A Quick Primer on those Magical Bubbling Christmas Lights
by Gene Teslovic
Bubble-Lites or Bubble Lights? What’s the difference? For the purpose of this article, we will be talking about “bubble lights,” the category of antique Christmas lighting that started in the 1940s. When you see it spelled “Bubble-Lites” it refers specifically to NOMA’s proprietary name for their version of bubble lights.
Ever since the NOMA Electric Corporation of New York first introduced bubble-lites for Christmas of 1946, there has been an ongoing fascination with the bubbling liquid Christmas light. NOMA actually began their production in 1941 but due to WWII were not able to go into public production until after the war. The earliest prototype Bubble-Lites that were not actually marketed were fastened together with three little metal clips rather than glue. These early specimens are referred to as tri-clips. These were used on the first experimental NOMA 24-light C6 socket trees (see picture below). There are few of these 24-socket trees still available, and they do command a good price. The original tri-clip bubble lights are nearly impossible to find today.
For December of 1946, NOMA Electric manufactured and sold nearly one million of their Bubble-Lites. Most homes in the US had some bubble lights on their trees that Christmas and for several Christmases after.
From 1946 through 1949, NOMA produced three different style boxes for their sets. The original 1946 box was a book type box with the NOMA girl on the inside flap (see picture.) This box contained the ‘biscuit style’ Bubble-Lite, a nine-socket, straight-line cord and metal socket clips.
The next box style was 1948 designed for their new style ‘flat’ type Bubble-Lites showing the NOMA boy on the inside flap (see picture.) The plastic housing for these lamps was too small to endure the heat from the bulb and they warped, discolored and were discontinued. The third box in 1949 was a lid type box with the NOMA girl on the cover looking at a bubble light (see picture.) The biscuit style Bubble-Lite continued to be used.
You will discover that some boxed sets contain nine lights and some contain eight lights. The eight-light sets were less expensive and sold in the 5&10s, while the nine-light sets were sold in the more high-end department stores. Both sets contained the same biscuit-style Bubble-Lites and an appropriate straight-line cord set with metal socket clips. The NOMA flat-style Bubble-Lite set was only sold in 1948 and 1949 exclusively as a nine-light set along with a nine-socket, straight-line cord and metal socket clips.
While it is clear that NOMA was the originator of the bubble light and produced their lights from 1946 to 1960, other Christmas light manufacturers wanted a share of the market with their original ideas.
The next to come on line was Raylite Trading of New York with their Paramount brand bubble lights. Their first production in 1947 was called Animated Kristal Snow, a slightly longer glass tube filled with an oil material that did not actually bubble but slowly fizzed like champagne bubbles. The plastic base was a very Art Deco style with a plastic housing to cover the bulb and a transparent colored plastic saucer around the base. These first oil-filled lamps always had a white housing to cover the bulb and hold the tube and a transparent colored plastic saucer. This was the only year of production. In 1948, Raylite changed the oil bubble light bases to solid colors and shortened the tubes to match the length of NOMA’s Bubble-Lites. These sold under the trade names of Paramount and Sterling. By 1950, Raylite discontinued the oil-filled tubes and replaced the fluid with same methylene chloride as all other bubble lights and redesigned the plastic base to a more bulbous biscuit style. Eliminating the oil mixture and beautiful deco style plastic base were for a cost saving measure in what was becoming a very lucrative and competitive bubble light market. Raylite continued to manufacture bubble lights through 1972.
Royal Electric of Pawtucket, RI quickly followed with their own style of bubble lite called Sparkling Bubble Lights with a plastic base similar to NOMA but with a concave top. They came in assorted solid colors and assorted double colors, the top being one color and the base being another.
Another novel light was produced in 1948 called the Good-light or Peerless Shooting Star. This fluid tube had a mixture of chemicals, which would produce a slow, rising and falling action of bubbles. The original box has a boy and girl on the box cover saying, “Watch them rise. Watch them fall.”
