I honestly didn’t know that Van Gogh’s Stary Night was there…. I just turned a corner and there it was.
I think it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in person.
A close second place would be the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.
It wouldn’t be Christmas in Manhattan without the department store windows, this is what I do for a living after all, and the Holiday windows at Bergdorf Goodman never disappoint.
Since we each pick a couple activities whenever we travel, and Jamie has always wanted to take a helicopter tour of the city, we booked a tour with Manhattan Helicopters.
It was a hazy morning when we started, and we could just make out the outline of the Empire State Building through the fog. But all this burned off nicely as we rounded the Statue of Liberty and the lowest part of downtown.
If you ever have the chance, I highly recommend it. The entire tour lasted about 15-20 minutes but we both agreed that it was definitely worth the money. Be sure to book it in advance though.
Now it was my turn.
I’ve always wanted to go skating in Rockefeller Center and we’ve never had a chance before because the limited amount of tickets sell out pretty quickly.
Not this time, we bought our tickets in November.
Turns out that neither of us is a very good skater.
But that’s not the point of skating in Rockefeller Center, now is it?
Even though it was bitter cold – for a couple Texans – we wandered through Central Park and ate various crap off of food carts.
Not everything we ate was off a sketchy food cart, we had Christmas Eve diner at the Polo Bar.
I have better manners than to shoot off a bunch of random pics in a restaurant, but it was pretty exciting and I did manage to get a few stealthy pictures.
Like the heat-stamped ice cube in my cocktail. (Notice the polo mallet stir stick too)
And the chocolate pudding cake we shared for dessert.
It was a short trip, and over much too soon, but one we won’t soon forget either.
It just wouldn’t feel like Christmas without a house tour.
Even if we’re not home this year, we still wanted to open our home.
I found a set of these red Noma bells at an estate sale a while back and knew immediately what I’d do with them. Four more sets and a box of “blinkers” later and I swear our front door has never looked so festive.
The big tree this year is entirely American unsilvered glass World War 2 era ornaments.
When silver nitrate – used to make ornaments reflective – was deemed unnecessary during the war, the ornament designers countered with hand-painted details and colors that look like stained glass…. especially when the sunlight shines through them.
If you look closely, you’ll notice that some of them even have pieces of tinsel inside and a few have paper caps and hangers – those are the absolute rarest.
On the mantle is my ever-growing collection of plastic Santas.
Made by companies like Union, Miller, Empire, Rosen and Rosbro. Most of these are dime store candy containers.
One of them is even a baby rattle.
My Rosbro snowmen candy containers have been moved to the coffee table with a vase of Kentlee glass candy canes.
There’s a smaller tree filled with quite a few early Corning-made ornaments. These were designed by the Stuben glass division of Corning. The designers looked for inspiration from German imports, but their deco shapes were more streamlined and decidedly American looking.
I’m completely obsessed with finding them.
The C-6 cone lights and punched tin reflectors are from the 40s too. They heat up pretty quickly, so I have them on a tabletop dimmer.
There’s a third tree in the living room
This one’s even more 1940s ornaments; mostly early stencils and hand-painted designs.
If you’ll look closely, you’ll see there’s also a flock of Santas.
I’m pretty sure they were made by the Coby Glass Company.
And the rest of us wanted to wish y’all a Very Merry Christmas.
I can’t even get my shit together long enough to post my Christmas pictures before Christmas.
Being a hoarder/collector of vintage Christmas, there’s almost always a pile of old ornaments on the kitchen counter, or on the coffee table, and the kitchen counters…
or my desk….
And the floor under my desk….
Anyhoo, since hardly anyone got to see any of this in person, I just had to share with the interwebs.
The “Big” tree isn’t really that big; it’s only 7 foot.
The bubble lights are modern, I get them on Amazon lately, but the big Japanese lanterns are actually patio lights from the 60s.
Since last year the tree was entirely American glass, this year I crammed it with only European ornaments. About 95% Polish teardrops and reflectors, from companies like Fantasia Glass and Santa Land, that are hand-painted with Santas, snowmen, girls in ballgowns, bells, Poinsettias, and snowy cabins and churches. There’s also a sprinkling of free-blown Italian ornaments, mostly made by the De Carlini family, of all my favorite characters; Mickey/Minnie, Peter Pan, Captain Hook, Linus/Lucy, Tinkerbell, and Frosty.
