your inquiry.