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Christmas Trees Have Not Always Been Bright Spots


The Christmas tree of earlier times looked very different from the tree favored today.

The first tree in America was probably decorated about 1747 for a Moravian church. European trees of that era were covered with gold-leafed fruit and nuts, candy, cookies and candles. But the decorated Christmas tree was not well-known until the 1860s.

Popcorn strings, colored-paper decorations, nuts, candy, ribbon, small toys and candles were used. Soon glass balls, beads and paper and tinsel ornaments from Germany were being used in America.

Electric lights were not used on a tree until 1882, at which time tree decorations included many sorts of attractive ornaments, lace, paper candy containers, tinsel, paper flowers, ribbon bows and pine cones.

In 1876 the country was celebrating its birthday, and patriotism was in vogue. Christmas trees often had small American flags and red, white and blue streamers.

Tree decorations have continued to evolve. By 1910, the lightbulbs were made in shapes of figures. Bubble lights were introduced in 1945. Families in the 1950s favored silver foil trees lit by colored floodlights. Today, people often decorate trees with ornaments of the past plus new, innovative ornaments that move or make noise.


Q: I recently learned that the Vaseline glass candlesticks that sit on my dining room table get their yellow-green color from uranium. Does this pose a health risk?


A: The coloring agent used in making Vaseline glass was the stable compound uranium dioxide, not the radioactive element uranium.

Tests to measure the emissions given off by genuine Vaseline glass show they are on the same level as TV or microwave-oven emissions.


Q: I have a number of old Christmas decorations. One is a bell that unfolds with sectioned fold-out paper to make a three-dimensional bell. I also have a tree and a Santa Claus using the same type of folded tissue paper. I have seen old valentines and even modern decorations made of the same stuff. When was this paper first used? Does it help to date my Christmas ornaments?


A: You have some examples of tissue-paper honeycomb ornaments that could also be called "meshed-tissue ornaments." There were at least eight American companies that used the tissue paper in making ornaments, cards, toys and party decorations. Some used it as early as 1910. It is still being used.

The honeycomb tissue should be carefully closed and stored in a dry area away from sunlight.


Q: In going through my mother's papers, I found some 1920 Christmas seals. Does anyone collect them?


A: Yes, people do collect Christmas seals. In fact, there is a club for collectors, the Christmas Seal and Charity Stamp Society. The club publishes a newsletter, "Seal News" (P.O. Box 390696, Edina, MN 55439-0696).

The first U.S. Christmas seal stamps were issued in 1907 by the American Red Cross.

The Delaware woman who founded the program wanted to raise money to support a tuberculosis sanitarium. By 1920, the National Tuberculosis Assn. had taken over sponsorship of Christmas seals.

Today, the seals are issued by the American Lung Association.

A single sheet of 1907 Christmas seals sells for about $1,000 today.

For a listing of helpful books and publications, include a self-addressed, stamped (55 cents) envelope to Kovels, Los Angeles Times, King Features Syndicate, 235 E. 45th St., New York, NY 10017.


Current Prices

Prices are recorded from antiques shows, flea markets, sales and auctions throughout the United States. Prices vary in different locations because of local economic conditions.

* Gavel, Eastern Star fraternal organization, gold, enamel on silver band, 1938: $40.

* Dresden star Christmas ornament, cardboard and foil, circa 1900, Germany, 4 inches: $90.

* Ruby glass berry set, Ruby Thumbprint pattern, boat shape, five pieces: $155.

* Coca-Cola counter display, bottle shape, celebrating Christmas 1930, 20 inches: $195.

* Sterling silver wine decanter, psalms in Hebrew, circa 1940s, 10 inches: $420.

* Cybis figurine, carousel pony, Sugar Plum, 12 1/2 inches: $875.

* Brass menorah, crowned lions on arched back plate, 1920s, 9 inches: $1,200.

* Simon & Halbig Santa doll, No. 1249, reddish-yellow, big amber eyes, red hat, 20 inches: $1,320.

* Armchair, metal bar framework, stretched fabric strands forming the seat, back and arms, cushion headrest, designed by Hanz Wegner, circa 1950: $1,400.

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