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Feather Christmas Trees: A Vintage Christmas Tradition
Christmas trees are a beautiful part of holiday celebrations. Whether your preference is for simply decorated fresh evergreen pine trees or highly decorated artificial trees with glass ornaments , ribbons and bows, no matter what the style a Christmas tree contributes to warm Christmas memories during the holidays. And a unique Christmas tree among all the choices is the feather Christmas tree which originated in Germany and was essentially the first artificial Christmas tree.
Made popular in Germany during the 1800s, they were brought over by German immigrants to Pennsylvania and other locales in the United States. Although the practice of bringing evergreen boughs had been associated with Winter Solstice celebration for centuries, decorating trees did not become popular until the 15th century. It was in the early 16th century, when Martin Luther, founder of the Protestant Reformation, established the practice of decorating a Christmas tree. From that time, Christmas trees began to gain in popularity as way to celebrate the Christmas season.
Christmas Trees Become Popular
Throughout the 1800s, the practice of Christmas trees for holiday celebrations continued to grow in popularity. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of England were featured in the London News in 1846 with an illustration of the Royal Family standing around their Christmas tree. The illustration (originally a woodcut) was also featured in Godeys Lady’s book, a popular woman’s fashion and style magazine of the era, minus the Queen’s crown and Prince Albert’s moustache. This picture caused an enormous sensation, and Christmas trees became all the rage for people to imitate for the holiday season.
However, the Christmas trees that were popular in the 1800s didn’t look much like the decorated tree of modern times. Christmas trees were usually around 3 to 4 feet tall and made to be set on a table in the center of the room for all guests to enjoy.
Naturally, with such a beautiful tree begging for just a little more pizazz, the desire to find these decorations slowly grew. Initially, decorations and ornaments were commonly homemade and made of natural materials. Very often clusters of berries, nuts, or popcorn were sewn together with thread or string in order to create garlands that wrapped around the Christmas tree. Many ornaments were also made of paper and little cones were often formed that were then filled with dried fruit, nuts and raisins and were used to adorn the evergreen branches of the tree. Often, sugar cookies strung with ribbons were also used to adorn the tree. August Imgarde, a German immigrant from Ohio, was the first to be credited with decorating a Christmas tree with candy canes. In addition, small candles were also often used and they were clipped onto the outermost branches to illuminate the tree and show off the decorations.
As their popularity grew, manufacturers began to produce Christmas ornaments that were intended to save the time and labor that went into making homemade decorations. Soon the demand for artificial reusable trees arose and American manufacturers stepped up to the demand by producing Christmas ornaments that could be bought at the nearest drug store.
The area around Lauscha, Germany long known for its glass making, became one of the first manufacturers in glass ornaments for Christmas tree decoration. The first Christmas ornaments were in the shape of stars, bells and other shapes that copied the cookie shapes that used to hang on the tree. From there, the German glass manufacturers extended their ornament designs into stars, birds, hearts , animals, saints and other popular shapes. Whole families were involved in this cottage industry, designing and producing glass ornaments for American manufacturers.
The famous American owner of five and dime stores, F.W.Woolworth of Woolworth Drug Stores fame, began importing German glass ornaments into this country in the late 1880s and by the 1890s, store bought Christmas ornaments were so popular he was selling $25 million worth of them. World War I halted the export of Christmas ornaments from Germany.
German manufacturers in America foresaw that obtaining glass Christmas ornaments from Germany was going to be difficult to come by so they approached The Corning Company (American manufacturer of glass dishware and other glass products) to see if they could produce glass Christmas ornaments.
By 1940 Corning was making about 300,000 ornaments a day, compared with the approximate 600 that a skilled German glassblower could produce. The Corning Company only produced the glass ornaments and would send the Christmas ornaments to other companies for decoration.
However, Christmas decorations did not stop at decorations solely for the tree, but soon families began to decorate under the tree with simple or ornate holiday villages.
Christmas Villages or "Putzes"
Dresden Ornaments on a Feather Christmas Tree
Reproduction Shiny Brite Vintage Ornaments
13.5" reproduction tree topper
Feather Christmas Trees
The first artificial trees were created in Germany in the 1880s. Concerned about problems with deforestation of their land, the German people created artificial Christmas trees from goose feathers and other materials. Christmas feather trees were made out of goose feathers that were dyed green to resemble evergreen needles. The feathers were separated at the spine, then held secure using wire to form a branch. The branches of feathers were then inserted into a small wooden pole, the tree’s tree trunk and became an “evergreen” Christmas tree. The branches were widely spaced to keep the branches from catching fire from the candles that were used to decorate the tree. These wide spaces allowed for beautiful and stylish ornamentation of the feather tree.
Although the early Christmas feather trees were usually available either in ivory or green, due to popular demand manufacturers began to make them in a multitude of colors. Today you can find feather Christmas trees in light blue, white, pink, and even black. You can also find feather trees that vary in height from 2 feet to some as tall as 7 to 8 feet. During the 1950s, feather Christmas trees fell out of favor when artificial trees became available in other materials but manufacturers began producing them and making them available to the American market in the 1980s.
Vintage feather Christmas trees from the early 19th century have become a rare collectible. They often sell for hefty prices at antique stores or online auctions. While not readily available at department or discount stores, a shopper can buy reproductions of these Christmas feather trees online at several reputable stores. While prices vary, on average you can expect to pay approximately $100 per foot; however, the market is so competitive you may be able to great deals depending what type of sale or offer the online retailer provides. Whatever your Christmas decorative taste, you are bound to find a feather Christmas tree suited to your decorating taste.
Author's Note: The video on the left pane gives you a clear example of what an "evergreen" traditional feather Christmas tree looks like and how far apart the branches are spaced. Although the artist, Lucy Webber, mainly used the tree to display her vintage inspired cotton batting ornaments, it does give you an overall ideas of décor options.
Online Sources for Vintage Christmas Ornaments
This online retailer sells original Dennis Bauer feather Christmas reproduction feather trees as well as other types of traditional christmas trees and stands.They also sell vintage reproductions of christmas ornaments.
This online retailer sells black Christmas feather trees suitable for The Nightmare Before Christmas décor.
This online retailer sells Christmas feather trees which are on a wooden base and are designed with the traditional red berry at the tip of the branches.
This online retailers sells traditional feather Christmas trees and other Christmas items reminiscent of antique German trees and ornaments.