Sunday, December 05, 2010

Christmas Comeback Kid: The Aluminum Christmas Tree

One of the hottest items on eBay right now is the shimmery aluminum Christmas tree, preferably if it includes the color wheel that allows the branches to change hues. In the past week I've seen vintage Evergleam models going for over $300 to the highest bidder - amazing for a holiday icon that people wanted to get rid of at yard sales for 25 cents in the 80s. Real tree purists may cringe at these shiny holiday creations and consider them symbols of bad taste but personally, I love aluminum and tinsel trees. When filled with colorful glass ornaments, nothing else screams retro Christmas to me.

Aluminum Christmas trees made their U.S. debut in the mid-50s, an inspiration of the space age influence on home decor at the time. They were first produced by a company called Modern Coatings. The Evergleam model was made by another company called the Aluminum Specialty Company, which manufactured over a million trees between 1959 and 1969. Evergleam was popular for its "pom pom" trees which featured feathery pom poms or bursts on the ends of the branches. While these "permanent" trees as they referred to at the time were deemed fireproof, they weren't meant to be strung with lights; that was quite dangerous as it could give someone a nasty electrical shock! Instead, manufacturers provided a color wheel that was placed underneath the tree to give it a psychedelic color changing effect.

Many online sources say that the airing of A Charlie Brown Christmas in 1965 was responsible for the trees' decline in popularity in the public eye. In the TV special, Charlie Brown chooses a wonky looking real tree over the many aluminum trees available that Lucy favors. The show's underlying complaint about Christmas being too commercial may have also put a damper on sales. By the late 60s, the Sears Wish Book catalog was now selling only fake trees that more resembled the real thing in look and feel. 


Today, however, the retro revolution has made the aluminum tree very popular again. By the way, if you find yourself the owner of a pink vintage variety, consider yourself very lucky. Pink aluminum trees are very rare - according to AluminumChristmasTrees.net, only one out of every 10,000 trees made during their height in popularity were pink. 

Growing up, my house never had one, which is probably why I'm fascinated with aluminum trees. My father was a deer hunter who often returned from his trips with not a deer, but a real tree for Christmas; we also eventually went with a lifelike fake tree that still gets set up in my mother's living room each holiday season. I have a large white tree and a small fiber optic one that I both love, but in the meantime I just ordered this cute little pink tabletop tree from the Vermont Country Store for my desk in work. Technically, it's made of plastic but it'll have to do and at $13 it's pretty affordable:


Check out eBay, Oakdale Enterprises (their trees are made in the USA!), ATOM (The Aluminum Christmas Tree Museum) and the Aluminum Christmas Tree link above if you're interested in purchasing an authentic shiny wonder - but be prepared to part with some serious dough if you do! And if you grew up with one of these trees or currently own one, I'd love to hear all about it.

13 comments:

Midcenturymadam said...

Great post! I haven't found an aluminum tree yet but I'm still looking! I found a white tree at a thrift store recently which looks pretty cool with my color wheel. It will have to do until the tinsel tree finds its way to my house. I love your little pink tree. Thanks for the links.

Anonymous said...

Nice! Having been two years old at the time I don't really remember it, but we spent Christmas 1957 on the road in a coral and white 2-tone Dodge station wagon, with a pink aluminum tree in an Arizona motel. I don't think it's possible to get more '50s than that.

Marlene said...

I totally remember the aluminum tree my parents had when I was little! Still have photos of it, too. I LOVED that tree...and would have another one if I could. :)

Lemondrop Marie said...

Lovely post, I always enjoy looking at vintage photos of the foil trees- I have an all white plasticy one that I try to keep retro!
Marie @ Lemondrop ViNtAge
Christmas bracelet giveaway

Anonymous said...

