Collecting Vintage Christmas Lights

A couple of years ago, I noticed that my husband, Chris, was spending a lot of time at his computer looking at vintage Christmas lights.  At dinner that was all he talked about . . . C-9 bulbs, C-6 bulbs, swirl bulbs, cloth-wrapped cords.  It was no surprise when boxes began arriving at the door.  Chris was starting a vintage Christmas light collection.

Soon our house was softly glowing with warm vintage color.  Since this is one of the prettiest collections we have – not only the lights but their sweet retro packaging – I thought it would be fun to share just a few of his most prized pieces.

Early NOMA Lights

NOMA* (which stands for National Outfit Manufacturer’s Association) was an American company which began in 1925 as a trade group of small manufacturers.  Through the mid-1900s, it was the leading U.S. manufacturer of Christmas lights.

NOMA’s early offerings had cloth-wrapped cords.  This set was manufactured in the 1930s or 1940s.

Vintage Christmas lights: NOMA 15-light decorative set

If only we could find modern lights that have truly independently-burning bulbs, a washer for each Bakelite socket, and cute adjustable berry beads to hold each individual light in place on the tree.

The C-7 bulbs have soft, attractive colors.

Vintage Christmas lights: C-7 lights on cloth-wrapped cord

And I just love these cute fluted C-6 bulbs from the same era.

Vintage Christmas lights: C-6 taper lights on cloth-wrapped cord

Vintage Christmas lights: C-6 taper bulbs lighted

Mid-Century Christmas Lights

In the 1940s, NOMA introduced all-rubber cords.  Fused safety plugs came in 1951.  What a concept!

Vintage Christmas lights: NOMA safety plug lights, mid-1900s

The fuses for the Bakelite plugs were replaceable.  I would be happy just to collect the adorable, tiny boxes that the spare fuses came in.

Vintage Christmas lights: collectible fuse boxes

Another brilliant innovation was the patented process of painting the ceramic glass bulbs on the inside instead of the outside to eliminate paint chipping.

Vintage Christmas lights: C-9 Swirl bulbs

These are C-9 swirl bulbs – classic large outdoor bulbs. There were two manufacturers of swirl bulbs – primarily GE, and to a lesser extent, Westinghouse.  Stamps can be found on some of the bulbs.

Vintage Christmas lights: manufactuerer's stamps on bulbs

They are beautiful lighted.

Vintage Christmas lights: C-9 Bulbs lighted

The Icing on the Cake

I saved the best for last:  This pristine set of never-lit circa 1955 outdoor “Safety Plug” lights.

Vintage Christmas lights, circa 1955

And they never will be lit – as long as Chris owns them anyway.  So now that we have had a look, the lid is going back on the  box.  Show’s over folks.

Vintage Christmas lights

Actually, vintage Christmas lights can be a surprisingly affordable collectible.  Of course the more valuable sets still have their original packaging with everything in good condition.

Cautions

Here’s a formula to remember:

Vintage + Electrical = Potential Fire/Safety Hazard.

Always have your vintage lights examined by a professional before using them.

The bulbs get very hot very fast, so be careful about what you have them on or around.  Never leave them unattended when lit.

What is Chris Collecting Now?

Chris has moved on from vintage Christmas lights and is collecting another illuminating vintage item.  I hope to share that with you soon, but in the meantime I won’t spoil the surprise.


*There was also a NOMA Corporation in Canada, and a company called NOMA Lights is still in existence in the UK.


Resources:

Vintage NOMA lights are still plentiful.  A huge selection can be found on Etsy.

Vintage Christmas lights

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15 thoughts on “Collecting Vintage Christmas Lights”

    1. Jane, I was surprised too how many are still out there. The ones with all the packaging intact are a little harder to find.

  1. I remember the mid-century one’s from my grandparent’s tree when we were growing up. I think they are so much more attractive than the LED lights, they throw off a much more soothing light.

    1. Maura, I agree. The LEDs just don’t have the warm, festive light of the vintage sets. I’m hoping in the future we will have improved LEDs that actually have that warm vintage look.

  2. Boy do I wish I’d had a magic ball to know to keep old lights. I grew up (born in 1940) in 40’s and 50’s, the magic time as our daughter calls it. I can remember so well all these wonderful old lights but my favorites are still the bubble lights. Those bubble lights were pure magic to kids then. Of course then there weren’t any faux trees yet except maybe the silver ones? Don’t remember exactly when those came out. So nice to take small trip down memory lane. What a great collection to have those older lights. The LED lights are kinda harsh aren’t they?
    Happy weekend

    1. JaneEllen, how fun! Bubble lights are one style Chris has not collected yet. Hmm, that might be a nice thing for me to get him for Christmas. Glad you commented! I agree about those LEDs. They are much better for energy conservation and not as hazardous but also not nearly as charming.

  3. I love vintage Christmas lights. Just have a couple. The boxes are as delightful as the lights themselves! I haven’t dared plug one of my sets in. Maybe I’ll ask hubby what he thinks. Love the ones you shared with SYC.
    hugs,
    Jann

  4. What a beautiful collection of vintage lights Heidi. There’s just something so special and charming about the packaging and the lights themselves. Thanks so much for the trip down memory lane, I really enjoyed it

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