I started collecting papier-mache rabbit and egg candy containers for my sons' Easter baskets years ago, and even though they no longer believe in the grand old bunny, I still find myself searching out these collectibles in my antiquing travels.

Their materials sound so humble, but these creations are truly works of art, invented by German toymakers in the mid-19th century to fill the after-Christmas lull. They were still made up until World War II. The eggs were chromo-lithographed with dignified portraits of the Easter Bunny himself, framed in pussy willow and floral garlands and trimmed with paper lace. Sometimes they depicted barnyard scenes with baby chicks scooting about.All cracked open in the center to spill out their jelly beans and chocolates. The rabbit figures had special details like sparkling "Venetian dew" glass beads and mohair to simulate fur. Many wore clothing, from chauffeur's outfits to baseball uniforms and farmers' overalls. Others donned hiking gear that made them look like they should be scaling the Alps. If you want to talk about over the top, there were hares with pull carts wearing waistcoats, "roly-polies" with round bases, "nodders" with bobbing heads, and mother bunnies holding babies. Rabbits usually separated at the neck, though some - especially if they were particularly rotund - opened at the waist.

If you're into the "natural" look, there is also a choice of rabbits poised in lifelike positions, just as you would see them in the wild, whether crouched as if nibbling grass or rearing up on hind legs with paws in the air. These types are truly seasonless and blend right into tabletop vignettes all spring and summer long - for instance, paired with a basket of wildflowers or trailing ivy.

But at Easter, it's fun to blend fantasy and reality: Create a bunny trail of vintage varieties alongside stuffed animals, wind-up toys and chocolate models wrapped in foil. Nestle papier-mache eggs in straw grass alongside real eggs you've hand-dyed yourself. Exact reproductions of vintage collector's eggs are also available.

If you have other old-fashioned Easter collectibles, for instance chicks swathed in cotton wool, sprinkle these in, too, right alongside the marshmallow kind. Bring out your vases in pastel spring shades - McCoy planters are perfect for this - and fill them with daffodils and tulips. Turn-of-the-century Easter postcards are also cute touches: They tend to depict springtime scenes of bunnies and chicks cavorting in fields. Or prop open a Beatrix Potter "Peter Rabbit" storybook to a pretty illustration.

Keep your eyes open for bunnies and eggs all year long, and you'll have a jump on next year's holiday.

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