A reader writes:
I am a curatorial intern at the [historical home name deleted] . Part of my job this summer is to research ways to make their Christmas displays more historically accurate. I have been going through online resources, as well as original letters, etc. from the homeowners' archives, and your Christmas tree lights website has been EXTREMELY helpful! I was wondering if there was anything further you could tell me about Christmas in the 1910s-1920s: specifically, anything about the trees used. What species of trees were most popular, and when did artificial trees become available? Was there a reason trees always looked so asymmetrical and thin in old photographs (ie, was that preferable at the time for some reason, or were fuller trees simply unavailable)? I am looking for any and all information about standard Christmas decorations from about 1915 to 1925, so if there are any other helpful articles on your website that I've missed, or if you know of any outside sources that would be useful, please let me know! Also, do you know where we might be able to purchase tree lights with round bulbs like those shown on your site? They don't have to be originals, just reasonable modern facsimiles. Thank you for your time!
---------Our Response-----------Feel free to add your own beneath, but be nice.
Little tiny artificial trees called "feather trees" were used in the late Victorian age, and many were still in use in the period you describe. The branches were made by wrapping a pheasant feature around a slender dowel in a spiral pattern so that the little vanes would stick out.
Early Christmas trees tended to be firs. I don't know why. They also tended to be 3'-4' tall and sit on tables until the early 1900s, when larger trees became popular. For several decades, Christmas tree dealers would find farmers who had planted trees for a windbreak and make an offer on the ones that were small enough to use for Christmas trees. Scotch pines were common for that use, because they grew relatively quickly and had a lot of branches. For the same reasons, when tree farms became big business, the Scotch pines became the most popular trees.
Firs tend to look scraggly unless they're trimmed carefully ever year. Their branches tend to be far apart, regardless. Scotch pines tend to a ball shape unless they're trimmed carefully several times each growing season. Both shapes can be seen in old photos and postcards. Firs were safer when folks used real candles, because the branches were relatively far apart and relatively stiff. When lightbulbs came into play, that difference wasn't as important, and the Scotch pine became the ubiquitous Christmas tree of the 30s-1980s, when "upscale" firs and spruces started coming back.
The first really big wave of artificial trees were the aluminum ones. By the mid 1960s, companies were using sliced sheet plastic to make needles the same way they had sheet aluminum before, so they could make green trees that were much safer than the shiny aluminum trees, and more convincing to more people.
Hope that gets you started.
Regarding the bulbs, a number of companies make retro-looking bulbs every year, but the line is never the same from one year to the next. If you have a particular kind of bulb in mind, please let me know what you're looking for and I'll keep an eye out.
Also, my friend Fred Fox who runs NoelKat has a lot of vintage Christmas decorations and lights and may be able to help you. I'm copying this letter to him. His site is:http://www.blujay.com/?page=profile&pro ... e=noel-kat
Hope this helps. I'd love to see photos of your results,