Encore: The Most Valuable Reindeer of All
About The Episode
Can you put a price on Christmas? Years after a visit to GBH’s Antiques Roadshow, Santa and Rudolph original puppets from the beloved 1964 stop-motion-animation holiday special Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer made their way to the auction block. Join host Adam Monahan as he uncovers the story of the puppet’s discovery and restoration, the bidding surprise at auction no one expected, and whether efforts to keep these cultural touchstones on public display succeeded!
Adam Monahan Late last year, my team got wind that an object from GBH's Antiques Roadshow was going up for auction. And a couple weeks before the big day I got together with my boss, Marsha Bemko to talk about it. So let's get right into. What is going up for sale?
Marsha Bemko What is going up for sale is that we found Santa and Rudolph that were from the 1964-
Adam The sixties film Rudolph the-
Marsha Rudolph The red nosed Reindeer. So, and it still plays today. You're watching that thing every holiday season today.
Adam We are talking about the actual puppets of Santa and Rudolph, used in the original Christmas special from 1964.
Soundbite from film Could it be that some of you are not acquainted with the story of Rudolph?
Adam They appeared on our show decades later in 2005.
Kevin Crease So, you're dealing with something magnificent here. Putting a value on this is like putting a price on Christmas.
Adam And at that time, our appraiser decided the price of Christmas was $8,000 to $10,000 for the pair. But here's where it really gets interesting. When an item goes up for sale, the auction house comes up with their own estimate to decide where to start the bidding. So when I tell you that the estimate on this is now $150,000 to $250,000, what do you think of that?
Marsha I want a sound effect from me falling out of the chair. I can't believe it. It's so much money. I think either they know something we don't, or they're really ambitious, or they've got rocks in their heads.
Adam We're talking 25 times more than our appraiser's estimate. How could the price of Christmas have gone up that much? I mean, my initial instinct is no way. There's no way. There's just no way that it could be worth 150 to 250.
Marsha I'm going that if he starts at 15-
Adam Let's let's place our bets.
Marsha Let's place our bets. I'm going with 85,000.
Adam $85,000. All right. That's a good guess. By the way, I reserve the right to, after I talk to like a bunch of our experts, to change my opinion.
Adam On the record.
Marsha No, wait a minute. I want some of that info.
Adam I get to change mine after I talk to them.
Marsha So what's your guess now? What's your guess with nobody else?
Adam 65. I say 65.
Marsha You have to tell me what he says.
Adam I'm going to talk to our experts. I'll tell you what all of our experts say. I'll go around, talk to them, get back to you on what they say. And then we'll watch the auction together and you'll buy me a beer once I'm right.
Marsha It's going to be great when we have the auction. The auction is going to be awesome.
Adam Yes. It will be. And spoiler, we are both completely wrong.
Soundbite from auction Going once, twice. Hold on. And…
Adam I'm Adam Monahan, a producer with GBH's Antiques Roadshow and this is Detours. Today the most valuable reindeer of all. Rudolph's long and foggy journey to the auction block begins in 1939. That year a department store in Chicago published a booklet about an outcast reindeer with a shiny nose. It was penned by an in-house copywriter named Robert May. The writer's brother-in-law later adapted that story into a song which became a number one hit in 1950.
Soundbite from the song (singing)
Adam Then that songwriter later befriended a neighbor of his name, Arthur Rankin, a television producer, who would then go on to create the TV special Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer, which first aired on NBC in 1964. If you haven't seen the film, well first off, your parents obviously didn't love you, but I love you. And so I will do my best to summarize the plot for you. So, you know Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. The eight reindeer who pull Santa's sleigh. Well, Donner had a son.
Soundbite from the film Nah. We'll we'll call him Rudolph-
Adam But much to his father's chagrin, Rudolph is born with a physical defect, a glowing red nose. Donner tries his best to conceal his son's condition, but the secret is discovered and Rudolph is ostracized by all his peers and even his adult gym teacher/flying instructor.
