Vintage Ornaments Kindle Joyful Memories

By DIANNA TROYER

As Dana Jo Cameron unpacks her vintage Christmas decorations in early December, they spark childhood memories of comfort and joy.

“I still picture myself in the ’50s at my grandparents’ house for Christmas,” said Cameron, 64, an estate appraiser and antique collector. “I started collecting antique bulbs and decorations because they reminded me of them.”

It takes her about a day to decorate her rural home north of Rupert with artificial trees and decorations she has collected over the years that were made in Japan, Poland, Czechoslovakia, West Germany, and the United States.

One of her oldest trees was made in the 1930s. The white plastic tree stands about 2 feet high and has tiny colorful electrical bulbs that still light up when plugged in. Others are green bottle brush trees. A small green tree is flocked with white plastic snow.

“My daughters-in-law go nuts over the silver aluminum trees from the ’50s, so I’ve given some to them,” she said.

vintage Christmas ornaments
Dana Jo Cameron decorates her home with antique ornaments and trees she has collected. She began her collection because the decorations reminded her of being at her grandparents’ home for the holidays. Photo by Dianna Troyer

Some of her ornaments are fragile glass pine cones, fish, clip-on birds, tree toppers, elves, bells, glass bead garland, artificial icicles, round or oblong bulbs with indentations, and hand-painted spheres.

Others were made by the Shiny Brite Company. It was the first business in the U.S. to work with Corning Glass to mass produce and sell delicate glass bulbs, mainly through department stores, like Woolworths, during the ’40s and ’50s. The Shiny Brite name is imprinted on the metal cap at the top of an ornament.

Flipping through a collector’s guidebook, she pointed out how ornaments and other decorations have appreciated in value. Some that originally sold for a dime are worth much more, depending on their condition. For example, mercury glass candy canes are worth about $50 each or more. Antique clip-on birds sell for $20 to $25.

“Look at this,” she said. “Tinsel in the original cardboard box could be worth $75 to $80.”

But some decorations are priceless.

“My parents still have a Santa Claus given to them when they were married 69 years ago. They’ve never taken it down. It’s right in their front window,” said Cameron, who lives near her parents’ farm.

During the past few years, Cameron has given away ornaments she no longer displays. “At this point in my life, I want to let someone else enjoy the ornaments I haven’t put out in a few years.”

Cameron is not alone in her appreciation for vintage Christmas décor. The Golden Glow of Christmas Past (www.goldenglow.org) is a non-profit international organization whose members have conventions and publish a bimonthly magazine about antique holiday decorations.

Another company, Old World Christmas, in Spokane, Wash., sells blown glass ornaments including reproductions of popular vintage designs.

Although Cameron has many decorations, she is still looking for a specific decoration—a tree made of feathers, originating in Germany during the late 1800s. It became popular in the US during the early 1900s, when German immigrants brought them into the country.

“They’re highly collectible and were made from goose feathers that were dyed green and attached to wires,” she said. “I’ve see a few, but they were really worn. I’ll keep looking.”

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