I've lived in Arizona for 68 years (Tucson, Glendale, and Sedona). I love writing about Arizona history, antiques, books, and travel.
Vintage Plastic Christmas Decorations
History of Plastic Christmas Items
Just a short 20 to 30 years ago, Christmas items made during the 1940s-1960s of various types of plastic were pretty much considered to be junk. Those who were considered "real" collectors of Christmas decorations and ornaments drove the prices of items of glass, wood and porcelain made in Germany and other European countries higher and higher. In the last ten years, Baby Boomers, such as myself, have begun to collect and treasure those colorful plastic gems from our childhoods.
Previous to World War Two, in the 1930s, Christmas items (especially Santa figures) were being made in Japan of Celluloid, an early type of plastic. While collectors prize Christmas items made of Celluloid, they really need to be almost in a separate category of their own. A word of caution on Celluloid items: they are flammable and need to be stored away from heat. That said, Christmas items made of Celluloid are among the highest priced plastic Christmas collectibles.
During World War Two, America was at war with Germany so there was a trade embargo with Germany, and a conservation of metals which were funneled into the war effort. This created an opportunity for companies such as Bradford Novelty Company to manufacture hard plastic ornaments that resembled blown glass. I remember a few of these early ornaments as not too attractive, but as petrochemical based or hard plastics improved, the result was durable, shiny, and safer ornaments that caught on. It wasn't long until other companies such as Jewelbrite, Rosbro, and Allied began making plastic decorations.
Hi Ho Santa
Blow Mold Lighted Santas
Types of Plastic Christmas Decorations
From my photos, it's pretty obvious that I love collecting vintage Santas, but there are a variety of types of plastic collectibles made during and post World War Two. One type that grew in popularity was molded plastic glow-in-the-dark items. The best known glow-in-the-dark were the icicles that were a dense white plastic, usually about 5 to 6 inches long with a built in hook on the top. Phosphors were mixed into the plastic. The icicles needed a source of light to glow which came from the larger electric bulbs on the Christmas trees that were popular at the time. When the lights were turned off, the icicles glowed a beautiful shade of blue. The older ones are heavier than the newer ones, and still glow, but over time, the blue glow is less intense. Wonderful glow-in-the-dark animal ornaments were produced that continue to attract today's collectors. More unusual ones are dodo birds and penguins. Most of those glow-in-the-dark animal ornaments sell today for around $10 each.
In addition to the Santa figures and Santa's boot candy holders, snowmen, elves, and choir boys were made. Blow made Santas and Snowmen came in a variety of styles. Taller hollow ones had a hole in the back where a light bulb on an electric chord could be inserted to make them appear to glow. Large, blow mold Santa faces to be hung on the door or wall became popular. Lighter weight blow mold items were created and covered with red flocking or glitter. Some times a plastic face was attached to a cloth or rolled cotton body. Those cute little elves with plastic faces and red or green bodies and hats are still under $10 but are continuing to gain in value.
Unusual Hard Plastic Santas
Blow Mold Flocked Santas
Reindeer and items for Tree Underground
Something that is very different about Christmas trees and decorating today is the fact that an important part of the Christmas tree was the tree underground or those cute items made to be placed under the tree. Today there is the tree skirt, but before the 1970s, a Christmas scene or village was created under the Christmas tree. Many of my family members would begin with a white sheet to simulate snow and place decorations such as a nativity set or a plastic village, or plastic reindeer under the tree. Toward the mid 1960s, my Dad had purchased an HO train set with tiny railroad items, and each year, his assortment of items to create a Christmas village around the train set grew. Plastic nativity sets,churches, 3 Wisemen, buildings and a great variety of Santas with reindeer or just reindeer are collectible.
In the early years of plastic ornaments the themes and shapes were traditional. They were mostly Santas, snowmen, bells, animals or balls, but toward the end of the 1960s, the big thing became the shape. Some companies produced the popular tear drop shapes, while other companies such as Jewelbrite specialized in concave ornaments with a plastic diorama in the center, or a cylinder shape such as a merry-g0-round with a plastic animal inside. The colors of the ornaments moved away from the bright reds and greens. One of the hottest shapes to collect is the Atomic Star ornament which is a larger spikey shape and is often nicknamed a Sputnik for the time frame when it was produced. The Atomic Star is the ultimate ornament for those who love the mid-Century Modern look. They average $4-6 each.
As with any type of collection, having the original box boosts the value. A Very Merry Plastic Christmas to All!
Assorted Plastic Face Santas
A Vintage Chrismas
- A Very Vintage Christmas Decorating with Antiques an...
Using antique and collectible Christmas items to decorate for Christmas is a way to preserve past Christmas memories and family treasures. Good items to look for: Christmas postcards, Christmas ornaments, Christmas books, vintage Nativity sets, old C
Ben Reed from Redcar on September 25, 2020:
We also have a few Christmas decorations dating back to the 50s. We bring them out every year and they provide a real boost to our Christmas spirit—an enduring link to years past.
mactavers (author) on November 11, 2012:
Thanks for your comment. I still have a few Christmas decorations from my family too. They always bring back memories.
Pamela Lipscomb from Charlotte, North Carolina on November 11, 2012:
Being born in the 50's, I love vintage Christmas decorations. My sister still has the ones our Mom uses when we were girls! Great hub!