Soundbite from the film Hey, look at the beak.
Adam Seriously. They're so mean to him, even Santa Claus.
Soundbite from the film Donner, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. What a pity. He had a nice takeoff too.
Adam Anyway, Rudolph is bullied so badly that he flees the North Pole and meets new friends, who are also outcasts. They have a number of adventures, including one where Rudolph rescues another reindeer named Clarice. This heroic triumph leads Rudolph back to the North Pole where he receives some well-deserved apologies. Then he caps it all off by using his bright-red nose to light the way for Santa sleigh on a very foggy Christmas Eve. And thus Rudolph saves Christmas and is beloved by children and adults everywhere, including me for his noble selflessness and for helping others who, let's be real, were super super mean to him. Can you speak to how mean they all were to Rudolph?
Rick Goldschmidt I always find that the reason that they come off mean is because they're complex characters.
Adam For a serious take on this film, I turn to Rick Goldschmidt, who is the official historian of Arthur Rankin studio, Rankin-Bass productions.
Rick I think they could have just wrote a very bland story with Santa Claus being nice and Holly and jolly. But not everybody loves Christmas. And you have your moments where you don't like Christmas and that's the way he wrote Santa Claus. But all of the characters get reformed, and that's what makes the story so satisfying. And that's why Rudolph has been on television for 56 years longer than any other television special.
Adam Part of that enduring appeal has also got to be the way the characters look and move on screen.
Rick A lot of people call them claymation. That's not what these are. These are very detailed dolls.
Adam The whole special is filmed with stop-motion animation using handmade puppets.
Rick And the clothing is real clothes like a tailor would make, and just all different materials.
Adam Rudolph's glowing nose was actually made using the very first LED light bulb, which was created by GE scientists in Syracuse, New York in 1962. The puppets themselves however, were all made in Japan where the special was film.
Rick Tad Mochinaga, the father of stop-motion in Japan, he oversaw the actual animation of things.
Adam Mochinaga had basically invented the style of animated puppetry in the forties when he was making propaganda films in China. He called it Animagic. And when Mochinaga returned to Japan in the fifties, he started his own studio and eventually teamed up with Arthur Rankin. The filming for Rudolph took 18 months, and that doesn't even include a special trip that Mochinaga and his assistant took to a deer sanctuary almost 300 miles away just to observe how the animals there moved. The whole process was so labor intensive, that they made multiple puppets of each character so that they could film different scenes simultaneously. Most of those puppets probably stayed in Japan, but we do know that there was a whole set of characters that came to Arthur Rankin's office in New York and were later displayed at the NBC building in Rockerfeller Center.
Rick They used to take classes on tour at NBC, and the Rudolph puppets were there in a glass case.
Adam Until they weren't.
Rick And it's funny that Arthur didn't really care. He just gave puppets to people and threw the rest of them out, because he only cared about the next project.
Adamm According to Rick, Arthur said all those display puppets were thrown away years ago. It's not like they were worth anything, right?
Soundbite from auction Standby. [crosstalk 00:09:01]
Adam But then in 2005, a man showed up at a roadshow event in Providence, Rhode Island with two battered looking characters, Rudolph and Santa.
Simear LitmanTell me a little about these two very familiar faces.
Guest Well, my aunt worked at Rankin-Bass productions for about 10 or 15 years in the seventies and, I guess, early eighties. And she acquired all of them. And they were the production puppets from Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer.
Simear So, what we have here are the actual original puppets.
Guest As far as I know.
Adam At the time, we had no way to verify this claim that these were the original puppets. But based on the wear and tear of the figures, their construction and what the guest said, our appraiser, Simear Litman, did what an appraiser does, he came up with a number.
Simear Now, they're not in perfect condition. The nose has been replaced, I guess. The bulb broke.
Guest Play dough.
Simear ... or something. Santa's Whiskers are missing there. But what an amazing, amazing piece. I wouldn't estimate it less than 8,000 to 10,000 for the pair. What it would go for at auction, that's anyone's guess.
