Vintage Christmas Collectors International Organization
Victorian Tumbler Lights
Victorian Tumbler lights come in a variety of styles or shapes and a wide spectrum colors. The lights were manufactured in Europe and the United States mainly during the decades before and after 1900. The lights were used for many indoor and outdoor events such as garden parties, theatres, coronations and holidays.
The lights are blown or molded glass vessels hung with a bale or wire which fastens around a rim at the top of the glass. Sometimes holes are pierced for the wire bale. Most lights have a flat base and could be set on a surface rather than suspended by the bale. However, many do not and must be hung to use. The lights are lit with a candle or a wick floated in oil.
Collectors call the most common style “diamond quilt”. These range in size but most are about 3.5 inches tall. The color is in the glass with clear, amber, green, amethyst and cobalt blue being most common. However, the range in hues of these and the other colors keep collectors fascinated. Other colors include white, blue, and green milk glass, red and cranberry. In some rare cases clear lights were painted red.
American glassmakers produced thousand eye, hobnail and several other styles. These tend to be larger lights, about four inches tall. The scarce miniature hobnail lights are about two inches tall. The thousand eye lights are sometimes opalescent glass.
England produced several figural lights including grape clusters, tulips, and the heads of Queen Victoria for her diamond jubilee in 1897, her son Edward’s coronation in 1901, and George and his wife Mary, in 1910. Some lights have “cameos” of Victoria or VR or a shield. These royalty lights and rare red and cranberry art glass lights are the most highly prized by collectors.
Vintage Christmas Lights
I and other collectors consider the Golden age of Christmas lighting to be from 1900-1950’s. Not so much before WWII but definitely following the War electric Christmas lighting blossomed. The focus was just not on the indoor tree and indoor decorations but a new focus on outdoor lighting blossomed. Homes were outlined, outdoor shrubbery was lighted and outdoor plastic lawn decorations such as Santa’s, Snow Men, Choir Boys and Girls, Angels, Nativities and so on became popular.
The first electric lighted Christmas tree dates back to 1882. An associate of Thomas Edison, Edward Johnson, is credited to have first lighted a Christmas tree. He wired together little lamps in red, white and blue and strung them on a tree that had a rotating stand. This was quite a fascination for those passing by the window of the factory. Remember at this time there were no light strings or even light sockets for these little lamps. Each bulb had a wire coming out of either end and they had to be linked together for a flow of electricity and to illuminate the lamps. If someone wanted to light their tree at home, an electrician was required to make all of the necessary connections, a long, tiresome and expensive endeavor. These early bulbs were blown glass globes with carbon filaments. They were blown of colored glass and later painted on the outside. These were found to burn very hot and their was a safety concern for fires.
By the late teens, tungsten was the choice element for the filament, cooler burning and safer. Building upon the round or pear shaped lamps, lamps were also made into numerous lighted holiday shapes resembling the figural Christmas ornaments of previous years. There were Santas, angels, fruits, flowers, snowmen, clowns and popular comic characters to mention a few. In the beginning, molds from ornaments were the first shapes made into bulbs. These figural bulbs were made in several countries. Austria, Germany, Hungary, Japan and the United States.
The bulb makers changed to milk glass bulbs in the 1920’s because it was found, with the paint stayed on the milk glass, the cracking of the paint with the expansion from the heat was lessened with the milk glass bulb. Figural lamps remained popular through the 1950’s.
Morris Propp of NY was one of the earliest light set manufacturers along with Ever Ready. With the incorporation of NOMA (National Outfit Manufacturers Association) in 1928 several smaller companies now made up the new NOMA corporation and Morris Propp became the President and CEO. Collectors will discover that in these early years parts typical of Propp sets will be incorporated intoNOMA sets due to this consolidation. TheNOMA corporation could now boast of safety and UL approval of their lighting sets. From 1928 through the mid 1950’sNOMA became a household word for quality Christmas lighting. Other notable companies of this time were Raylite of NY and Royal of Pawtuckett, RI.
General Electric Co. became the number one manufacturer of Christmas lamps along with Westinghouse and Sylvania. GE lamps are marked with GE Mazda (early), GE either in block letters or script (later), Westinghouse lamps are marked with a W and Sylvania lamps with an S. There were 2 minor players in the bulb industry that I would like to include, Nilco (Novelty Incandescent Lighting Co) who only produced one C9 light set between 1924 and 1928 and their lamps are marked with an N. USAlite (United States Electric) produced miniature base C6 lamps in the 1950 marked USA.
Two examples of the many varieties of lighted decorations are Bubble Light trees and lighted Hard Plastic items. Bubble Light trees are pre-wired, artificial trees with a visca covering made during the 1940’s and 50’s. They range in size from one to three feet, covered with visca, usually green or white, and contain light sockets numbering from nine to twenty four. NOMA Electric Co, Royal Electric Co, and Raylite Trading Co made many of these trees with either a miniature or candelabra light base. The photo is an eighteen light NOMA bubble light tree with a chalk base from the late 40’s.
Lighted Hard Plastic items were made in a variety of shapes, Santas being the most common, but snowmen, angels, deer, trees and churches were also available. Miller Electric, Royalite, General Products and Harret-Gilman were some of the manufacturers of these items in the late 1940’s and 50’s. The photo is a Rosen HiHo Santa figure light, electrified by the Miller Electric company from the late 40’s.
