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.
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.
And I just love these cute fluted C-6 bulbs from the same era.
Mid-Century Christmas Lights
In the 1940s, NOMA introduced all-rubber cords. Fused safety plugs came in 1951. What a concept!
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.
Another brilliant innovation was the patented process of painting the ceramic glass bulbs on the inside instead of the outside to eliminate paint chipping.
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.
They are beautiful lighted.
The Icing on the Cake
I saved the best for last: This pristine set of never-lit circa 1955 outdoor “Safety Plug” lights.
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.
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.
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.
Disclosure: Affiliate links are used below.
Vintage NOMA lights are still plentiful. A huge selection can be found on Etsy.
The novel Year of the Angels begins and ends with an Old-World Christmas. But it’s what happens between those two Christmases that makes this book so fascinating.
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