Adam That's how we get to the $8,000 to $10,000 figure which, as I said before is way less than the $250,000 that the auction house is hoping to bring in. But a few things happened between this appraisal in 2005 and the auction in 2020. The first involves a man named Kevin Crease, who ran a toy collecting business in Pittsburgh. He bought and sold lots of things, but he specialized in merchandise from Rankin/Bass Productions.
Kevin Basically, if it was a licensed product connected to Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer or other Rankin/Bass properties, we carried it.
Adam And naturally he had always wondered whatever happened to those original puppets.
Kevin But in over the years in looking into the whole thing, it was widely known that nothing survived, nothing existed, no one had them. Arthur Rankin said himself, "Nothing was kept." And then your show. And that was a big surprise to everybody. Lit the world on fire. Wait a minute. Where did these come from? Why are they there? And that led me on a quest to figure out, "Are they authentic? Are they real?" And if they are, how do I obtain them?
Adam And so where did that take you? How did you wind up locating them from the guy who was on Roadshow?
Kevin Well, after roadshow, that guy listed them on eBay.
Adam So Kevin got in touch with Arthur Rankin and with Rick Goldschmidt, the historian we heard from earlier to see what they thought.
Kevin Rick and I knew that they had to be real, just looking at them. But the catch was that Arthur insisted that they were not, because he threw them away. And he says, there's no way they could be around still. So that's when I took the extra steps to have a private investigator type person figure out who is this guy? What is his connection?
Adam The private investigator confirmed what our guest said, that he was the nephew of the personal assistant to Arthur Rankin.
Kevin And then so armed with that information, I was able to go back to Arthur and say, "Okay, this is the guy that's selling them. This is his connection." And he said, "Oh, well then they're probably real because I gave them to my personal assistant to discard in the seventies."
Adam As it turns out, she kept them. Now, Kevin is sure these puppets are the real deal. So he reaches out to our roadshow guest who had just listed them on eBay and negotiates to buy Santa and Rudolph directly.
Kevin Yes, yes.
Adam Okay. And then you get them and what do you do with them?
Kevin All right. So we have the puppets. We're certain that they were real. Next step, how do you restore them? They were in really bad shape. Santa's mustache was half, not even there. Rudolph's nose was totally not there. In fact, there was other mess of Play dough and junk in the nose cavity. Santa's hat tassel and eyebrows weren't there. His face was all messed up. So I was afraid to touch them.
Adam But as luck would have it, Kevin and Rick saw a news story about an animation studio out in California that had just restored some stop-motion puppets like these from the 1950s.
Kevin And it's a company called Screen Novelties. And they're like, "Okay, these people that did that are the people. They're the ones who know how to do this. They've done it before." So, we went out to California, flew out there with Rudolph and Santa and left them there.
Mark Cabero Okay.
Robin Walsh Okay.
Seasmus Walsh Like it's working.
Adam Everyone is recording.
Mark Cabero Yep.
Chris Finnegan Yep.
Adam I was able to get the whole team from Screen Novelties on a video call.
Adam This looks like a bunch of nerds who really like Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer.
Robin Walsh We'll bet.
Mark Cabero You could say that again.
Adam They did not disappoint.
Seasmus Rudolph. I mean, I remember running to the TV as soon as I heard that swish and the boodalumpumpumpudum.
Robin Walsh What I really liked about it was you could tell that it was all handmade. So it was something you could envision yourself doing as a kid.
Chris Finnegan Loved watching that every year. It was such a magical experience.
Mark Cabero There was that awe still where it's like, "Oh my gosh, how did they do that?" And it just sparked a curiosity in so many, so many people.
Adam That was Seasmus Walsh, Robin Walsh, Chris Finnegan, and Mark Cabero. And as you can imagine, they were pretty excited when Kevin showed up with these puppets.
