12-08 vintage ceramic Christmas tree

[Image above] Example of a vintage ceramic Christmas tree from the 1970s. Credit: Crafty Mofos, YouTube

Sleigh bells are certainly ringing over the speakers in every store now that we’re solidly past Thanksgiving, the last roadblock before full-blown winter holiday season in the U.S.

Growing up, I looked forward to decorating a big Christmas tree each December. Now that I live in a small apartment, however, the space available for decorations is severely limited, so my two-foot plastic tree must suffice.

While my choice of tree is dictated by space, there are other reasons that people seek alternatives to real Christmas trees. Plastic is a material commonly used today, but in the 1960s and 1970s, tabletop ceramic Christmas trees were all the rage.

If you have parents or grandparents of a certain age, chances are you’ve seen one of these iconic trees in their home. Ceramic Christmas trees first started showing up in the 1940s. The original trees were handcrafted by private artists on a small scale and sometimes featured tiny electric bulbs that lit individually. In the following decades, advancements in mold-making techniques led many ceramic mold companies to develop molds based on the Christmas tree design. (In particular, the Atlantic Mold Company is attributed with copyrighting one of the first ceramic Christmas tree designs, A-64, in 1958.)

Development of these molds coincided with certain events favoring the adoption of ceramic Christmas trees. In an interview with author Sarah Archer, who published a book on the invention of modern-day Christmas celebrations, she explains that do-it-yourself Christmas projects started with the Great Depression in the 1930s. These traditions carried well into the 1950s and 1960s, despite the abundance following World War II. This interest in do-it-yourself projects, along with an explosion of Christmas consumerism and a retreat into traditional gender roles following the war, positioned the ceramic Christmas trees perfectly for adoption.

In the 1960s and 1970s, crafts shops would offer workshops where people would create their own ceramic Christmas trees using the mass-produced molds. In addition, advancements in plastics and lighting led to the replacement of individually lit bulbs with one light bulb that lit the entire tree’s colorful plastic bulbs from within.

Ceramic Christmas trees began going out of style in the 1980s, and by the 1990s, the influx of ready-made ceramics from Japan and China sealed their fate. The video below shows how companies mass produce ceramic Christmas trees today.

Credit: Co-Arts Home and Garden Decor, YouTube

In current times, the vintage trees gain attention each year around the holidays, when owners can sometimes sell their old trees for a fair amount of money. If you’re looking to buy a vintage ceramic Christmas tree, though, Dogwood Ceramic Supply cautions not to use the embossed date as proof of age.

“But the date typically indicates the copyright date of the original mold design rather than an actual manufacturing date of the finished tree,” the company explains on its website. Considering that the Atlantic Mold Company sold thousands of the A-64 ceramic Christmas tree molds to ceramic studios across the United States, “Your particular tree could have been made in 1958 or just last week by your local studio,” the company adds.

If you do have a vintage tree and are looking to replace the lights, the video below offers some tips on how to do so.

Credit: Crafty Mofos, YouTube