From the Vault - featured items from our collection

String of Christmas Lights

String of Christmas Lights

This From the Vault object is a string of Christmas lights – missing its lights! Originally the socket was porcelain and the bulbs were in the shape of birds, flowers, and fruits. The lights would have been glass and painted. Because the ornaments were both spray and hand painted no two ornaments were ever the same. This string is believed to have been purchased in 1921 from Holloway’s Drug Store and used until 1938. While unfortunately none of the lightbulbs have survived to present day, perhaps these figural ornamental lightbulbs would have borne a greater likeness to what we typically associate with early glass and metal ornaments which would also hang on a tree. The lightbulbs may have been produced in many different places including Japan, Austria or Germany. Because of World War I Japan became a more popular country from which to purchase ornamental lightbulbs. Other figural lightbulbs could be found in the shape of religious figures (Jesus, Mary, Joseph), popular characters (Betty Boop, Charlie Chaplain) or Christmas figures (Santa Claus, snowmen). Similar to what may still be purchased today, this light string would have likely come in a box with each light bulb having its own slot. While there are obvious differences between strings of Christmas lights of the past and those of the present there are some similarities. This string is tan and there are seven ceramic light sockets. Perhaps the most striking difference between the earliest Christmas lights and the strings used today is that it is currently common to hang strings of simple lights bulbs, not figural bulbs which were a very popular option at the beginning of Christmas light production. The closest comparison found to this string of lights was a General Electric string from 1901 or 1902. It is unknown, though, if this string is from this time and was simply not sold until the 1920s or if it is in fact a newer model that bears a resemblance to an earlier model.


This string of lights was donated in 1994.

Added: November, 2016

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