Mark We have an upstairs loft. That we had the couches there and stuff. And he's like, "Oh, this is great." He's like looking around. And we're like, "Yeah, shut up. Just get up there and open the box." And we're trying to sit down, like, "Come on, come, come, come, go again." You know kind of thing? And he unzip the duffle bag and he brought out this clear, blue, plastic box. Then he opened it up. And it went to slow motion after that. I remember holding Rudolph. It felt so fragile in my hand, like a newborn baby almost.
Robin You know you can mentally know it's Santa and it's Rudolph, but it's like, I had the dreams of my five year old self in my hand.
Adam Robin, the last voice you heard was the one who actually did most of the restoration work. She began by basically taking the puppets apart.
Robin If I ever write a memoir, it's going to be called I decapitated Rudolph.
Adam That's because when she started working, Robin found that Rudolph's neck was broken.
Robin So I had to take out the stitches one by one.
Adam She cleaned the Play dough out of Rudolph's nose. And removed Santa's costume piece by piece.
Robin So it could be cleaned very, very carefully.
Adam And in doing all that, Robin made some interesting discoveries.
Robin Both of Santa's legs were broken. And there was this little magazine cover, some light cardstock. And that's how I found that Santa's boots were, the top part of his boot was made out of a Japanese magazine. So, and then I found what nobody even knew existed working with Rudolph. He had what's called a flying rig. And there's a hole in one of his sides for when he jumped in the air, they would put a wire in there to make him suspend in the air.
Adam The Japanese magazine paper and the flying rig made it even more likely that the puppets were not only authentic, but they were puppets used in the actual production of the film. The next step was to put them back together exactly as they were over 50 years ago.
Robin So these were made out of wool and alpaca and mohair and just all these original natural fibers as well as lead and wood and leather. So there was a lot of just age that had happened.
Adam Some of those materials, she was able to match, like the hair for Santa's mustache.
Robin Walsh Just by eyeballing it, his mustaches made out of mohair.
Adam For others, robin had to improvise.
Robin Walsh I found the company that makes all of the German teddy bear fur. And I tracked them down. And I found basically modern versions of what they would've used. And then I actually used a little bit of Santa to restore Rudolph because it was the same leather. And there was a bunch of it shoved inside Santa's boots. So I literally just took a teeny tiny piece and then put it over Rudolph.
Adam Basically it was a very delicate process.
Robin And many times Shay, Mark and Chris or other people would come down and they would be a little bit nervous. And I would be like, "You can't be here and you cannot be nervous," because I would catch it. And I knew if I was nervous, I would mess it up and I could not mess it up. It wasn't an option.
Adam This was a high stakes endeavor and not just for sentimental reasons. If a restoration like this is done and poorly, it can actually hurt the value of the object. We see that all the time, where an old piece has been repainted or touched up in some way that makes it less authentic and therefore less desirable. And so to be extra sure that they preserved the original materials and workmanship, Robin made every single element of the restoration reversible.
Robin Walsh So I didn't remove any broken wires. It was led. So I sealed it in silicone to keep it from leeching out and then I would place another wire next to it. And I would just lash it to what was existing. And when I did Santa's face, it was shiny. And I knew that you would use wax as a sealant in Japan. So I did a finishing wax, and then I put new paint over it. So you can always just wipe the paint off and go back to what is original.
Adam But you would never know that at all just by looking at them. To my eye, the puppets look exactly like they do in the film, every fiber, every button, every brushstroke. The whole project cost the owner, Kevin Crease, about $5,000.
Kevin And that was a discount rate because the people that did it were interested in bringing these back out into the public. And so there was a mutual interest to make this happen.
Adam And at first the puppets were back in front of the public.
Kevin My plan was to give these back on tour and in museums to the world forever on.
Adam He took them to San Diego, Atlanta, Chicago, Pittsburgh. And his intention was to keep the tour going.
Kevin But sometimes life gets in the way and some financial problems and a divorce and liquidation of assets because of divorce caused me to have no choice and to sell them, and reset. So in 2008, they were sold to the current owner.
Adam And that owner does not quite share Kevin's commitment to displaying Santa and Rudolph for the public.