Sears had an amazing display of these Christmas trees at the time; boring when they returned to traditional, Edwardian. The changing colors, the metallics, were amazing to me as a child and so different; they were beautiful (the best was lying under the tree, next to the presents - how can you forget the specific colors of the wrapping papers of your youth?) I remember them going out of vogue, don't know why. There was a style-changes brewing; the earthy pallette (such as dark wood paneling) I suspect. Maybe also had to do with the tradition of going on the -search- for a tree at the Christmas Tree sales lot as well (re: A Christmas Story) or tree farm, instead of simply opening a box from the attic. It was important for our family. I remember that a "real" tree smelled great, were not that expensive (IIRC the sale signs said "Trees 4-8$" maybe), had the red/green stand that let the tree fall over and set a house ablaze when you forgot to water it, and left the needles stuck in the carpet for most of the winter. Pam, you took me back, again; thx.
s-a-h-d

Pam@GoRetro said...

@Midcenturymadam - You're welcome...I love white trees, too!

@Anonymous - not only does the tree sound cool, but the Dodge station wagon as well!

@Marlene - sweet that you grew up with one.

@Lemondrop Marie - I love to decorate my white trees with all glass ornaments; definitely retro.

@Stay-at-home-dad - from what I found, they pretty much fell out of favor because of A Charlie Brown Christmas, which panned them. I find the fake trees more fun and less messy than real ones (although you still do need to assemble most of them.)

LaraAnn said...

I wasn't that familiar with these type of trees until I read your post - very interesting. We had live trees from 1979 - 1989 or 1990 which I really loved. We aren't putting our tree up this year and didn't last year either.

Doug said...

I remember that my grandparents had one of these back in the late 60's.
The color wheel really fascinated my 6 year old eyes and I wanted one of those to play with all year round!

Desiree said...

Fake trees of every kind make me sad.

Frosty Fountain said...

Great story and its nice to see so many other people liking these trees Growing up we didn't have one, but had the vinyl silver trees everyone in Toronto, Canada was putting up. There was a factory here making them. They were very much like the aluminum ones, but made of vinyl. 3 years ago, I remembered the silver tree and starting looking on ebay for aluminum trees not realizing that the one I had as a kid was vinyl. That year I bought 3, and have been a avid collector since. Today I have 20 + trees of all different sizes and colors. A mint pink Evergleam being my most prized. Right now I am restoring a ice blue tree for next year.I think blue trees are more rarer think pink as I haven't seen alot of them listed compared to pink ones.I will be parting some of my trees for others to enjoy. Aluminum trees relax me sitting on a armchair looking at the trees rotating and changing colors by the rotating color wheels. They just evoke memories of simple times and put a big smile on my face. They are just stunning. A great vintage item to go along with the aluminum tree, would be a vintage cardboard fireplace. Also decorating the trees with Shiny Brites or Jewelbrite ornaments. Lastly dont forget the rotating stands. I was surprised this year to see the prices some of the trees were fetching on ebay. Also I was surprised by how many pink trees were being listed. All in all its great to see aluminum trees being back and thank god for the people of the era to have saved the trees. Just remember that before you throw something out in the trash, as it may be tomorrow's collectable.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Wyoming, and after it snowed the sun always came out. My mom and dad had a beautiful aluminum tree they placed by a large picture window. My mother put pink and blue bulbs on it. As the tree revolved the reflection of the sun off the branches danced across the room. At night time I watched in fascination as the tree changed colors while the color wheel went around and around. I've not the money, but if I did I'd sure love to have an aluminum tree.

Anonymous said...

I bought my grandmothers 5 foot pom at her estate auction, 30 years ago, it was more for the memories of all the wonderful holidays spent with her as a child.. this year once again , I slip the poms carefully out of the sleeves set up the color wheel and enjoy the tree,, and enjoy the memories. 50 years of use, that is a lot of real trees saved!

Tom said...

A few years back my mother gave me her pom silver tree and color wheel. I have memories of laying underneath it as it rotated. Now my kids and I set it up every season. It's still in great shape, but every season it sheds a few "needles" and I wonder how long it will be with us.

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