Collecting Vintage Christmas Decorations

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.

Collecting Vintage Christmas Decorations (1)

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

Vintage Bottle Brush wreath

The only information I’ve been able to track down on bottle brush trees and wreaths is that the Addi’s Bottle Brush Company began to dye their toilet bowl brushes in post-war times and assemble them into Christmas trees.
The most desirable bottle brush decorations have small glass beads and other decorations, like the one above with a spun cotton snowman.


arge Vintage Decorated Bottle Brush Tree

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.” 

Santa Claus

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.


Vintage composition and felt Santas

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.

Vintage Chenille Santa

This cute little chenille Santa carries a small tree and has a paper mache face. My guess is that he was made in America.

Vintage Molded Plastic Santa

Molded plastic Santas like this one are fairly plentiful, but collectible.

Vintage Christmas Picks

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.

Vintage Nat Geo Santa Coke Ad

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. 

Shiny Brites

vintage shiny brites

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.

Shiny Brite Christmas Bulb mark on top

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.

Vintage Shiny Brites

 Collectors would jump to buy these these less common, glitter-decorated Shiny Brites in their original box.


Vintage Shiny Brites Gold Ornaments

These unusual Shiny Brites with two-tone gold design and dotted embellishment are new to me. 

Vintage feather tree ornaments

These darling mercury glass bulbs, often referred to as “feather tree bulbs,” show significant wear but are nonetheless quite collectible.

Candy Containers

Plastic Christmas boot candy container


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. 


vintage ceramic deer

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.

vintage christmas-deer decoration-white-flocked-deer-with-vintage-ironstone

This white flocked doe and fawn often find a place of honor in among my ironstone collection.

Mercury Glass Garlands

antique mercury glass garlands

These mercury glass beads are likely made in Japan. 

Close up of multi-colored mercury glass antique garland

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.


Vintage sparkling christmas dust can

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

Vintage Shelf Elf

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.


Be sure to check out my free Christmas decoration price guide and if you want to learn even more, pop on over and take a look at my Very Vintage Christmas Bundle 🙂

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Collecting Vintage Christmas Decorations

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  1. I like them all, but those Shiny Brites are fabulous! My parents had lots of them – at least I thought it was a bountiful supply – and I wish I had them now. I know I can still get them, but it wouldn't be the same. I had another favorite when I was little, little bubbling lights. Your lovely post brought back lots of memories!

  2. Oh boy Diana, do some of these bring back memories from my childhood. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!
    Marie @ The Interior Frugalista

  3. I'm a vintage Christmas gal, thanks for sharing some history on that era. I love the German glass ornaments, shiney brights and bottle brush trees!

  4. What a great collection of vintage Christmas. I didn't know that about the bottle brush trees, that's kinda funny. Thank you for sharing this at my History & Home link party! Dawn @ We Call It

  5. I can pick out several of these in my own collection of vintage Christmas. My favorites are the bottle brush trees and wreaths.

  6. Love the vintage Christmas! We don't have as much of it here in Canada as in the USA.

  7. We have one of the Santa ornaments that you didn't know about. My mom said it's definitely from the 1960's because she got him as a gift when she was little.

  8. The little spun cotton and pipe cleaner cuties could have been made to be a gift ornament! It would have bent about the bow.

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  10. Such memories!! Thanks for sharing.
    Do you often see vintage painted small santa claus egg nog (?) cups?
    I have half a dozen from the old days…each one has different open/closed eyes. The handles are the curved top of Santa’s hat…….
    Whenever I (rarely) see them these days, the paint is chipped…..

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  13. When I was growing up in Ohio, my mother hung red bottle brush wreaths on every snowy window in our little home. I am now trying to collect my own wreaths
    and wonder if anyone knows if there is a way to straighten the flattened parts of a bottle brush wreath? Any ideas would be much appreciated.
    Thank you and happy holidays!
    Linda from California

  14. Ohh I just inherited 3 boxes of the Shiny-bright ornaments from grandma. They are stunning and ombré and iridescent. I’ve never seen ornaments like these even now days. The boxes are original and I believe the tag says 1.49 or .49 lol can’t make it out. There’s 12 per box. They are like metallic or mirror like, then multi colors running into each other I guess you’d call them ombré before they were! There’s pink, into silver into blues, purples and silvers. Someone offered me 25.00 for the box of 12 I said ummm no no… they are stunning!

  15. This was a wonderful trip down memory lane for me, too. When my oldest son was a year old, we didn’t have much money and I woke up one day right before Christmas, and someone had tossed a box of ornaments in my yard.

    I saw the box through the window and went out to pick up what I thought was trash, but inside I found numerous Shiny Brite glass ornaments and some other nostalgic items. It was such a great gift, right out of the sky!

    Diana, I wonder if you ever run across the German, green, glass pickle ornaments. What do you think those would sell for?

    1. What a poignant Shiny Brite story Eileen! Thanks for sharing it with us 🙂 When we visited Germany with our kids, we actually bought each of them a tiny pickle ornament as a memento. I’ve not come across any vintage or antique pickles though. Price-wise it would depend on their age, size, and condition, so it’s hard to say.

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