A very Dickensian collection of Christmas keepsakes

By Jef Rietsma

Collector? Gail Reisterer.

Collection? Dept. 56 Dickens Village holiday collectibles.

How many different pieces do you have? “I have 54 houses/buildings, and I’d guess about 100 smaller accessories, such as trees, people and other pieces. The smaller pieces do a nice job of filling in the display … makes it look like a real little village.”

When did your collection begin? “In, 1994, my husband bought me the first piece. Dept. 56 puts out a specialty piece limited to that year, so that’s what he bought me. It was a piece called Deadlock Arms.”

Do you still collect Dept. 56 pieces? “After that first piece, I’ll admit I got a little crazy. Finally, around 2011, I got to the point where I just recognized I really didn’t have any more places to set things up. I’ve got them jammed in as close as I can to the point where the display still looks decent.”

How do you display your pieces? “I set them up in two places in my kitchen, (and also) on a mantle, a sofa table, in a window area opposite my dining room table and little hutches on either side of that. So it’s a pretty good-sized collection that takes up quite a bit of space.”

From where did you acquire Dept. 56 pieces? “I bought a lot of my pieces from when Hill’s Pharmacy was selling them, I’ve gotten some from Westlake Drug and there was a lovely store down in Shipshewana, and all she had was Dept. 56 collection pieces.”

Do you keep the display up seasonally or year-round? “Here it’s late March and I’m now in the process of taking it down. I took half of it down last weekend and I’m trying to get the rest of it done now. It takes a long time because I clean them off before I put them away, but it’s OK. I actually kind of enjoy putting them away. I have friends who like to come over and take one last look before I start putting things away.”

What is your most valuable piece? “There is a publication called the collector’s value guide and the one I have is from 1998, so it’s really, really old. I honestly don’t know which one is the most valuable, but I would guess the Deadlock Arms because its production was limited to 1994. I just wouldn’t attempt to guess what it might be worth today.”

Do you take the time to look at pieces that were produced after you stopped collecting? “I decided not to do that on purpose. Because every time I would go to the store and see something new, I really wanted it. But once I decided I was done, I was done.”

Do you still get joy out of your collection even though you’ve stopped adding to it? “Absolutely. The buildings have lights in them and it’s a very beautiful sight in the dark. It was a fun collection to put together and the years I was doing it, it was exciting in October or November to see the new pieces that were coming out. But I’m at peace with my decision to stop collecting.”

What will eventually end up happening to your collection? “Some time ago, I asked my grandkids and my stepdaughter if they would want to keep it in the family. They all kind of went, ‘Oh, probably not.’ But then, maybe a year or two after that, my two granddaughters expressed interest. It doesn’t matter to me, though. If they want it, they’ll have it and if they don’t, then they don’t. You either like collections or you don’t.”

Footnotes: Riesterer, 82, also has an impressive collection of teacups and saucers, bells and plates. She is a member of the Vicksburg Village Council.

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