Kevin Every Christmas, I always have this sick feeling of regret. Why couldn't I have steered something else in the path?
Adam After the break, Kevin gets a chance to make it right.
Adam Okay. And so, Peter, the reason I'm calling you today is obviously you've come to own a Rudolph and Santa from Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer that we had on Antique Roadshow way back in 2005. Were you ever aware of it being on our show at all?
Peter Lutrario Yes. I saw that show.
Adam You did?
Peter How I was alerted to their existence.
Adam Oh, amazing. And were you a fan of Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer growing up?
Peter My whole life. I was there December 6th, 1964 when it premiered. I was there. And when VCRs first came out in 1977, they were like $2,000. I bought one just so I could record that show.
Adam No way.
Peter Back then. I just want to explain you how passionately in love with the show I was.
Adam Peter Lutrario bought the puppets from Kevin Crease in 2008. Neither Kevin or Peter will say exactly what the price was, but it was certainly a lot more than the $8,000 to $10,000 figure from our original appraisal. Just based on what Peter did to come up with the money.
Peter I was a Superman and Batman collector. And I owned a lot of great stuff. Original Superman costumes, George Reeves, Christopher Reeves. I owned vintage comic books, first appearance of Superman, first appearance of Batman, the Adam West Batmobile, I owned that. I sold all those things so I could get an opportunity to buy these dolls.
Adam For about a decade, it looked like Santa and Rudolph had found their final home. Even if it wasn't the home that some people had hoped for.
Rick He pretty much kept them in the suitcase that Kevin had made so that he could travel with them.
Adam Once again, this is Rick Goldschmidt, the Rankin-Bass historian. He was not pleased that the puppets had landed in a private collection.
Rick And I kept asking Peter, "Can you bring them to an event that I'm doing? I'm going to be in New Jersey at Chiller Theater. Could you bring them?" And he was like, "I'm not saying yes, but I'm not saying no." It just never happened.
Adam Our friends at Screen Novelties, also not pleased.
Mark We saw him on a, some sort of news channel, where he had Rudolph. He's like, "Yeah, this is Rudolph." And he is like, "Look." And he's like batting it all over the place. And I'm freaking out-
Seasmus It was. I think it was that CNN thing, right?
Adam This was a CNN feature that Peter did in 2015.
Peter My name is Peter Lutrario and I am the owner of the original Rudolph.
Mark It's so frustrating that [crosstalk].
Seasmus Well, there's no respect for these things or the workmanship. Think about the Japanese puppet makers that built that thing 60 years ago. And now you're just wiggling the arm around on CNN.
Adam In Peter's defense, I watched the clip and it didn't seem all that bad.
Peter I never thought I would get the opportunity to own these dolls.
Adam But in any case, perhaps no one was more disappointed than Kevin Crease, the man who sold them. But it seemed like what was done, was done.
Kevin And honestly, I didn't think they'd ever be for sale again because Peter, the owner, just loved them.
Adam Which brings us up to this past year when Peter announces that he is going to sell them.
Peter I'm getting up there, I'm going to be 65. My family would like to start enjoying life a little bit more. And because of that, I was putting my family ahead of the dolls. Probably the only thing I would put ahead of dolls. I'm sad to let them go. I really is.
Adam The auction date is set for November 13th, 2020 at what is arguably the largest movie memorabilia auction house in the world, Profiles in History.
Marsha We learned about it through a press release. We learned about it because that auction house is talking about it.
Adam Once again, my boss, Marsha Bemko.
Marsha Here we are. It's just about November when we're recording this thing. So we really don't know what's going to happen.
Adam But before we get to the auction itself, I do want to do a quick survey of some experts on that price tag. The starting bid is $150,000, which as Marsha and I said at the top, sounds bananas.
Laura Woolley Well, it's always a pleasure to talk to you, Adam.
Adam To start with, I pulled a few regular appraisers from our show, people who specialize in collectibles or movie memorabilia, people like Laura Woolley.
