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Margaret Strayhorne of Stamford also collects, but ''in a very minor way,'' her interest having flagged since her friend, Clara Scroggins, moved to Houston three and a half years ago. Mrs. Scroggins, author of ''Silver Christmas Ornaments: A Collector's Guide,'' published in 1980 by A.S. Barnes, is believed to have the most extensive collection in the country. Her enthusiam has involved many of her friends, though none of them are as heavily committed as she is. Mrs. Scroggins says she is collecting at the rate of 1,000 ornaments a year and has just completed a new book, ''Hallmark Christmas Ornaments: A Collector's Guide,'' to be published in June.
Marianne Connon of Stamford, introduced to the joys of collecting by Mrs. Scroggins, collects more for others than for herself. While she acquires only two silverplate designs for herself annually - the musical bell issued by Kirk-Steiff, which plays a different tune each year, and Reed & Barton's holly bell, modeled after a sleigh bell - she purchases an additional four of the former as gifts for friends.
Also partial to the Reed & Barton holly bell, Karen Lowe of Greenwich buys two each year, one for herself and the other for her sister. She now has eight of the ornaments, initiated in 1976 as balls rather than bells. The first ringing edition was issued in 1980. Originally, the holly ball series was also offered without the year mark, making it mandatory for a serious collector to have one of each.
Rare early editions are in demand to round out collections, such as ''A Partridge in a Pear Tree,'' first in the Twelve Days of Christmas series of sterling medallions by Towle. This sold for $10 when issued in 1971, but can cost as much as $500 today. One mother completed a set this year for each of her four children with ''12 Drummers Drumming,'' at $28 each. She considers it an investment for their future and keeps impressing upon them the importance of keeping the original box, chamois bag and printed explanatory statement. ''You are really collecting the whole thing,'' she said.
Collecting for future generations is not unusual. Indeed, according to Renee Roseman of David Harvey Jewelers in Norwalk, such collections are being written into wills.
Collecting can run into money. ''I'm going to send my husband to the poorhouse,'' said Mrs. Black, laughing. She started her ''extensive'' collection of sterling, silverplate, pewter, brass and porcelain about five years ago. Her latest acquisition is the first edition of an ivory porcelain ball by Lenox at $30.
Another newcomer this year is a blue Jasperware ornament with snowflake design by Wedgwood at $29.95, and Haviland Limoges has introduced the first in a new angel series at $30. The new designs join such staples as Waterford's crystal ornaments that date to 1978 and Royal Copenhagen Porcelain's miniature plates for the tree, first issued for Christmas 1979.
Next year, admirers of Henriot Quimper faience will be hanging handpainted bells on the tree next to their oval Noels, dated 1980, 1981 and 1982, that depict figures in traditional Breton costumes. New from Reed & Barton are ornaments to trim the tree and record the highlights of the holidays. The MemoryBook, a 16-page diary with an embossed silverplated cover, and Memory Ornament, a gold-or silverplated capsule with a keepsake scroll tucked inside, are $20 each.
Collectible Christmas ornaments are carried by most department and jewelry stores. Zantow-Ferguson, for example, has about 250 designs on display, including past editions, for which it receives orders from as far away as Alaska. The Quimper Noels are available from Quimper Faience in Stonington at $30 a pair.Continue reading the main story