By: Alicia Weaver – ISA AM
What type of tree do you have in your house – real or artificial?
I think they each have great qualities. Some years, in my house, we’ve actually put up both! Real trees fill the house with a wonderful pine scent, but artificial trees are much easier to care for (and more affordable over time).
While you’ll find no shortage of options for modern artificial trees today, that hasn’t always been the case. Aluminum trees, perhaps the most famous type of artificial trees, were only popular for about 20 years, although they’ve since become highly sought after by collectors.
Let’s take a closer look at these antique aluminum Christmas trees, including their history, how to determine if you own one, and much more!
The History of Aluminum Christmas Trees
Christmas trees became popular in the US in the mid-1800s. For well over a century, people primarily only used real trees.
In the 1930s, the Addis Brush Company introduced the first artificial trees for the US market. They made the trees from the same bristles used to make toilet brushes, only dyed green. They were reasonably popular but still a fairly niche item.
The American public responded far more favorably to aluminum trees, which hit store shelves in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Folks felt these dazzling, silver trees had a modern, space-age style.
As the trees’ popularity increased, manufacturers expanded their lines, offering aluminum trees in a variety of bright colors, such as pink, purple, green, and red.
For most of the 60s, aluminum trees enjoyed a period of popularity, but it was ultimately fleeting. Traditional trees steadily regained their dominance in the market throughout the early seventies. By the middle of the decade, artificial trees had fallen out of fashion almost entirely, and real trees made a strong return.
Finding Aluminum Trees Today
The aluminum tree craze lasted, at best, twenty years. In the world of antiques, that’s not a huge amount of time.
Fortunately, aluminum trees made between 1955 and 1975 are still fairly easy to find, for two reasons. First, the “branches” and “trunk” are incredibly durable. Also, the original buyers tended to either keep or sell the trees rather than throw them away.
How to Identify a Vintage Aluminum Christmas Tree
The manufacturer/brand name is the biggest clue that your aluminum tree might be a valuable antique. Look for any of these three:
Modern Coatings, Inc.
In 1958, this Chicago company mass-produced the first aluminum Christmas trees. Although the company essentially invented aluminum trees, they were the smallest of the major aluminum tree manufacturers.
Of all three aluminum tree makers, Modern Coatings, Inc. trees are typically the hardest to find, as the company only made them for a few years and they had limited distribution.
Aluminum Specialty Company
Headquartered in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, the Aluminum Specialty Company began manufacturing aluminum trees in 1959. Their trees were the first sold in department stores throughout the Midwest. The company got prime positions on retailer shelves because they were already a famous manufacturer of kitchen products.
They’re best known for the Ever-Gleam tree. For the first few years, only silver ones were made. Later, they expanded the line into other colors. Generally, a silver Ever-Gleam is the most sought-after by collectors.
Star Band Company
Along with Aluminum Specialty, Star Brand was the second major manufacturer of aluminum Christmas trees. A Virginian company, they sold trees in department stores throughout the East Coast and Southeast.
They’re famous for their Pom Pom trees. Each branch had a pom-pom (think cheerleading) on its end. Pom Pom trees were also sometimes referred to as Sparklers. As with the Ever-Gleam trees, the original Pom Poms were always silver, but the line eventually expanded to include other colors.
Pom Pom trees were much larger than the other types. They ranged in height from two to an impressive 12 feet, and could have as many as 90 branches.
How to Care for Your Aluminum Christmas Tree
Aluminum Christmas trees are interesting in that they’re both durable and fairly fragile.
The trunk and branches are typically made with steel rods, so they resist damage well. But the needles are a different story, as they’re made from thin strips of aluminum foil. (The name “aluminum Christmas tree” refers to the material used for the needles, not the branches/trunk.)
The condition of the needles plays a huge role in the value of the tree. The better condition they’re in, the more the tree is prized by collectors. If you have a vintage aluminum tree with a full appearance and lots of intact needles, treat it gently and store it correctly.
Keep decorations to a minimum, and avoid hanging anything heavy from the branches. Also, avoid stringing garlands across the branches, as they can damage the needles. Hang only single ornaments, and place no more than one on each branch.
The aluminum trees sold in the 60s and 70s included storage sleeves for the branches. Finding a vintage tree with original sleeves is rare, but non-vintage replacements are cheap and easy to order online.
Putting the branch into the sleeve requires a special technique:
- Each branch is stored in a sleeve of its own. The end that connects to the tree should go into the sleeve first.
- Slide the branch about halfway into the tube until approximately four inches remain sticking out of the sleeve.
- Holding the sleeve vertically, tap the end on the table a few times, so the branch is pulled down into the sleeve.
- If any aluminum remains sticking out of the sleeve, gently push it down with your finger.
When removing the branch from the sleeve, pull it down by the end that connects to the trunk, so the needles always move in the same direction within the sleeve.
With their bold colors and sparkling style, there’s nothing else quite like a classic aluminum Christmas tree. They’re not only excellent for decorating, but they could also be quite valuable. If you own a vintage aluminum Christmas tree, and would like to know more about what it’s worth, contact a professional antique appraiser today.
Antique aluminum Christmas trees will help your home shine with cheer during the holidays!