Laura I think one of the things that is really difficult to wrap your head around with something like this, we have no idea how meaningful this is to someone and you can't quantify that. I mean, ultimately we will. In November, it will be quantified, but it's difficult to predict, I guess. There's no matrix to be able to predict that.
Adam All right. But with that said, Profiles in History has put a $150,000 to $250,000 presale estimate. What do you think of that?
Peter I think it should go for something in that range. I think that is not unreasonable in my perspective, which might sound insane to a lot of other people out there. But when you're talking about cultural touchstone items like this, I absolutely don't think that sounds crazy.
Adam Not everyone agrees.
Noel Barrett As far as an auction estimate, I think it's totally insane
Adam For another take, here is our appraiser, Noel Barrett. Noel's an expert in toys and games. And he was actually concerned about the effect of the restoration on the Puppet's value.
Noel It's a quandary because you can't restore it and keep any patina of age on it. Because it's just beyond that. So you have to restore it to where it looks like it was made yesterday. And it loses the feeling of age. This piece is something that's 60 years old or whatever it is. This is a quandary. This piece is a real quandary.
Adam I also heard some doubts about the exact figure the auction house chose for the starting bid and whether it would actually entice people to jump in the game.
Leila Dunbar See, $100,000 is an interesting psychological barrier. Okay.
Adam Another appraiser Leila Dunbar.
Leila I probably would've done 60 to 80, 70 to 90. Or again, I might have split them up and done 40 to 60, or 50 to 75 a piece. And I know you're saying, "Well, you're throwing a lot of numbers at me," but it does make a difference.
Adam Could the high bar of entry scare off potential bidders who were actually ready to pay more than that? Or will setting the price. So high signal to bidders that these puppets are actually worth that much? Tough call. But if the current owner Peter is concerned, he isn't showing it. As somebody who's collected for a long time, as long as you have, you think there's buyers out there at 150 to 250, no doubt?
Peter Absolutely not even a question about it.
Adam Now, none of the cheapskates I've talked to are going to actually bid on this thing. But Kevin, Rick and the team at Screen Novelties, they're all hoping for the same outcome.
Rick I really think the fans deserve to see them and share them.
Chris Finnegan Our biggest fear is that they just end up in some rich dude's basement.
Kevin And that is what I'm working on intensely right now, is trying to stay steer a path forward where they end up next is back in the public somehow.
Adam To make this happen, Kevin has teamed up with a man named, get this, Mark Klaus, who is the owner of a museum in Ohio called Castle Noel.
Mark Klaus Castle Noel is America's largest, year-round, indoor Christmas entertainment attraction.
Adam This is Mark.
Mark Klaus And we have the largest privately-held collection of Christmas movie props and costumes, like Schwarzenneger's Turbo Man costume from Jingle All the Way, the Will Ferrell's elf costume, the special effects flying sleigh and reindeer.
Adam Pretty amazing, right?
Mark Klaus [crosstalk] Santa-
Adam Naturally, Santa and Rudolph would make a fine addition to the collection.
Mark Klaus I mean, just tons and tons of Christmas movie props.
Adam And so Mark has launched a GoFundMe campaign for the auction. When we talked, it already had over 300 contributors, including Kevin and fans from around the country.
Mark Klaus We had a wonderful thing yesterday. Little boy sent a letter in. It said, "Dear, Mr. Klaus, I really want those Santa Claus and Rudolph puppets to end up at Castle Noel. So I have some money to give you for it." And he sent us $1.05.
Adam $1.05. So these are not exactly big donations. Still, they're adding up. Mark and Kevin had already raised over $16,000 when we talked. They know it's a long shot, but for Kevin, it's the only shot he's got to make sure those puppets don't disappear back into some private collection.
Kevin But I'm just watching and seeing what happens and rooting.
Adam So it hasn't started yet. So do you see, do you see it?
Marsha Yeah, I see it, but where's the video?
Adam It's auction day, November 13th, 2020.
