An excess of Christmas decorations
  • Vintage Christmas tree topper in shape of star
  • A whole lotta Christmas decorations
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    Auction Finds

    It’s Christmas any time of year

    I can always find something Christmasy on auction tables anytime, anywhere – be it vintage lights, ornaments or any other decorations that had likely been sitting in someone’s basement or attic for years.

    The vintage Christmas cards, though, are the most sought-after, and can instantly induce a mad bidding war. I was at an auction about two months ago when one small box of Christmas postcards went for more than $100. The rest of us just shook our heads (foolish, we thought), because the lot wasn’t worth that much. I managed to pick up some postcards at a reasonable price once.

    Recently, I came across something I had not seen before: hand-painted figural Christmas tree lights. They were neat little screw-in bulbs, a bit worn in places but different. Once the auctioneer got to them, he, too, marveled at the lot, as if he were reliving a childhood Christmas  tree. As I recall, they were snatched up pretty quickly.

    After Googling, I found out why. These vintage lights are very collectible and pricey. One retail website was selling them individually for nearly $35 each. A Little Orphan Annie and her dog Sandy – all of 3″ tall – were up for $395. Santa himself was selling for $95, along with Humpty Dumpty. The least expensive was a red bird for $15. Check out the website to see other examples.

    The basket at auction held about a dozen of them. It also contained bubble lights, which like the figural lights have their own history.

    The first figural Christmas tree lights were likely made around 1898, and were said to be an extension of the hand-painted ornaments that preceded them, according to the book “The History of the Figural Christmas Light Bulb.” The first known lights were made in Germany. American companies began offering them around 1905, but they were not sold as Christmas lights. The earliest here were an Easter egg, a pig and deer by an Ohio company.

    The lights became popular from the 1900s to World War I and most were imported from Europe. The loveliest of them, according to the book, were made during the 1920s-1930s.

    Figural light bulbs were primarily made in both Germany and Japan, with the Japanese making bulbs to resemble Betty Boop, Dick Tracy and other characters. Then came bubble lights, which were popular in the 1950s, according to an article on the website The Antique Shoppe. The lights have a liquid in them that, when heated, bubbled. By the 1960s they were replaced by the ubiquitous string lights.

    My modern string lights are with my modern ornaments collecting dust in one of my closets. Maybe a few retro bulbs would inspire me to decorate seven months from now. If these lights only come around again  . . .

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