The Italian Santa topper I found at a rummage sale for $5…. no lie.
And I debated whether or not I needed it.
Obviously, I did.
On the coffee table there’s a mercury-glass bowl that holds glass ornaments all year long.
These are all American, made by Corning Glass in the late 30s and early 40s, and featuring a few of the more unusual shapes; disco balls, grapes, a guitar, American Santa Claus and a few lanterns. My favorite is the square lantern with the stars on the sides.
I started collecting these glass candy canes just a few years ago. They were mostly made in the 1940s by the American company Kentlee.
The little plastic skater next to them is really a candy container made by Rosbro in the 1950s.
On the mantle are a few lighted Santas. The big one is Union and he’s a very hard plastic. The smaller “blow-mold” Santa was made by Empire and is their most popular Santa shape.
These toy Santas are mostly Rosbro candy containers, sold at five and dime stores in the 50s and 60s. The tallest Santa once held a wreath, that’s why he has his arms spread and holes in his hands. (I can’t afford one with a wreath) The second tallest Santa – with the crown – is a “King Santa” made by Harett-Gilmar, he’s a bank.
This table-top tinsel tree is the perfect way to display my 1930s Corning pinecones. Most glass pinecone ornaments were made in either Germany or Japan, and are a little more “organic” looking, so these guys really stand out with their perfect, American deco symmetry.
I absolutely love hunting for them.
On the TV console is a small white “feather” tree with figural light bulbs.
(The Roy Rogers magazine above it is from January? of 1952 and depicts Roy decorating a tree with Shiny Brites)
Once I knew what look for, I find these guys all the time for just a few bucks. They were produced in Japan and I think peaked in popularity in the 1930s. Once one of them stopped working – the whole string stopped working – so most people would hang them as ornaments. Because Santas and bells are a dime a dozen, now I focus on the more unusual characters.
At the other end of the console, next to the photo of our sweet Harley Davidson with a wreath around her neck, is a small styrofoam cone filled with vintage Holiday pins.
Just when y’all think all this stuff is mine… this is Jamie’s collection.
He even found the silver ice bucket it’s in.
The shabby little deer is a vintage bank from Montgomery Wards, the company that invented Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer. (They did, Google it). At one point he had a red light bulb in his nose that would light every time you dropped a coin in his slot. (I can’t afford one with a light-up nose either)
Across the room, next to Christmas cards and plastic Noma bells, there’s a small, dingy tinsel tree crammed – and I mean CRAMMED – with unsilvered striped ornaments. When silver nitrate was rationed during WW2 American ornament companies countered with clear glass ornaments; sometimes with a piece of tinsel inside for sparkle.
The colored lights are C-6 size cones with Diamond Ray punched tin reflectors. Because they heat up so intensely, and I also want them to last another 80 years, I dim them with a table-top dimmer.
The plastic Santa on top seems to ruffle a lot of “vintage Christmas purest’s” feathers because he’s from a completely different decade than the ornaments and lights.
He’s a 1950s Santa Glo tree top or wall plaque.
And as if that weren’t enough options, he also sits flat on a table.
Shiny Brites that didn’t make it onto a tree this year are stacked next to my War-era tree in their 1950’s boxes.
As if you can’t tell… it’s my favorite vintage ornament box.
Even more Shiny Brites fill a glass cylinder on the kitchen table.
The slim tinsel tree in the living room is filled with Premier ornaments. Premier was a small American ornament company that competed with Shiny Brite for almost 20 years. Shiny Brite eventually bought them out and converted several Premier molds to fit their own wider caps. I think their bright colors shine like precious jewels on the silver.
Found this galvanized “Holiday Flowers” tub at a junk store last year. I’m sure it’s from Home Goods or Pottery Barn or some other such place…. but I really like it.
And it works perfectly lifting this tree up another 2 feet.
Here’s even more of Jamie’s collections, ceramic trees.
I’ve been working in retail creative for almost 30 years. Half of those years have been with Ralph Lauren.