Several companies quickly followed and produced various styles such as Reliance, Spark-L-Light 1949 to 1951, USA lite 1949 to 1956, Peerless 1950 to 1955, Alps, Glass, 1954, NOMA Rocket Ship style 1961 to 1962, Holly 1957 to 1974, World Wide 1970 to 1974.
During the early period of bubble lite manufacture there were 16 different styles produced, all with a miniature or C6 base, the kind where if one goes out, they all go out. There were also 12 different styles produced by the same companies with a candelabra or C7 base, which light independently.
As a collector of electrical Christmas and specifically Bubble Lites, I realize that we all have a special style or manufacturer that becomes a favorite. Along with the NOMA biscuit style, I also like the Royal C6 and the Royal C7 referred to as a ‘Crown’ and the USAlite C6 and C7.USAlite had an interesting base with a geometric pattern.
COMMON TO RARE BUBBLE LIGHTS:
NOMA biscuits, 1946-1960, Royal, 1947-1954, NOMA flats, 1948-1949, Paramount biscuit, 1951-1972, Renown, 1948-1957, Holly, 1957-1974, Peerless, 1950-1955, USAlite, 1949-1956, Reliance Spark L lite, 1949-1951, NOMA Rocket, 1961-1962, Paramount ring type, 1947-1950, Goodlite shooting star, 1948, ALPS glass, 1954.
Darker color plastic bases and fluid tubes were eliminated by UL because they thought darker colors would produce more heat and cause a fire. The hardest fluid tube colors to find today are purple, dark blue and blood red. Orange and blue plastic bases are also harder to find today.
BUBBLE LIGHT TREES
Many of us are familiar with the pre-lighted Christmas trees that are marketed today online and in home centers, lighted with mini lights or LED lights. This seems to be something new but the concept is really not that new.
In the 1940’s, NOMA experimented with a pre-lighted tree using the miniature base C6 technology of the day. The first pre-lighted tree that was developed had 24 miniature base C6 sockets but was not marketed due to the war years. The prototype bubble lights of the day were in this tree and not glued together but rather held together by 3 little metal clips that fastened through the air vent holes. This tree was in the possession of Mr. Carl Otis, the inventor of bubble lights.
Following the war prelit Christmas trees began to hit the market, produced by NOMA, Raylite and Royal Electric. They were introduced as the easy way to decorate, simply remove it from the box, place it on display and plug it in. Trees were wired both in miniature base C6 and candelabra base C7. NOMA trees held 9, 17, 18, 20 or 21 sockets, Paramount trees held 9, 17 or 21 lights and Royal Electric trees held 9, 11 or 17 lights. Most trees were equipped with bubble lights, but others also had C6 or C7 Christmas lamps. Early trees were also developed with horizontal sockets containing little miniature base T4 or G4 lamps with 10, 17, 28 and 32 sockets. These trees we refer to today as Matchless Star trees. In the mid-1950’s, in addition to green, white, pink and blue trees were sold. Blue trees had blue lamps and pink trees had pink lamps. In the late 1950’s, Raylite developed a revolving bubble light tree holding nine of their Paramount saucer type bubble lights and including a music box. Few of these revolving trees have survived due to an electrical defect in the revolving mechanism which caused it to flame and burn!
So, when we see or purchase a pre-lit Christmas tree today, we can remember that while the technology has changed, the concept goes back almost 70 years.
I hope this brief introduction to Christmas bubble lights helps you in identifying and collecting these treasures.
– Gene Teslovic
About the writer: Gene Teslovic is a long-time Glow member and one of our best experts in the field of vintage and antique Christmas Lighting. Many of you know him by his Facebook persona “La Cage Noel.” In Gene’s next article in this series, he will show us some rare Shooting Star Bubble Lights in action and give us a quick lesson on how to tell new reproduction bubble lights from old ones. Stay tuned!