I’m not sure where my obsessive collecting habits span from.
I’ve never been satisfied with just a few of anything. If I collect something…hold on to your butts, because I am going for the gold. Why stop at ten or twelve, when I can have several dozen? As a child, I couldn’t have just the main characters in action figure form, I wanted every single one…. plus extras for “back-ups”.
Tin globes, large letter postcards, Polish glass ornaments, western belt buckles, conversational ties, Zuni fetish…..the list goes on and on.
A few short years ago, about the same time I joined the Golden Glow of Christmas Past, I was introduced to these little gems,
Milk glass figural bulbs.
I was immediately smitten and because they are priced pretty inexpensively, (I can usually buy a lot of 5 to 10 for about $20), it really didn’t take long to amass about a hundred.
I can’t believe that I’d never even heard of them before.
In case you hadn’t either, here’s a quick history lesson;
At the turn of the last century glass figural bulbs were first produced in Germany, Austria and Hungary by many of the same artisans that made glass Christmas ornaments, often from the same molds. They were beautifully mouth-blown and hand painted. But the heat of the electric bulb gave these decorations a short life span, and the painted details flaked off pretty quickly.
When World War I interrupted imports from Europe, it was the Japanese that stepped in to meet the demand for figural lights, this time using milk-glass.
Milk glass is thicker and more heat-resistant. Plus, it’s already white. Which meant that decorating them was faster. Like their European counterparts, they were also hand-painted, although slightly cruder and usually by children. A lower price kept Japanese figural lights very popular with American buyers for several decades. Until sadly, tastes shifted and plastic and aluminum decorations dominated the market.
Thought I’d share a few from my collection;
There are Santas….so many Santas. I’ve shifted my focus to more of the unusual designs.
and houses with snow-covered roofs,
Fruits and vegetables were popular. I don’t see many corn cobs though.
As were flowers, like these budding roses.
Animals were designed in all sorts of whimsical designs. Here are dogs, cats, teddy bears and an elephant.
This big ol’ lion in a vest was one of my first finds.
Religious themes still prevailed in the middle of the last century during Christmas time.
Themed sets of lights were pretty popular too; Disney, the Sunday funnies, and nursery rhymes were sold in sets of eight characters. I’m pretty close to finding complete sets of all of these familiar faces. (In fact, Jiminy Cricket arrived just after I took these pictures)
I can never have enough Humpty Dumptys.
Or cupie dolls
I haven’t seen them yet, but I’m hoping there are seven more band members to go along with this drummer.
Do they still light? You may ask.
I’ve noticed that about a quarter of them still do.
I think this is because C-6 bulbs require all the bulbs to be working for the entire strand to light. Once one bulb went out, the strand was either tossed, stored in the attic or the bulbs hung with hooks like ornaments.
Because most of them only fit C-6 light sockets, something that hasn’t been made in over 50 years, you can actually test them with a 9-volt battery. Like so…
So what do I do with all these beauties?
Glad you asked.
There are a few bowls-full scattered around the house.
And I added a small feather tree with several of my favorites wired to the branches.
I think they look amazing on that white tree. It really showcases the still vibrant colors.
Next year I planing on adding strings of them to the vintage themed tree.
So watch out,
At the rate that these things multiply.
Lord only knows how many I’ll have by then.
I have NEVER seen those before!! I know we did not have them growing up. They are very cool indeed and absolutely worth collecting! They would look perfect on my vintage tree. I will start looking!
And while we are talking collections, might I add that I hate minimalist decorating! It reminds me of a hotel room and I believe your house should tell your story! And boy does mine tell a story!!
#keepcollecting # ❤️Stuff
I obviously think our homes should be a scrap book of our lives. Who doesn’t want to live surrounded by things that bring you joy?
Thank you, thank you! Until you posted the picture of these beauties on IG I hadn’t heard of them. Thank you again for gifting your knowledge to the rest of us. Even if it does create a bidding war on E-Bay 😉
LOL Kathi!!!!! OH CRAP! Now I’ll be bidding against of of y’all!!!! and I’m pretty cheap too. Glad I could share a little history about these beauties. An honestly, I’m glad that I can connect with people who share my odd-ball interests. 🙂
I think these are lovely, although I don’t recall EVER seeing them before…..& I’m a lot older than YOU!
Thank you so much for educating me once again and sharing another passion! You are delightful! Merry Christmas to the both of you!
So glad I can share things like these! Merry Christmas back at ya Vickie!
Great collection! I am trying to complete my set of the 1931 Paramount Comics..I am missing Kayo and Dick Tracy….would you have any extra’s of those, laying around in a bowl lol
Hi Nancy. Sorry, but I only have one each of those 2. I think I have 3 Betty Boops….. and I still need Moon Mullins. Are you a member of The Golden Glow of Christmas Past? Those people always have the exact item I’m looking for. And usually reasonably priced too.
Wow, it is so great to know there are more fanatic colllectors besides me out there. I really enjoyed your article and loved the Picts. My collection has hit about 300 and I am always looking forward to finding one I don’t have yet. I am going to look into the Golden Glow of Christmas. Thanks for the information.
Glad I could share Bren! I haven’t counted them….. but I’ll guess in the 200 range. Now, I’m only looking for rare ones too. Like the Canadian set with the totem pole, Maple leaf, Inuit, Mountie…. you probably know the ones. I’d happily trade a finger for an Indian head… or a car. Happy Hunting, and hope to see you on the Golden Glow Facebook page.
