Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mid-Century Merry: Christmas Trees

The box I dig straight out of the Christmas decorations come December, the things I look most forward to seeing every year, are the bottle brush Christmas trees. I have a small flock of them that congregate on my fireplace mantel. Two of them are new, but the rest are mid-century vintage ones that I've collected from flea markets, antique stores, and from Ebay and Etsy. I try to purchase one every year, and this year's was from Etsy:

No fruit salad was harmed in the making of this tree, but Carmen Miranda is missing her hat.

They make me laugh. This year's addition has pine cones, oranges, lemons, bananas, and little flecks of mica chips for sparkle. One of mine has aluminum spangles and looks like someone's cat got a hold of it. Another one has mercury glass balls in ivory, pale blue, and pink. Some were made here, some in post-war Japan.

They seem to be part of an era where industrialized, commercial goods and the wonder of plastic were quickly taking hold; yet the objects still have a simple charm, a connection to a quaint rural past we could still remember first hand at that point. I look at these and I see not only their quirky cuteness, but also the ghosts of Christmas past.

I found surprisingly little about bottle brush Christmas trees and their history researching them online. Vague and non-authoritative sources conclude, rightly so I expect, they are descendants of the feather trees popular in 18th and 19th century Germany which landed on this side of the water with colonization. Those same sources mention the Addis Brush Company's first attempts in the 1930s to make an artificial Christmas tree based on their twisted bottle and toilet brush manufacturing design. This also makes sense, but there is no mention of when the miniature forms began cropping up as decorations. Perhaps they became popular at the same time as Japanese imported "Putz" or miniature papier mache cottages for creating village scenes.

My collection could grow a little bigger-- I only need about another 24 linear inches to fill on the fireplace mantle. But where I could once pick up plainer, smaller versions for a few bucks at garage sales, now they are a ten-spot and more. Rarer, more elaborate ones are into the stratosphere for things that are probably best considered ephemera. I saw a lovely, large, 14-inch high tree recently, cloaked in mercury balls, for $149. Too rich for me. I'll continue to shop for bargains, and enjoy what I have. Should you happen to own a few of your own, lucky you, and Mid-Century Merry Christmas!

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