This was done by the Bing and Grondahl Company of Denmark. The plate was called 'Behind the Frozen Window' and sold new for 50 cents. This was also the first known collector plate to have the production date and title fired onto it's back. A mint condition specimen of this plate is now worth between $6,000.00 and $8,000.00.
In 1896 Bing and Grondahl produced the first known Christmas Collectors plate called 'Jule Aften 1896'. They have made one every year since and thus the 'Collectors Plate' phenomenon was born.
In 1987 Bing and Grondahl merged with the Royal Porcelain Factory, under the name Royal Copenhagen, and continued to produce their Christmas plates. A complete set of these plates today is worth tens of thousands of dollars.
From 1910 till just after WW ll other European companies such as Rosenthal, Konigliche and many others started to make Christmas plates of their own. By 1950 many limited edition plates were being imported into the US and sold through auctions and some dealers.
As this market started to grow more companies began to send limited edition plates to the United States where the limited runs (quite often under 500 plates) sold out fairly rapidly. Demand for these plates began to rise dramatically and this created the true collector plate market.
In the early 1970s J. Roderick MacArthur got the idea to organize the buying and selling of these collector's plates. He did this by phone along the lines of the stock market and thus came into existence The Bradford Exchange. By the 1980s Bradford was computerized and doing well over 10,000 transactions a day.
During this time the demand for these plates had grown to such an extent that the sellers started offer not only Christmas plates but year round plates with children, birds, famous people and other topics as their themes.
As the number of plates grew so did the number of plate makers. It was about this time that the first Chinese and Russian collections entered the US market and were immediate hits.
All these plates were usually made from Rockwell, Kuck, Zola and other well known artist's work. These small run plates sold out quickly and when they sold out no more were made. Due to this fact a secondary market sprang up as collectors wanted a complete set of plates and were willing to pay to get them.
These out-of-production plates were only available through dealers, auctions, The Bradford Exchange or secondhand shops. At the height of their popularity, from the mid 1970s through the early 1990s, prices changed on a daily basis and were really quite volatile - think Beanie Babies in their prime but at a somewhat lesser volume of sales.
After the mid 1990s the market dropped off dramatically. This was caused, to a large extent, by the sellers deciding that a limited run of plates was no longer 250 or 500 plates but limited now meant 15,000 and in a lot of cases many more than that. This saturated the market and killed off the demand for the truly limited edition and thus hard to find plates.
This brings us to today's market.
Hardly a month goes by that we don't hear from an eager new collector that just inherited/bought/was given a complete set of Bradford plates. These plates all have the boxes, the certificates and they are over 15 years old.
Because of these facts our budding collector just knows that her or his retirement is assured. They just want us to please tell him how many thousands of dollars this fabulous array of collectable dinnerware is really worth. The news that we convey to them is defiantly not the news they want to hear.
Do to over production, reduced interest from buyers, competition among sellers (intensified by eBay) and a rotten economy the vast majority of these types of plates, in today's market, are worth next to nothing. The only entities that made or will ever make big money on these plates, for the foreseeable future, are the original retail sellers - i.e. The Bradford Exchange and the like.
These companies are not the suppliers of fine china that they were in the past. They are now just sellers of investments scams that will NOT appreciate, judging by past performance, but will become almost worthless as soon as they are purchased.
Bradford's marketing of these plates along with others would lead a person to believe that they are a limited edition plate and, because of this, they just have got to go up in price.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. The 'limited edition' runs of these plates are now typically 150 (or more) days in duration. If the seller only has 100 plates produced a day that's still a run of 15,000 plates.
On the Bradford Exchange web site the 2011 Christmas edition plate is 'limited to the 2011 production year'. This means that the plate will be in production for the entire year of 2011. Your guess is as good as mine as to how many plates will eventually be made but you can bet it will be a bunch.
Remember you cannot value these plates by what they originally sold for or what online sites are asking. You must value them by what they are really selling for today. For that eBay is a great indicator of what the cash market actually is for these plates.
Let's look at a Bradford Norman Rockwell plate 'THE APPRENTICE' from 1995.
On line stores have this plate in stock with list prices from $25.00 to $75.00 as of 11/8/11.
My search of eBay showed 12 total completed auctions shown on 11/8/11 all without a sales. The lowest starting price was $7.88 with no bids.
This search also showed 15 active auctions on eBay as of 11/8/11 with the lowest 'Buy it Now' price at $6.95. All 15 of these auctions had no bids.
Both these sets of eBay auctions show little if any interest in these plates. This is indicated by the small amount of people looking at these auctions. Most eBay auctions pages have hit counters on the sites so interest is easy to judge.
I then did another search on eBay for just the phrase Bradford Plates. I found 5,099 open auctions and 8,739 completed auctions. That's 13,838 Bradford plates that had been or were being offered for sale just on eBay. This is a lot of plates.
Out of the first 200 completed listings only 23 plates had been sold. 2 of the sold plates were Winnie the Pooh plates that sold for $25.30 each and the other 21 plates had a sales price ranging from $0.01 to $12.95. This is an 11.5% sales rate with the vast majority of the plates that did sell going for under $7.00. Not one of these plates met the original purchase price of $30.00 .
This is not to say that some collector plates will not appreciate in value - some most assuredly will. However the mass produced mass marketed types of plates most assuredly will not. In fact, you will lose a bunch of money the minute you purchase them if you don't buy them cheap enough.
In most cases a purchase price of $1.00 to $2.00 a plate should give you of a small profit when you try to sell it. This, however, is not guaranteed as a lot of these plates will have no buyers at any price.
If you bought them for the advertised retail price from The Bradford Exchange, or others, you're pretty much assured of an almost total loss of your money. Sorry folks but these are the hard but true facts in the wonderful world of limited edition plate collecting.
The best advice I can give any reseller is if you're not sure what the item that you're about to buy will sell for then take the time to do your research before you buy it. Don't believe anyone that tells you that buying anything for resale is a sure thing and it just can't lose. What they really mean is that if you take the deal as they offered it then it just can't lose for the person selling it to you.
Always remember Mike T. Hammer's golden rule - You can't buy high and sell low and hope to make it up on volume!