Another sought-after lighted decoration is Royalite’s Santa and Sleigh on an arched Merry Christmas lighted base. (pictured left)
December of 1946 was an exciting time for the Christmas lighting industry and for the consumer with the introduction of the new and innovative Christmas Bubble Light. Developed by Carl Otis who worked as an accountant for Montgomery Ward was inspired by the existing Glo-Lite candle and the existing Bubbler Juke Box, see pictures.
The first NOMA biscuits were sold in 1946 in a 9 light set complete with a 9 socket straight line cord set with alligator socket clips to attach to a tree branch. The box was a book type box with a flip up top on the front with a bubble light on the top and the NOMA Girl on the inside. This was a quality Christmas tree set and many are still existing today. See pictures.
In 1948 NOMA changed the style of their plastic base and we call these lamps NOMA flats, These were short lived due to the heat of the lamp being too intense for the small plastic base resulting in melting and warping. A specific box design was printed for these NOMA flats but was discontinued. These were only available until 1949 when NOMA changed back to the biscuit style, eliminated the book style box and used a lid type box with the NOMA girl printed on the cover. See pictures.
By 1948, other companies wanted in on the bubble light market without incurring copy right infringement. Raylite Electric of NY developed their own style of lamp called animated Kristal Snow using oil in the fluid tube which resulted in a slow moving action similar to the bubbles of champagne bottle. They made an intricate and beautiful Deco style plastic base including a ‘saucer’ and used a longer glass tube. See pictures.
Not to be left out, Royal Electric of Pawtuckett, RI developed their own style of bubble lamp calling it the Sparkling Bubble Lamp. Their tubes were filled withmethylene chloride chloride producing fast bubbles and the plastic base was similar to the NOMA biscuit but with a concave top. The bases were either a solid color or a two color with the top and bottom being a different color. See pictures.
NOMA, Raylite and Royal were the largest and most notable producers of bubble lights and their were other smaller companies who tried their product design in this lucrative bubble light market. One such company was United States Electric better known as USAlite who developed a very pretty lamp base with a geometric design on the top plastic. Unfortunately, the plastic was thin and the base would melt and be misshapen. See picture.
Longtime Glow member Gene Teslovic provided this introduction to the earliest and most popular bubble lights and in future articles (on this site in the Blog section) he will cover additional companies who produced bubble lights through the early 1950’s.
They are known by various names. Light-ups, Lawn Art, plastic kitsch, illuminated figures, or simply blow molds.
Blow molding is a plastic manufacturing process. In 1881, the first U.S. Patent was given to Celluloid Novelty Co. of New York for extruding a polymer (cellulose nitrate) into a parison. In a nutshell, a hollow tube, the parison, is filled with melted plastic, placed into a steel mold, inflated with air, forcing the plastic to the interior surface of a metal mold, the metal mold is opened when cooled, the item is removed and appropriately painted. Cellulose acetate was later used in the 1930’s, Low Density Polyethylene (LDP) came in the 1940s, causing the blow molding industry to explode when Monsanto started making plastic squeeze bottles.
Thereafter, many other manufacturers started using the process to produce plastic containers in substitution for glass. In the 1950’s High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) and Polypropylene (PP) were used to produce containers for water, oil, and most importantly, the lowly milk jug. Early in the 1960s, enterprising manufacturers started producing blow molded Christmas decorations*. Bernard Edward Co., of Chicago, IL, later renamed Beco, Poloron Products of New Rochelle, NY, Union Products of Leominster, MA and NOMA/Tico were some of the first to produce blow molded Christmas decorations. They were later followed by Dapol, Lidco, Hamilton Skotch Corp., Sunhill, Bayshore, Bel-Air Plastics, Empire, General Foam and many others.
*Note: Blow molding is a distinct form of plastic molding as opposed to injection molding which is the older of the two processes; producing hard plastic, even walled pieces that are glued or bonded together.
Christmas Tree Candleholders
The earliest patent for Christmas tree candle holders is for the clay-ball counter-balance in 1867. A hook in the wire just below the candle was hung over the branch. The counter-weight kept the candle upright even if the bough bent. The counterweights were made of molded clay or lead. Double counterbalances are very rare.
The light-weight candle clip was first patented in 1882. The menagerie of methods for holding the candle is equaled by the innovative means to attach it to the tree. However, these are eclipsed by the decoration of the clip itself. The tin was embossed or lithographed. Embossed clips were painted with colored lacquer, a method called japanning. Most embossed clips have lost their luster with age. The japanning can wear or flake off to the extent that the embossing is all that remains.
Lithographed clips have a colorful applied image and are not embossed. Many of these clips were produced in sets of three. For example, the lithographed Santa pictured here comes in a blue, red, or yellow coat.
Vintage candles come in a variety of colors and lengths. The candle boxes themselves are very collectible. Candles and candle clips have been in continuous production, but the styles made since the advent of electric Christmas tree lights up to the present are limited. The tradition of lighting the tree with candles survived well into the twentieth century. Many regions did not have electric power until World War II and even then, it remained a beautiful and meaningful tradition for many.