The easiest way to explain what I do is that I create the window displays. It’s not a career that I ever dreamed I would have…. or even knew existed…. but it’s the perfect blend of my love of fashion and style, combined with my design and construction skills.
I don’t do any of this alone, I work with an amazingly talented team of people. Together we tell elaborate stories with a few yards of fabric, a carload of barn wood, glue guns, flood lights, garland, spray glitter and always 5 or 6 trips to Home Depot.
We make “retail art”.
Every October through November, for the holidays, the magic is turned up a bit and we really shine.
These are always my favorite windows.
Our inspiration could be Christmas at Colorado cabin, or in an art-deco penthouse, the backstage at the Paris Opera, or even a party for elegantly dressed teddy bears.
I don’t usually show these off.
To me, they’re never finished. There’s something I could always tweak a little more; lighting to adjust, garland to fluff, silver to polish….
But I’m proud of them, and the work that we put into them, and wanted to share some of my favorites from the last couple years….
When you collect vintage Christmas ornaments the way I do…… let’s just say that I cast a rather large net. I search out large, inexpensive, lots…. there are always some surprises; Usually there are a few decent ones, even fewer great ones, and mostly ones I would classify as “ok”.
And sometimes, but not very often, there are some clear ones with paper caps.
American Christmas wasn’t always the way we celebrate it now.
German immigrants at the turn of the last century brought with them their Germanic holiday traditions of Santa Claus, Christmas cookies, and my personal favorite, the Christmas tree.
Christmas trees were already the rage in Victorian England, after Prince Albert presented one to Queen Victoria.
Max Eckardt is considered by many to be the father of American Christmas ornaments. Max was a German immigrant importing German mouth-blown glass Christmas ornaments for the American market. Because he knew that a war would interrupt his imports, it was Max’s idea to convince the Corning Glass Company to slightly alter machines that were currently making light bulbs to produce glass Christmas balls. He then had them silvered and hand-painted by K&L Glassworks in New Jersey.
Because of the anti-German sentiment at the time, Max withdrew the name Max Eckardt & Co and renamed his brand, distributing the new Corning provided ornaments, Shiny Brite.
When World War 2 did hit, Max was right and he captured the American Christmas ornament market, especially since his glass baubles were produced in the United States and sold for just a few pennies each across the country at Woolworth’s Five & Dime stores.
Early American ornament caps sometimes read, “Made in U.S. of A.”.
But the war also had other consequences. Certain items became rationed; meat, gasoline, sugar, butter, rubber and even silver; like the silver nitrate Shiny Brite used to line the inside of their glass ornaments. Max’s solution was to tint the clear glass in bright colors.
Or embellish them with graphic stencils,
Or even to add a piece of tinsel for sparkle.
Shiny Brite wasn’t the only ornament company affected by these rations. Corning was selling the same clear glass ornaments, or blanks, to other companies like, Rauch, Coby, and Franke. Premier Glass, who had developed their own glass ornament shapes, countered the lack of silver nitrate with some pretty bright, vibrant paint colors.
Premier is one of my favorite companies. It’s probably because they had a relatively short run, from about 1940 thru 1955 – when Shiny Brite bought them out to limit the competition, that they are highly sought after by collectors.
When the metal used for caps also became scarce, they were replaced with paper. Sometimes, the entire cap and loop were replicated with brown craft paper.
Or just a hanger was fashioned from thin cardboard in an upside down T-ish shape with a hole punched for a hook or piece of string.
I even have a few with home-crafted twisted wire hangers like this guy.
Unsilvered ornaments and paper caps were only produced for a couple of years, and by 1946 war-time restrictions had lifted and companies were able to use silver nitrate and metal caps again making this brief interlude just a blip in the history of American produced Christmas ornaments.
Making them that much more desirable……
I never intended to collect war-time unsilvered ornaments, they just appeared. I wasn’t interested in clear ornaments, but when I noticed that I had a few paper caps in my hoard. It was on.
When I really focus on something, I burn a hole right through it…
….and it didn’t take long to collect enough to do a small tree.
They remind me of ribbon candy.
The tinsel tree was an At Home find and the colored lights are C6 bulbs – also from the 1940’s. I thought it was only fitting to use punched tin reflectors with them.
