HomeArt and CollectablesCollecting Vintage Christmas Icons and Images

Did you ever wonder about old Christmas Decorations?

It’s long been a tradition in our family, and many others we know, to buy Christmas decorations when traveling abroad.   This means for many of us there are some very old collectable decorations in our attics or basement storage boxes, some dating back to our grandparent’s days or even earlier.  Some of these may even be quite valuable depending on the condition they are in.    But while no two Christmas trees are ever decorated the same way, did you ever wonder how this tradition got started?  This is a perfect time of the year to share some of our knowledge around this.

It may surprise you to know that it was the Americans who first started decorating small trees and wreaths with nuts, candy, and fruits back in the early 1800s.   They would then sometimes take their trees outside for the wildlife to enjoy consuming the leftovers.  Popcorn was a popular garland to make to go around the trees too.  But it wasn’t until Victorian times more than 100 years later that Christmas decorations became more elaborate and well thought out around icons and images we know today.  German craftsmen famously started producing images of hearts, stars and angles in glass and metal, and FW Woolworth began importing these for his five and dime stores in the late 1880s.   This sparked a raging trend over homemade textile and wooden ornaments.  Many were made from pressed tin, cardboard and whatever oddments could be found around the house.

After World War 1, the German ornaments trade floundered and was picked up by American manufacturers.  By the 1930s it was big business indeed, assisted by the popularity of department stores who got on the marketing wagon with Santa events in their stores for families.  Big window and store displays of toys and Christmas ornaments are something we’re all used to now, but those early toys and images used and even their marketing posters and signage are highly collectable now.

By the 1950s, Americans began hankering for elaborate baubles and aluminium Christmas trees in all colours – some of which are still highly sought after by collectors.

Icons and Figurines

Elves, Reindeer, Angles, Christmas  bells and Stars have long been traditional ornaments, but in 1892 the Tchaikovsky Nutcracker Suite Ballet introduced Nutcrackers into the line up.  I once visited a four story home converted into a Christmas Store/Museum in Rothenberg Ob der Tauber, Germany, that boasts a collection of more than 2000 nutcrackers, some dating back nearly 2,000 years.  So these were clearly not always a ‘Christmas thing’ but have become highly collectable as Christmas Associated items over the years.

Images of Santa were made popular in the 1930s by Coca Cola putting him in a red suit and portraying him as a cheerful gift giver – the colour and image has lasted well through the decades and Santa as we know him now has perhaps been one of the most brilliant advertising campaigns by Coca Cola (or any company for that matter) ever undertaken.  Hi quality early memorabilia of Santa in Red, holding a bottle of Coca Cola is also highly collectable.

Finally, music is a big part of Christmas and over the years many Christmas songs and special albums have been recorded by everyone from Bing Cosby to Alvin and the Chipmunks.  Posters and Original Albums from older days gone by are also highly collectable – some much more than others.  Memorabilia from old Christmas movies are also highly prized by some collectors.

Christmas Antiques and Collectables are often highly specialised, and while at Magpies this is not one of our areas of expertise, we do know people who can help with some Christmas Memorabilia if you have questions.  If you are thinking about starting a collection in this area, or adding to an existing collection, there is a lot to choose from. Or maybe you would just like to have fun with such an interest as collecting vintage Christmas icons and Images.  Either way, remember this:  you never know what might become a valuable antique in the future.

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