Vintage Christmas decorations capture the magic and nostalgia of old-fashioned Christmas celebrations that so many try to recapture.
Today we’re going to take a look at a variety of vintage decorations, from bottle brush trees to Shiny Brite ornaments and from mercury glass garlands to Santa Claus.
Christmas Decoration History
Christmas trees and all their glorious decorations have a somewhat mysterious origin. We know that people in northern climates, admired pine trees for their “ever-green” nature and used them to decorate their homes during long winters.
Medieval Germans began to decorate evergreen trees with apples and called them “paradise” trees, after the Garden of Eden. Historians suspect that some families began to leave their “paradise trees” up through Christmas and eventually (sometime in the 17th century), Germans adopted them as part of their Christmas celebration.
In 1848, Queen Victoria encouraged her German husband, Albert, to decorate a tree as he had in Germany, and the tradition caught on in both England and America. Decorated with sweets, glass ornaments, and candles, the trees became widely popular.
By 1870, Germany exported huge numbers of glass ornaments, manufactured via a “cottage industry,” made up of individuals and families who fashioned the ornaments in their own homes.
After the World Wars, America and Japan joined the fray and began producing their own decorations, based on the beloved German ones. It is these that I’ll be talking about in this post–vintage Christmas ornaments of the 1950s.
Bottle Brush Decorations
This brush tree–an exceptional example–sits on a glittery wooden base stamped “Japan.” It holds four pretty pink presents, and displays gold garland, glass ornaments, and crushed glass type of “flocking.”
The Santa Claus figure seems to be an amalgamation of a number of different myths from around the world, including St. Nicholas (Greek), Sinterklaas (Dutch), Father Christmas (England), and a variety of others.
This pair of Santas, with paper mache (or composite) faces, have “Japan” tags and measure about 4″ tall. Their suits are made of felt, with white pipe cleaner trim. They have cotton beards and plastic boots.
This cute little chenille Santa carries a small tree and has a paper mache face. My guess is that he was made in America.
I suspect that these spun cotton and pipe cleaner picks were either part of a larger decoration or perhaps inserted into floral arrangements.
Germans, and later on the Japanese, created spun cotton ornaments by pressing cotton into molds to create various shapes like heads, animals, and fruit. These examples are likely Japanese.
National Geographic published Coca Cola ads on the back of their magazines for years, and December’s often featured Santa, like this one from 1957. He’s looking very jolly.
American made Shiny Brites are in many ways the epitome of mid-century Christmas decorations. Every five and dime store sold them at very reasonable prices, so today they abound at garage sales and flea markets.
Look for the “Shiny Brite” name or “Made in U.S.A.” on the metal cap. The most unique and unusual garner the highest prices, of course.
Collectors would jump to buy these these less common, glitter-decorated Shiny Brites in their original box.
These unusual Shiny Brites with two-tone gold design and dotted embellishment are new to me.
These darling mercury glass bulbs, often referred to as “feather tree bulbs,” show significant wear but are nonetheless quite collectible.
Another area of Christmas collectible is candy containers. Often there is nothing about the piece that indicates it held candy because it looks like a stand-alone decoration, like this boot.
But there would have been a piece of card board glued or tucked into the top to hold some special treat inside the boot.
This is the first one I’ve ever owned that has the ribbon and the paper around the top still attached. Many fine examples of older containers were made in Germany, this newer one was made in the USA.
Scads of plastic deer, Santas, elves, trees, and other decorations came out of the 1950s. They can usually be found at garage sales for next to nothing.
This white flocked doe and fawn often find a place of honor in among my ironstone collection.
Mercury Glass Garlands
These mercury glass beads are likely made in Japan.
Mercury glass results from the silvering of double-walled, free-blown glass. The coloration is achieved from the inside of glass and, as you can see in the photo, the pink coloration is wearing off the outside of these beads. They nevertheless have a great vintage look.
Manufacturers produced myriads of Christmas-related items like this little tin of glitter. I love the lettering and the graphics. This diamond dust could be used as faux snow or could be applied to the roof of a card board house or hillside.
Other items would include paper decorations, table decorations, tree skirts, gift wrapping items, and the list goes on(!).
Elf on a Shelf
Elf-on-the-shelf figures have taken on a life of their own the past several years. Parents dream up all kind of escapades for their elves to get into.
Knee hugger elves like this one are almost as popular and sell quite well on eBay.
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