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.
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.
When I was just a tot, one of my favorite TV shows was I Love Lucy.
Still is, by the way.
Just to be clear, I had no idea how old the show was at the time. I just assumed that every woman who lived in New York City wore petticoats, the Tropicana was the hottest night club, and married couples slept in twin beds pushed together.
Did y’all know there was an I Love Lucy Christmas Special?
The I Love Lucy Christmas Show originally aired on Christmas Eve 1956 and was somehow lost soon after that. It was rumored that Dezi was embarrassed by the episode, thinking it was just terrible because it was mostly a re-hash of older episodes. (Something that was unheard of in the early age of TV, but became all too commonplace in sitcoms of the 70’s and 80’s.) Also just a rumor was that the film reel for this episode, I Love Lucy was filmed on film stock btw, was discovered stashed under Dezi’s bed after his death. Anyhoo, CBS somehow got a hold of it and aired the *restored (read that as colorized, which was a dreadful trend at the time) episode just once in December of 1989 as the “Lost Lucy Episode”.
Regardless of what Dezi might have though, there is more charm in this episode…than any of the Connecticut episodes. Especially the one with the watered down Carolyn Appleby.
The flashbacks are some of the best moments from the series. Including; the time Lucy told Ricky that she was “expecting” (“Pregnant” was not a word network censors would allow on TV at the time), the time Lucy snuck her way into Ricky’s barbershop quartet, and the time Lucy announces that Little Ricky is “on his way” – only to send the gang into a tizzy and leave for the hospital without her.
In fact, the flashbacks are so mesmerizing that Fred gets lost listening to the stories and accidentally trims all the branches off the Ricardo’s Christmas tree. No worries though, Fred is delighted to learn that a replacement tree is half a buck on Christmas Eve. The quartet proceeds to decorate the new tree in 1950s fashion with white C9 ceramic lights and aluminum reflectors, a few American glass ornaments and clumps of long tinsel icicles.
Christmas morning finds the gang, unbeknownst to each other, each dressed as Santa to surprise Little Ricky. But instead of four Santas, there are five. The fifth, of course, being the real Santa Claus, who disappears in a poof after Ricky tries to yank his real beard off.
It’s during the tree trimming that Lucy shows Ethel her very favorite ornament; a huge teardrop shape with a hand-painted figure carrying a pine tree. The best that I can tell; it’s Polish, and most likely made by the Fantasia Glass company.
Seems that I’m not the only fan of this episode. In the early stages of his blooming ornament making career, Christopher Radko produced a reproduction of the very ornament that Lucy shows Ethel.
He named it, so appropriately, “Lucy’s Favorite”.
I’ve been on a hunt for a Lucy’s Favorite of my own for decades now – one that I could afford, anyway.
Until this week.
I finally scored one.
It’s even signed by Mr. Radko himself..
Which makes it even that much more special.
Is it MY very favorite? That’s a tough call.
It is in my top 10.
If you ‘re so inclined, the I Love Lucy Christmas Special is available on DVD from Amazon. And CBS still shows it occasionally.
If y’all are anything like us, and I’m willing to bet that you are, you’ll spend the days between Christmas and the New Year cruising local neighborhoods looking at Christmas lights.
We get lots of inspiration this way.
In fact, Jamie’s been on a vintage blow mold collecting kick the past couple years, I think he has about 9.
Now Wayne Smith, on Southwestern Blvd in University Park, has a few more than that.(142 Santas, 22 toy soldiers, and 67 snowmen……plus a couple hundred more figures. At his last count) In fact his electric bill skyrockets every December when Wayne brings them all into his front yard, and along his roof line, for the neighborhood to enjoy along with him. He scours flea markets all year-long to add to the assortment. The crowning jewel? Well that would have to be the severed head of Big Tex, our State Fair of Texas mascot, that he scored at an auction in 1992. It rests directly over his front door in a custom Santa hat.
We stopped by the other night, like we do every year, to gawk at Wayne’s massive collection….
How great is this shot through Jamie’s crystal ball?
And that electric bill? Wayne says that it’s worth it to see everyone, especially the kids, sharing in his joy.