Haddon Sundblom, an artist, lived in Chicago in the early 1900s. He became famous for his Coca-Cola advertising art featuring Coca-Cola’s most successful pitchman of all time, Santa Claus.
In preparing his classic characterization of Santa Claus, Sundblom used a retired salesman, named Lou Prentice as his model. After Prentice died, Sundblom decided to use his own face to capture a pose, and with the help of a mirror he was able to create the facial image desired. From 1931 to 1964 Sundblom painted at least one painting a year for the Coca-Cola Company to use in advertising.
The Coca-Cola Santa Claus dolls were inspired by the Sundblom paintings and used for promotional purposes. A heavy wire was placed in the arms so Santa’s could hold out a miniature bottle of Coca-Cola in the right hand. The face had to have round cheeks, laugh lines and a twinkle in the eyes.
Mary Rushton designed the Santa Claus dolls. The Rushton Company of Atlanta, Georgia manufactured the dolls at a cost of $3. Thousands of dolls, each holding a miniature bottle of
Coca-Cola, were in the Coca-Cola promotions beginning in 1956. Today the original Coca-Cola Santa Claus doll are difficult to find.
The overwhelming success of the dolls led to more dolls through the years,
including, black Coca-Cola Santa Claus dolls of the 1970s and Santa with white boots instead of black in the 1980s.
The 1994 Coca-Cola catalog, from Chattanooga, Tenn. offered limited edition Coca Cola Santa Claus dolls also inspired by the Sundblom paintings. The dolls ae 16-inches tall and 9-inches wide. The jolly man’s facial features are molded plastic and hand painted. A long white beard is glued to Santa’s face. He wear a red knit stocking cap trimmed with fur and glued to his head.
Santa’s two piece suit is made of red brushed knit fabric. It is authentically detailed and trimmed with white “fur” around the cuffs and jacket. A plastic belt with a gold buckle is included with the jacket. Both are removable. The boots are more sophisticated than those worn by previous dolls. They are molded with a roll-down cuff and there is also a gold painted buckle on the boots.
Other companies picked up on the popularity of the Coca-Cola Santa and marketed everything from tree ornaments to snow globes. One of my favorites is the Hallmark 2001 snow globe. It has a music box playing “I’d like to Teach the World to sing,” © 1971, Shada Music. Santa sits inside the snow globe with a Coca-Cola bottle in his hand and a doll, and toy duck at his feet. Turn the key and a toy train moves on tracks around the snow globe while the music plays.