Ceramic trees become popular collectibles

By on December 28, 2011

By: JOYCE ZIMMERMAN, Staff Writer

Each year during the holiday season, antique and vintage Christmas decorations and other holiday-themed items capture the attention of collectors and shoppers looking for special items that stir memories of Christmases past. Likewise each year, certain things seem to emerge as "hot items" and become more popular than other items. Whereas any item classified "antique," especially if made in Germany or Czechoslovakia, tends to hold interest and value year after year, interest in certain vintage decorations can fluctuate from year-to-year.

Remember the ceramic Christmas trees your mom or grandma had in the 1960s or ’70s. Well, you guessed it! They are one of the hot items enjoying popularity during this year’s holiday season. Many of these vintage trees were created in local ceramic shops by people, perhaps even your mother or grandmother, who wanted to fashion their own gifts or keepsakes. This is the same era when the popularity of ceramics reached its highest level, when artisans created all kinds of items from animal figurines to dinnerware. Unlike the ceramic Christmas tree, many of these items have little value today and hold very little interest as collectibles. Undoubtedly, nostalgia plays a role in the ceramic tree revival, stirring pleasant and happy memories of childhood Christmases, perhaps at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

Several different ceramic mold companies started producing their own version of the now classic ceramic Christmas tree. The earliest versions had tiny electric lights that lit individually. As technology developed in plastics and lighting, the older versions of tiny individual bulbs were replaced by trees that lit from within using only one light bulb to light the entire tree that is decorated with small, colorful plastic "bulbs."

Vintage trees from this era are painted in a variety of colors, styles and textures. Some are glazed, some finished in acrylic paint, some with "painted" snow and some very plain, but one thing is clear — people still love these handmade ceramic trees. Since they are made from fired clay, little care is required to keep them nice, therefore making them perfect for holiday decorations and gifts that easily last many, many years.

In later years, several mold companies and many ceramic shops went out of business or merged with others due to a decline in interest for ceramics, mainly due to the influx of ready-made items from Japan and later China. Added to that, many women began working outside the home to help support the family, leaving little time for ceramics or other craft projects. However, many people still remember and cherish these lovely old trees. They are perfect to bring out for the holidays, perhaps creating new Christmas memories for your children, grandchildren and friends.

Of course, many other antique and vintage Christmas items and decorations enjoy a collector status, including a few other types of artificial trees. Remember the aluminum trees popular in the 1950s, the ones with revolving light wheels that changed colors? When they appear in the antique shop, they are bought by people who enjoy the ambience they create; however, others find them way too "glitzy" and unnatural. A common saying among collectors, "To each their own," applies to Christmas items as well as other collectibles.

Perhaps the ultimate collectible Christmas tree is the German-made goose feather tree, known for their simplicity and folk-art characteristics. Since authentic antique specimens are quite rare and involve a rather large cash outlay, they are popular decorating choices for "serious" collectors and those persons decorating period or restored homes. These trees, made by wrapping goose, turkey or swan feathers around wires or sticks which were stuck into a larger stick to form a trunk, became popular in 18th and 19th century Germany after officials passed laws to limit the cutting of real trees to protect native forests. They enjoyed brief popularity in America after Sears, Roebuck & Co. offered them in their 1913 catalog in response to President Theodore Roosevelt’s interest in preserving America’s evergreen forests; an action had helped establish the present-day Christmas tree farm industry. More ANTIQUES, page A10

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