Christmas in July: Risk Dwells Even at a Christmas Collectibles Convention

By: | July 23, 2019

John (Jack) Hampton is a Professor of Business at St. Peter’s University, a core faculty member at the International School of Management (Paris), and a Risk Insider at Risk and Insurance magazine where he was named a 2018 All Star. He was Executive Director of the Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS), dean of the schools of business at Seton Hall and Connecticut State universities, and provost of the College of Insurance and SUNY Maritime College in New York City.

Whoever heard of Christmas in July? Well, it happens every year for hundreds of members of the Golden Glow of Christmas Past (GGCP). And the week-long meeting is fraught with perils and hazards that would challenge any professional risk manager.

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“The Golden Glow” consists of dealers and collectors who gather together to buy, sell and celebrate Christmas artifacts and remembrances. The organization contains about 2,000 members.

The 2019 annual convention took place in Lancaster, the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country and former site of the National Christmas Center. The volunteer committee planned for 600 or so attendees to convene in a hotel with 300 rooms. Eight hundred people showed up.

The hotel was running behind schedule on renovations, so three floors could not be occupied. People who were promised rooms had to be outplaced to neighboring venues.

This may not seem like a big deal until you realize that these people are collectors who sell their wares day and night from their hotel rooms. When some arrived to discover that they were not in the convention hotel, their chances for successful sales were minimal.

How do you know a 19th century Belsnickel is not counterfeit? If it appears to be in perfect condition, how do you know it has not been repaired by a clever artisan? Why do you care?

For the lucky ones who got rooms on what were designated “selling floors,” the risks continued throughout the week.

Hotel rooms were converted into merchandise showrooms. Shelving and portable card tables occupied every inch of spare floor space. A single room had hundreds of antique Christmas lights, tree ornaments and nativity figures — not to mention Santa Clauses and Rudolphs in every size, shape and costume.

My wife and I have different definitions of the items for sale. Not being a collector, I consider them to be “paraphernalia,” as per the definition of “superfluous trappings associated with a particular activity.” She calls them “treasures” and therein lies another risk.

Before the Pennsylvania Dutch knew about Santa Claus, they had the Belsnickel. According to Wikipedia, he was “a crotchety, fur-clad Christmas gift-bringer figure in southwestern Germany.” Somehow he migrated to the Pennsylvania Dutch communities. In 2019, these small and not-so-small figurines trade like gold among Christmas collectors.

How do you know a 19th century Belsnickel is not counterfeit? If it appears to be in perfect condition, how do you know it has not been repaired by a clever artisan? Why do you care?

Illustration of the Belsnickel, “a crotchety, fur-clad Christmas gift-bringer figure in southwestern Germany.”

Well, a perfect and rare Belsnickel can be worth thousands of dollars. A counterfeit or repaired item might be worth $50. It’s every collector’s nightmare to pay $6,000 for an item only to subsequently discover it’s an almost-worthless fake.

What do you do when this happens? Do you pretend you don’t know about the fraud? Do you try to sell it in your room at a discounted price of $2,500? A bargain no collector could pass up? Do you hire a bounty hunter to find and beat up the person who sold it to you?

These are all risk management decisions, but they are not the whole story of risk in the convention.

How about the people whose reservations were not honored because of the hotel renovations? One little old lady and her son had to walk five blocks back and forth from a neighboring hotel where she could not sell out of her room. One night, we had thunderstorms. Not total bad news. At least they got exercise in the rain.

After each event or dinner, hundreds of people lined up to wait for an elevator to take the lucky ones back to their rooms. Beware of elevator number 3 where the door intermittently closed and, filled with collectors, went nowhere until help arrived.

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Risk management? Use the stairs? Don’t tell that to the “lucky” ones on the 18th floor.

Then there’s social media risk. Golden Glow members are all over Facebook. If anything goes wrong — cold food, crowded rooms, weak air-conditioning — anger can be immediately expressed and shared.

In spite of all the risks of collecting, the attendees settled down, traded and went home with new “treasures.” Or at least they hoped that’s what they were.

We often identify risk management membership organizations using anacronyms. RIMS for the Risk and Insurance Management Society is the best known. We also have GARP, PRIMA, URMIA, and IFRIMA. I would like to add GGCP, the Golden Glow of Christmas Past, to the list. &

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