Marsha Oh, right. I see it's just blank.
Adam It starts at two.
Adam Yeah. Yeah. So updates though. Updates that I think you should know. So my update goes, what I think it will go for, I'm going back to, if I have a billion dollars, first thing I do is I solve world hunger and peace, but then I bid on these. I do all that, but with the leftover money, I would be willing to spend $250,000 on these. I think it ultimately hammers at the 250,000.
Marsha So my guess before this, before, when we were talking with everybody this morning, everybody who does Roadshow, I guessed 175.
Marsha I think so. Yeah. I think that's what I said.
Adam I think so. So you're updated as 175,000. The auction's about to begin.
Marsha Oh, we better get on there.
Auctioneer Rudolf the Rednosed Reindeer.
Marsha Oh, he is on. Oh, he is on.
Auctioneer And we have an opening bid hundred of $150,000. Looking for $160,000 next. Opening bid, 150. It's an internet bid at 150.
Adam The auction is not much to look at by the way. There are people there in the room, but all the action seems to be on the phone and on the internet.
Auctioneer Bid. 160 another bid. Coming-
Adam So it's really just a guy at a podium pointing at a screen with numbers, popping up on it. That's the beeping sound you're hearing.
Auctioneer 180,000, 190,000, 200 next.
Marsha 190, it's going to go.
Auctioneer Bids on the internet.
Adam What did you say?
Marsha I said 175 so I'm low.
Adam I said 250.
Auctioneer 2000 is next. Anybody wants to bid.
Marsha Holding there at 190. Holding there. Oh, it's going to hammer at 190.
Adam It's going to hammer at 190.
Auctioneer On the phone. Bid.
Marsha Last Call. Whoop.
Auctioneer 210, back to the internet.
Marsha Whoa. No. It's going up. Still going up. That was a tease.
Auctioneer 20 next. 220. Ladies, bid on the phone.
Adam That was a rush.
Marsha Yeah, 210. It went to 210 so quick. Oh my God. It keeps going. 240. 240.
Auctioneer 240,000. Ladies, bid on the phone and back to the internet. 250,000.
Adam The only bidder we actually know of is Mark Klaus from Castle Noel. And we have no idea how much money he's raised, but as the bids keep piling on, something tells me Mark is not in the running anymore.
Auctioneer Looking for 275.
Marsha Is it going to exceed the estimate? Is it going to exceed the estimate?
Adam Stop right there. Stop right there.
Auctioneer We're giving fair warning to the [crosstalk 00:31:54]-
Adam Stop right there.
Marsha Fair warning. Fair warning it says.
Adam Hammer it.
Marsha Last call it says.
Adam Hammer it.
Marsha Last call at 250. Last call at 250.
Auctioneer 275 is the next bid.
Adam Fair warning. Price is right. This is my price is right moment.
Marsha Oh my gosh.
Adam Come on. Hammer.
Soundbite from auction Yes-
Marsha Come on.
Auctioneer So we're splitting this bid.
Adam They're not going.
Auctioneer So to the next person who wants to bid, it would be 262,000.
Adam To try and lure in more bidders, the auctioneer starts making the price increments smaller.
Auctioneer Okay, the bid now split at 262,500.
Adam And it works.
Auctioneer Okay. So we have a bid of 287,500.
Marsha It just went to 287.5.
Soundbite from auction 300,000. We'll go back to our regular increments.
Marsha They jumped it. Now, 300. Next bid they're looking for 300.
Adam Whoa. All right. So, I'm wrong.
Marsha They're looking for 300.
Auctioneer 300,000. Looking for 300. Hold on.
Marsha 300 is a lot of money for Santa.
Auctioneer At 287,000, last call.
Marsha Last call now again.
Auctioneer I'm going to sell it to the internet bid.
Adam He's got the hammer. 287.5.
Auctioneer And sold paddle 600.
Auctioneer To paddle 6000, 287,500. And we will start off with the second half of our auction at 11:15, our time. Thank you.
