App 12/17

Ho, ho, ho! If you are ready for the holidays, then you have probably already made the annual journey to the garage or attic to retrieve and unpack your boxes of décor. Other than sentimental, do you have anything of value in those boxes? With today’s focus on Midcentury Modern décor, numerous Christmas items from yesteryear are experiencing resurgence in secondary market value. 

Aluminum Christmas trees from the 1960s are highly collectible. Introduced to the market in 1959 by the Aluminum Specialty Company of Manitowoc, Wisc., their modern look appealed to consumers during the Space Age. Other companies joined in, and aluminum trees soon became a staple of Christmas décor. Silver tone aluminum trees were the most popular and plentiful, though the trees were also found in red, blue, gold and green, which are now rare. Pink is the rarest variety, and thus the most expensive, with recent eBay sales in excess of $1,000. The silver trees are worth significantly less, with six-foot trees found under “sold listings” on eBay for $100 - $150. 

Glass Christmas tree ornaments were first produced in Lauscha, Germany by artisans who would blow glass into clay molds, usually in the shape of fruits and nuts. Later artisans would then swirl a silver nitrate solution into the interior, a technique called “silvering”, which was developed in the 1840s. Silvered ornaments were then hand painted and topped with a hooked cap.

Popularity of the ornaments grew and artisans expanded their craft to include a wide range of designs. A picture of Queen Victoria’s Christmas tree decorated with lights and ornaments led to the demand for Lauscha’s beautiful ornaments throughout Europe. Beginning in 1880, F.W. Woolworth made a fortune exporting them to the United States and selling them in his stores. 

Originally, mercury was used instead of silver nitrate. Thus, silvered ornaments are still often called “mercury glass” ornaments, although they are NOT the same thing. In order to truly be mercury glass, the ornament must have two walls of glass with the silvering appearing between the layers.  Mercury glass ornaments are much heavier than everyday ornaments, and are not that easy to come by.  Most exhibit moderate to heavy oxidation (spots) because of age. Many that purport to be mercury glass on eBay are in fact just silvered glass. 

So, how do you tell if you have real silvered glass?

Check the bottom. Silvered glass pieces have an opening in the bottom that was used for pouring the silver nitrate solution into and out of the vessel. The holes are often closed by a glass plug cemented in place, or by a wooden cork covered with paper and wax. The glass plug was often embossed with the name of the company that produced the object.

Are they valuable? In glass ornaments, the greatest values are found in figurals, which are shaped like a person or a thing. These were popular around 1900-1920, so it is rare to find them without some wear. Watch out for reproductions! The most popular figurals are in the shape of animals, personalities from long ago, and objects such as airplanes and automobiles. A recent eBay sale of an antique silvered German figure of Christ sold for more than $1,000; however, most “sold listings” of silvered glass ornaments are less than $30.  

Ceramic tabletop Christmas trees have been around since the 1940s. They usually range from 17” to 24” tall, sometimes with a musical base. They consist of a molded ceramic tree that fits over a single lightbulb inserted into the base. The “lights” on the tree are hollow plastic pegs that fit into holes in the tree, and light up when turned on. It wasn’t until 1958 that Atlantic Molds copyrighted one of the first ceramic Christmas tree designs. Thousands of copies were made of the A-64.

Other companies followed with their own designs. Most of the trees currently on the market were produced in the 1970s and 1980s, making them not vintage, but close. The embossed date on the bottom of the tree may indicate the year the mold was copyrighted, rather than the date that particular tree was produced from the mold.

So, how do you tell if you have a truly vintage tree? Look for another number on the tree. A truly vintage tree should be individually numbered. Recent eBay sales for vintage ceramic Christmas trees have ranged from $50-$150, with extra-large, flocked and/or musical versions fetching up to $250. 

Thank you for sending your questions and comments to our column! We at A-Z Appraisal and Estate Consultants wish our readers the most joyous of holiday seasons.

Do you have an appraisal question? Send it to editor@arcadianews.com. We look forward to hearing from you.