For many folks, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. The crisp cold… the twinkling lights… the sights and smells and sounds of another holiday season.
My favorite part of the holiday season is the decorating.
Whether you swap out your usual door decoration for an understated wreath… or illuminate the neighborhood with a visual symphony of lights on your lawn… I appreciate the effort.
So today, I want to talk about vintage decorations as more than just holiday garnish. Believe it or not, some types of seasonal décor are worth a pretty penny.
Let’s start with the trimmings on the tree.
Deck the Halls
As a widespread cultural practice, decorating a Christmas tree inside the home hasn’t been around that long…
The tradition was brought to America by German immigrants in the 18th and 19th centuries. But it didn’t catch on until the late 1840s, when an illustration ran in The Illustrated London News, depicting the popular Queen Victoria and her German-born husband celebrating around a bedecked Christmas tree.
The wealthy shortly adopted the custom, and soon merchants caught on to the commercial possibilities of mass-producing Christmas tree decorations. Before the year hit 1900, Woolworth’s Department Store was selling $25 million in handcrafted German ornaments.
Collectors call any heavy glass-blown ornament with a fixed decorative metal cap from this time period a kugel, which literally means “sphere” in German.
But not all of these ornaments were round — they also came in egg and teardrop shapes, as well as items like clusters of grapes, apples and pears.
Original kugels are typically lined with silver, while the hole at the top is covered by a brass cap with a wire loop for hanging. Reproductions of this type of ornament started appearing in the latter half of the 20th century. But one quick way to tell if you’ve got the real thing is by looking at the cap.
The brass cap on original kugels (with very few exceptions) sits flush against the ornament, while on the new kugels, there is a distinct neck, like so:
The price for an original kugel can run anywhere from $50–300 — with standout examples selling for $1,000 and more. Not bad for a bauble.
Ornaments aren’t the only tree decoration that interests collectors…
In 1946, the National Outfit Manufacturers Association (NOMA) introduced their version of bubble lights, popular in living rooms across America post-WWII.
Fast-forward to today and a string of these lights in safe, working condition with the original packaging could be worth upward of $100. But there are a few factors that will determine if your lights are worth top dollar…
The prototype for this type of light are called tri-clips, because they were originally fastened together with three small metal clips as opposed to glue. Tri-clip bubble lights are very rare, but if you’ve got a box gathering dust in an attic or closet somewhere, you could net yourself a tidy profit.
Certain colors are also harder to find, which ups their value. In the 1950s, some companies stopped producing darker fluid tubes and plastic bases because they were seen as a fire hazard.
The most difficult hues to track down are dark blue, purple and blood red (fluid tubes), and orange and blue (plastic bases). If you have those, you might be a winner. Here is a handy chart — with pictures and extensive notes — to help you identify any valuable ornaments.
By the late ’70s, the charm of bubble lights started to dim in favor of the tiny fairy lights of today. But of course, the Christmas spirit lives on.
We could write an entire article on the popularity — and profitability — of china sets (and we very well may). There’s too much to cover now.
And I’ve already written a bit about the rise and fall of commemorative plates — on which holiday themes were commonly depicted.
What I want to mention here is the Depression glass produced by the Anchor Hocking Glass Co., specifically in the shade of Royal Ruby.
You know the type…
The distinctive cranberry color makes this set perfect for the holidays — as well as the company’s Forest Green line. (Source: eBay.)
When I say Depression glass, I mean machine-made glassware produced during the Depression and distributed to those in need for free or at low cost. Easily recognizable for its transparent colors, Depression glass has been a highly desirable collectible since the 1960s.
As more pieces are snatched up by collectors, it is becoming difficult to find examples of Depression glass on the open market.
For that reason, I suggest you be on the lookout at estate and garage sales for deals on this crimson dinnerware. You could fetch up to several hundred dollars for a set.
That said, the best time to buy Christmas collectibles — as an investment — is anytime but Christmas. Naturally, the holiday season increases demand, which props up prices until the fervor fades.
But check out some yard sales in June and you may be able to find some holiday trimmings at a good price — so you can add a little more joy to your bottom line next year.
That last thing I want to leave you with today is one of the lots that closed today at Sotheby’s — a 1980 Christmas card from EMI Elstree Studios featuring a festive R2-D2 and C-3PO.
The inside of the card reads, “May the Force be with you for the holidays and throughout the new year.”
May the Force be with you, indeed.
Lucille St. John
Managing editor, Unconventional Wealth
P.S. If you can’t resist grabbing something collectible in the holiday spirit this year… but don’t want to pay holiday prices… take a look at stamps. Every season, postal services around the world release Christmas stamps, Hanukkah stamps, Boxing Day stamps… you name it, it’s out there. And unlike the rest of the festive holiday gear, this generally isn’t something you decorate the living room with… so there isn’t the same sort of price hike. Check out what’s currently available from our partners at JustCollecting — you can get there through here.
Lucille St. John
Lucille St. John is the managing editor of Unconventional Wealth. A gentlewoman and a scholar, Lucille never received much in the way of a financial education. But what she lacks in fiscal knowledge she makes up for in taste.
She’s going to take you with her on her unconventional wealth journey — starting from...