Marsha That was it.
Adam That's what it sold for. That is-
Marsha Oh my gosh.
Marsha I just can't believe. I can't believe. You really got to be rich to have that much money for Santa.
Adam How rich? How much my do you have in your bank account that you're doing that? That is-
Marsha Well, let's hope for the museum. But whoever it is, Adam, you got to find him and talk to him or her, who wants that.
Adam Turns out the Christmas museum, Castle Noel did not want it quite enough.
Mark Klaus We tried, but the best we could do was the opening bid. And we weren't able to go any more than that.
Adam And at the end of the auction day, that's pretty much all I could figure out. With the taxes and the buyers premium, we knew that the true price for the puppets was actually $368,000, but the buyer remained anonymous. And for all we knew Rudolph and Santa were tucked away in the basement cave of an obscenely wealthy abominable snowman, never to see the light of day again. Then about a month later, just a few days before Christmas, in fact.
Kevin I was driving and I stopped at a red light to check my emails.
Adam Again, Kevin Crease.
Kevin Probably not supposed to, but I did. And I saw this email from the Atlanta Center for Puppetry Arts.
Beth Chavo My name is Beth Chavo and I'm the executive director at the Center for Puppetry Arts.
Adam It turns out that Beth had her eye on these puppets as well, but just like Kevin, she didn't have $300,000 lying around to buy them outright.
Beth Chavo We may have talked to a few individuals that we knew said, Hey, just so that you know, these things are going up for auction. And sure enough, we found a friend of the center.
Adam A very wealthy friend.
Beth ... who was a huge fan of the show, as so many of use are, and decided to put the name in the auction.
Adam That's amazing. Yeah. We may have sent out a catalog with the tag right on the page and circled.
Beth That's exactly right.
Adam Couple dozen times, whatever. No big deal.
Beth Yeah. We may have sang a few songs just in the background.
Adam I know you can't. You're not a Liberty to tell who bought them, but did they tell you that they were going to go for these?
Beth Yes, we knew that they were going to go for those. And then if they did actually were successful in winning these, that we would handshake and a wink that we would have these at the center. So we were watching the auction quite closely that day.
Adam What did you think as it went? Did you know what they were going to try to spend? Or did you think that they would ever go to that amount?
Beth So when we started to see the price continue to go up and when we heard that it actually had gone for the $368,000, we thought, "Oh, well, gosh, that's probably not our person. I mean, that would be amazing. And sure enough, sure enough it was. So this is not going to sit in someone's private house on show. This is going to be for all the community to enjoy. So we're so pleased.
Adam It's a Christmas miracle.
Beth It is a Christmas miracle. Let's let's get Burl Ives in here and sing a wonderful song for us. Yes.
Adam Kevin agreed, even though it wasn't his bidder that won.
Kevin Best news I heard all year, all 2020. The rest of 2020 was all bad news, everything, bad news. But that was one piece of great news at right at the end of the year.
Adam Rudolph and Santa will be on indefinite loan to the Center for Puppetry Arts museum, right alongside the original Kermit the frog and miss Piggy. The buyer/donor remains anonymous, but they did release a statement saying, "These were beloved characters of my childhood. And I can think of no better place for them to retire than in the trusted care of the Center for Puppetry Arts." The center plans to display them for the public, just like Kevin Crease and Rick Goldschmidt and Robin Walsh and everyone else I talked to had hoped. And yes, I'm ready to call this a Christmas miracle.
Adam Detours is a production of GBH in Boston and PRX. This episode was written and produced by Ian Coss. Our assistant producer is Isabelle Hibbard and our editor is Galen Beebe. Jocelyn Gonzalez is the director of PRX productions. Devin Maverick Robbins is the managing producer of podcasting at GBH and Marsha Bemko is the executive producer of Detours, along with myself, your host and co-executive producer Adam Monahan. Our theme music is Once in a Century Storm by Will Dailey from the album National Pro. Thank you all for listening. Have a good one.