I found a small box in a seller with 1920’s bulbs. I can’t find them on the internet, can you help me out? Could I send a picture ?
I actually have some of the light socket strands. There is fabric over the wires and some electrical tape in some spots. It has mostly porcelain receptacles and some that look like Bakelite in green and red. I dare not plug them in but maybe you could have them repaired somehow? I have several bulbs but I haven’t tested them yet.
There are several guys in my vintage lightings groups that actually rewire them. I understand your hesitation with plugging them in though.
I bought a string of these years ago when I was living inSingapore I returned to the UK and they all gradually faded and I didn’t know where to replace them. It is a pity with today’s led lighting they are not being reproduced. They are the prettiest Christmas tree light. They are warm and interesting and I mixed them with fairy lights. Wish they would start producing them as I would love to be able to buy and enjoy them again.
Hi Laura, I still but working h ones on eBay all the time. Avon made a string of incandescents in the early 80s that seem readily available too. I have noticed that several people on my vintage lighting groups are re-lamping them with led rice lights. I love them too. If you do find more, be sure to use a table top dimmer to extend their lives.
There seems to be two generations of these figural bulbs. The older C6 ones that were intended to be run on a ‘SERIAL’ wired string and newer ones with your typical modern candelabra base (C7) that run off 120V.
Can you comment on this and what you have found?
Hi Dave, yes, there were C6 and C7 produced in the mid century. But there was also a revival in the early 80s by Avon. Those are C7s as well.
I love your beautiful collection!! I grew up in the 50’s & 60’s and we had several strings of these milk glass figural lights on our Christmas trees. Those and the vintage bubble lights kept me in awe throughout the Christmas season, in fact, I anticipated seeing these more than I did any presents I may have received! Thank you for sharing! 🙂
Hello James and thank you so much for this post! Today as I was setting up my Christmas Nativity and began sorting through a smaller box full of all kinds of really old ornaments, I came across six (6) of these bulbs and finally decided to look them up. Again, thank you for this post which I found my way to via Kelly’s post: https://www.kellyelko.com/vintage-milk-glass-figural-light-bulbs/
Merry Christmas 2021 and May You and Yours Be Blessed in 2022.
Awww thanks Tina, glad you found me. And I hope this newfound interest launches a new hobby for you. I’ve been collecting these bulbs for years and I still get delighted when ever I find one that I hadn’t seen before. Happy hunting and Merry Christmas to you as well.
And really? Rum AND chupacabras??? Two of my favorite things! ❤️❤️❤️
I have a few of these and figured out how to light them up, I got a c9 light string that is parallel and hooked it up to a 12 volt supply. Since these usually came in serial strings of 10, they essentially work on 12 volts. Then you need a E14 to E12 Adapter so you can screw them into the string. That is equivalent to a C9 to C6 adapter. I have a string of 10 I hang in my kitchen every Christmas.
I have a small collection which started
With some I inherited from my mom. I have added to those and love them. I use narrow ribbon to tie them on my tree. So precious!
That sounds adorable. Mine sadly stayed in storage this Christmas. I’ll have to display them next year.
Love, Love, Love your Collection & Displays! We have about 30 milk glass figural bulbs. A few were still attached to an old string with wooden balls, how pretty. Wanted to light & hang them but the new C6 strings for LED bulbs are push in type. Found new G40 glass globe light incandescent strings (Target) that have the same size base on bulbs. So was able to screw in some of the milk glass & plug in. They lit up laying on a wood table & within seconds became warm to touch. We won’t put these on a real tree & wanted to hang them across our kitchen. The new strings warn that the new globe bulbs get hot. Also says to only use bulbs 5 Watts max. So I can’t imagine the old ones are more than 5 watts. Do you know whether this would be safe for lighting for 1/2 hour at a time? Seeing your collection is a treat. Now I want to find Humpty Dumpty & a Lion.
Hi Erica, I’ve been collecting these for a long time and I’m still finding new one that I haven’t seen before. Most of mine are C-6 bulbs and only light on a string with 8 of the same bulbs all working. Not sure how yours light on a new string, but I wouldn’t keep them plugged in for very long without a tabletop dimmer. Available at Home Depot or Amazon. Start with the dimmer on low and then slowly move to about 50%. Your bulbs won’t get hot, or burn out as quickly. I have 3 different Humpty Dumptys, 1 was included in a Nursery Rhyme set of 8. So charming. Happy hunting.
Thanks so much for your reply & great advice re dimmer. The glass globe incandescent bulb strings at Target are same size as the vintage & fit the screw in sockets. They’re currently $5 half off & come with 20 round glass bulbs. This string is designed to light the working ones when one is out as I saw with my milk glass. The biggest difference is the old sockets were made better with metal insides while the new ones are plastic screw in’s until the bottom of bulb hits a metal piece. Will follow your lead & display unlit except on short, rare occasions. Wishing You Happy Holidays.
I grew up with figural bulbs on our tree, and more on my grandparents tree. ALWAYS HAVE LOVED THEM! I have their lights, and have been exposed to ebay for finding them…and I once actually found some at a antique store on the east coast. But nowhere can I find them cheap! I’m in idaho and I never see them anywhere. Is there a better place to buy them? Thank you for the history lesson too.
Ebay is the source. There are always some for auction.
I get most of mine on Ebay, It takes some searching, but I assure you they are there. And reasonably priced too. I like the $5 range. Just last week I saw several unusual ones for $9 each. I think they were listed as “ornaments” though.
From one collector to another:
“Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” Oscar Wilde