It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…
Oct 23, 2019 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
This weekend I visited my local craft shop and noticed something extraordinary – it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! All the Halloween decorations were heavily discounted to make way for aisles overflowing with ornaments and tinsel. Caught up in the glittery excitement, I found my shopping cart steering itself toward the merry magic. Surrounded by all the red and green, I began to daydream about the Christmas splendor of yore. Inspired by the engine that is American retail, allow me to present a list of favorite vintage Christmas treasures. Let me know in the comments what gets you into the holiday spirit…
Bottle brush trees
Artificial Christmas trees were first offered to consumers in the late 1800s. Early faux tree enthusiasts were a plucky group and a 1915 article in Popular Science Monthly outlined their pioneering efforts. One gentleman saw his design as multipurpose, allowing for the branches to be replaced with pegs, handily converting the family tree into a coat rack during the “off season.” Another inventor, August Wengenroth, incorporated candle holders into his design and was so obsessed with capturing the snapshot of the perfect tree, he even tried a flocking technique to recreate a snowy day. Female inventors were equally passionate about capturing reality, but also incorporated safety features (i.e. fireproofing). While these early trailblazers failed to corner the Christmas market, their legacy paved the way for big changes just a few decades later…
Following WWII, the United States became the globe’s manufacturing headquarters. Needless to say, supplying the world with consumer and commercials goods was a big task. Europe was rebuilding and Americans were eager to buy their way to utopia. As a result, manufacturers were masters of the multitask. The bottle brush tree is a novel reminder of that post-war skill set. In a 1950s stroke of genius, bottle brush makers realized they could re-purpose their equipment to produce the happy tabletop trees we know and love today! While the artificial tree market has continued to blossom (to the credit of our Victorian visionaries), the adorable bottle brush tree remains the iconic vintage holiday symbol.
During the 1940s and 1950s one product flew off the shelves in record numbers. Stores clamored to have the latest designs and colors, while families saved up to buy them in bulk. What item drew such an ardent following? The perfect orb known as the Shiny Brite. This Christmas craze started in the late 1930s as the brainchild of Max Eckardt. Max collaborated with the Corning Glass Company to build on Woolworth’s ornament empire. Their creation ended up overshadowing it, dominating the baubles market. These ornaments were touted as a purely American take on a German tradition (a marketing technique that resonated with all the G.I.’s and their families). During its peak, Shiny Brites even boasted a New York City showroom. In our modern times, when ornaments are “hyper” mass-produced, it’s hard to imagine such a gallery to tree decorations. Yet Shiny Brites shone brightest during this time of unbridled enthusiasm and that’s the message they still convey to me – hope.
Collecting Shiny Brites can be a very rewarding and joyful hobby. When assessing a Shiny Brite, the clue is in the hardware. The oldest ornaments are metal from cap to loop, while 1940s examples naturally replaced metal with cardboard. If you have a Shiny Brite with different hook lengths you’ve got an example of the post-war era. (These longer hangers were discontinued by the end of the 1950s). No matter which era, collectors can be guaranteed that a Shiny Brite investments returns smiles!
Classic Christmas Movies
Nothing gets me ready for the holidays quite like a fantastic, old movie. We’ve featured some wonderful classics in an earlier article, but my absolute favorite remains Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. What started as a TV special in 1964 has gone on to become the longest-running holiday program for the small screen. It’s hard to say what magical formula concocted such a beloved tradition. Burl Ives’ calming voice was a familiar and soothing presence. (His star power also didn’t hurt matters.) The quirky cast of characters and dreamers, led by an unlikely hero, was equally unique and relatable. Seeing the story unfold in stop-motion animation made it even more engaging and explains why each year millions of people gather around the television, carrying on a tradition started over 50 years ago.
Tell me dear reader, what is the first piece of vintage decoration you put up? What is the Christmas movie that immediately transports you to a snow-filled happy place?