A guide to Christmas and holiday antiques
Have you ever wondered about that box of vintage Christmas decorations hanging out in your attic? From wooden nutcrackers to glass ornaments to Lionel model trains, you should be able to identify what hidden treasures, whether vintage or antique are hanging out in your attic. Your cherished decorations might be valuable but, even if they aren’t, you can decorate your home with them and enjoy just as they were in the past.
Decorating the tree, like many modern Christmas traditions, was originally a German idea. Nuts, fruits, and candles were the most common decorations and some families would later take the tree outside to share the edible ornaments with the animals. Americans started decorating trees in the early 1800s, often covering them in garlands of popcorn. Christmas tree stands were occasionally made of cast iron, but more often a piece of wood was simply nailed to the tree bottom and covered with a piece of red velvet cloth.
During the late 1800s, Christmas decorations became more elaborate, featuring elegant ornaments, baubles, and garlands. In the 1950s Americans became enamored with aluminum trees, which were made in silver, pink and even purple. Today these aluminum trees, especially the rarer colors, are highly collectible.
German craftsmen began producing images of fruits, hearts, stars, and angels in glass in the mid-1800s and they became incredibly popular. By the 1880s American businessman F.W. Woolworth had begun importing these German glass and metal treasures to his five and dime stores all around the country. Their popularity soared. If you are lucky enough to have some of these ornaments still intact, consider yourself lucky.
Vintage department store Christmas items
By the 1930s, Christmas became a big business and children eagerly awaited the arrival of Christmas toy catalogs from Sears and Montgomery Ward. Department stores set up huge Christmas trees, a place for kids to meet Santa and window displays of their toys. All the items of this era, the toys, the advertising and even the catalogs, today are highly collectible and sought after.
Antique and vintage Christmas tree lights
Although candles had long been used to illuminate Christmas trees, by 1882 one of Thomas Edison’s assistants decided to try the new electric lights for that purpose. The safety Christmas bulb was invented in 1917 and sold to the public in strings.
Vintage Santa figurines and Christmas advertising
The story of Santa Claus goes back to fourth century Myra (now Turkey), where old Bishop Nicholas became a patron for children and the poor. Dutch immigrants brought the lore of Saint Nick to America and through the mispronunciation of “Sinterklass” (St. Nicholas), Santa Claus was born. Santa’s likeness adorns many Christmas antiques and collectibles from toys to vintage tree ornaments to centerpieces and tiny figurines.
Coca-Cola was one of the first companies to jump on the Christmas bandwagon, helping to define Santa in the process. In the 1930s the company began producing a number of Christmas advertisements featuring Santa enjoying Coke which helped establish Santa as a gift giver clad in red.
Whether you consider them antique, vintage or just fun to remember holidays past, hang on to those decorations and hand me downs in that box in the attic, not to mention the new Christmas items you pick up this year. You never know what might become a valuable antique 30 years from now!