Vintage Christmas decor shows history of holiday decorating

2013-12-19T08:00:00Z Vintage Christmas decor shows history of holiday decoratingBy Julie Blum / jblum@columbustelegram.com Columbus Telegram
December 19, 2013 8:00 am  • 

COLUMBUS — The outside of Steve Kovar’s house might look impressive with lights and figurines for the holiday, but it doesn’t compare to what awaits inside.

The Columbus man has his home decked out in vintage Christmas decorations. For the past three decades, he has been collecting ornaments that date as far back as the early 1900s.

“For 35 years I’ve collected antiques. Most of my passion is for Christmas,” Kovar said as he sat in the front room in his house surrounded by festive decorations, including a large tree adorned with lights and ornaments from the 1950s.

His interest in the hobby was sparked when he was tipped off by his uncle that there was a box of old Christmas decorations belonging to his great-grandfather in the attic at their family farm near David City.

“He told me I could have them if I could find them,” Kovar said.

He did, and later also added ornaments belonging to both sets of grandparents and his parents to his collection.

Over the years, Kovar, 59, has bought more at auctions, antique shows and on eBay. He has more ornaments, lights and festive figurines than he can count. The collection is worth thousands of dollars, he said.

The assortment is all for his love of Christmas and displayed throughout his home. Every year, he holds a couple of open houses to let the public view decorated trees and other items he has set up. He enjoys seeing the reaction of some of the elder visitors who remember having similar ornaments when they were children.

“They leave here totally in awe. They’ve told me, ‘This just made my Christmas,’” he said.

The decorations are used on trees that depict decades from the early to mid-1900s.

He has two trees with decorations dated from the 1950s that include large, colorful C7 lights that peaked in popularity during the decade. The trees also have unique strands of silver-colored tinsel made from aluminum and lead. The lead tinsel is no longer available because of the potential hazard from lead poisoning.

Another tree is dubbed the bubble tree because it is decorated with bubble lights that were commonly used in the 1940s. The lights are filled with a liquid that bubbles up when it is heated creating a constant motion when the lights are plugged in.

Kovar said a string of bubble lights used to sell for $3.80, but now fetch between $50 and $100 for a vintage set of eight. Kovar said he is lucky enough to have 110 sets all in the original boxes.

He also has five goose feather trees, each adorned with ornaments from different decades. One has original clip-on candles, which was the traditional way to light a tree before electricity. Another has beaded ornaments from the 1930s that originate from Czechoslovakia.

The decorations don’t just stop at trees. Other holiday features in the house include a handmade ceramic nativity scene, collection of plastic Santas from the '40s and '50s, large ornament-shaped store decoration used to promote the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life," cardboard Santa advertisement pitching Nestle candy and set of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs from 1938 that originally were used to hold candy.

With so many items to be put up, decorating for Christmas can be a chore for Kovar, but it is one he loves. He usually starts putting up trees in mid-October and is finished by Thanksgiving. It takes about a week and a-half to take it all down and pack it away in the basement.

Sometimes, he said, the abundance of everything Christmas inside his home can get to him after a while. But by the time fall rolls around, he starts to get excited to decorate once again.

“By August or September, I’m ready to see them all again,” he said.

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