People who are into antique and vintage furnishings don’t stop at the holidays – in fact, it’s a whole new excuse to go out and find items that fit in with their décor and with the season.
These days, thanks to eBay and other online auction sites, it’s easier than ever to find old-school Christmas items.
Collectors scour Internet sales as well as flea markets, garage sales and antique stores to find such items as bubble Christmas lights, Coca-Cola memorabilia featuring Santa Claus, handcrafted wooden ornaments and other items that match a particular era.
“People come in year-round looking for holiday decorations,” said Melissa Thoeny, owner of the Olio Vintage Fun store in Monterey, California, which carries an eclectic selection of mid-20th-century collectibles.
The trick is to find a group of items that hail from a particular time in history, and group them together for maximum effect.
And if you can’t find the originals, then reproductions are often available.
Thoeny, who carries original vintage items in her shop, currently is displaying a variety of Christmas items that baby boomers will remember fondly: decorations made in Japan, little elves with pinecone bodies and pipe-cleaner arms, glass ball ornaments and ceramic figurines of the era.
She is also noticing a demand for vintage holiday lawn decorations, the old-fashioned kind that don’t movie, inflate or light up.
Made of plastic, they include such things as Santa and his sleigh, Nativity scenes, and snowmen.
“There’s a group of people out there who really like these items, mostly in their 20s and 30s,” said Thoeny. “They’re really cool to them.
“It’s your everyday kind of stuff, but now it’s collectible.”
Many of the items were made in post-WWII Japan, with the reputation of being flimsy or of poor quality. Now, ironically, these Japanese-made wares are highly sought after and valued.
Bubble lights for Christmas trees, made popular in the 1940s and 1950s, have also come back into vogue. Although some collect the original bubble lights, they’re also readily available as new reproductions.
Liquid inside the light bubbles when the bulb is activated, thanks to the chemical methylene chloride. Methylene chloride has an extremely low boiling point and bubbles readily from the heat of the bulb.
Baby boomers have fond memories of watching the lights bubbling away during the holiday seasons of childhood, which may account for their renewed popularity.
Modern sets can be purchased from a wide variety of stores, including Home Depot and Target, as well as any number of online merchants, such as www.christmaslightsetc.com and Amazon.
Electric lights have been part of Christmas since the early 1900s, and with every decade, different looks and embellishments have been added, according to George Nelson, proprietor of the Antique Christmas Lights Museum, www.oldchristmaslights.com. Nelson, an avid collector of Christmas lights, has compiled a fascinating history of all the bulbs that have decorated our trees and homes through the years.
Christmas lights have been shaped and colored to look like dogs, pinecones, snowmen and birds; they’ve been smooth and ribbed; innovations included twinkling lights (late 1920s) and even fluorescent Christmas lights (1945).
Santa Claus and Coca-Cola have had a long association, due to some enterprising ad men at the turn of the last century. Prior to 1930, Santa Claus was portrayed in a variety of ways, thin as well as fat, and in suits that were sometimes red, sometimes green, and sometimes some other color altogether.
Although Coca-Cola was not the first to portray Santa as being jolly, fat, and in a red suit, the company helped to popularize this image of the Christmas icon. Santa began appearing in magazine ads for Coca-Cola in the 1930s with a bottle of the soft drink in hand.
“Because magazines were so widely viewed, and because this image of Santa appeared for more than three decades, the image of Santa most people have today is largely based on our advertising,” notes the Coca-Cola Web site.
Why get Santa involved with a soft drink? Marketing, pure and simple. At this time, many people thought of Coca-Cola as a drink only during the warm summer months; linking it with a winter celebration showed that it could be a choice for any time of year.
Collectors who want to go a little further back in time might want to look for Victorian-era Christmas items. One area of particular interest are the holiday greeting cards and postcards sent during this time, with mass-produced becoming increasing popular in the late 19th century.
Antique shops in the area, such as those at Holman Antique Plaza in Pacific Grove, California, are now displaying holiday items that range from 19th century up through the 1950s.
Vintage-look items can also be found at some local stores. At the Joseph Boston & Co. Store in downtown Monterey, operated by the Historic Garden League, shoppers will find handcrafted ornaments and other items that appear to be from a much earlier period.
Carved wooden candy canes, tiny china teacups and painted jingle bells are just a few of the items that can be used to enhance a Victorian-style Christmas tree.
The store also sells “gift toppers” – which are meant to add interest to gift wrapping on a present, but could also be hung from a tree – in 19th-century designs of dolls, teddy bears, clowns and other figures.
And of course, any type of vintage toys can be placed under your tree to give it that sense of a bygone era.