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The Roaring Twenties
Page 5


On October 29, 1929 the American stock market dramatically crashed. Within the first few hours of the Market's opening, it fell so far as to wipe out all the gains that had been made in the previous year. Since the Stock Market was viewed as the chief indicator of the health of the American economy, public confidence was understandably shattered. Between October 29 and November 13 (when stock prices hit their lowest point) over 30 billion dollars had disappeared from the American economy. It was to take nearly twenty-five years for many stocks to recover.

Suddenly, far fewer families could afford luxuries like electric Christmas lights.  Food, clothing and shelter became the priority, and Christmas celebrations were soon to become mere ghosts of what they once were for many families.

Since the crash did not occur until late in the year, the major lighting companies were already geared up for a big selling season, and their offerings for 1929 were lavish. Needless to say, there was a lot of leftover stock. Many sets first made in that year were never offered again after the stock sold through. Other sets were revised, soon to be made of less expensive materials.

Beginning in 1930, many of the Christmas lighting companies started cutting costs wherever they could. The wiring used in lighting outfits became thinner. Sockets were beginning to be made of Bakelite, a much less expensive material than was composition. Box art became less colorful and more utilitarian, to save on printing and design costs. Package art from the previous era was also "recycled", but this time printed in less dramatic colors. Novelty outfits were introduced to entice the public to once again buy new lighting strings. This was indeed a pivotal time for the American Christmas lighting industry.


1929 NOMA candle set Patent for Candles Inside the Box
This extremely rare NOMA candle outfit is unusual for several reasons. First and most notable is the exquisite box art, which NOMA used for only two years, 1928 and 1929. It is far more colorful than any other box ever put out by the company. Secondly, these candles are individual rather than permanently wired into a festoon, so that they could be placed anywhere on the tree. The user just had to remove a lamp wherever he or she wanted, and then replace it with a candle. The units are made of swirl painted metal, with a short pigtail type cord with a screw-in base at the bottom. A most unique item, and also one of the few NOMA products to bear a 1928 copyright date. The patent for this item, granted to Albert Sadacca, was not awarded until 1930, a year after the set was discontinued.


An Eight Light Set Sunburst Assembled Sunburst Apart Girl's Head Face in a Pine Cone

A product of NOMA, these very large figural lights are called Dresden Fancy Lamps, and were an attempt to introduce a figural light with a replaceable light source. The large painted glass envelopes were imported from Germany, and the lamps were assembled in the United States. They were first distributed in 1929. These units had several distinct disadvantages that made them almost unusable. First, their weight made it hard to decorate, as they would not remain upright. Secondly, the parts that held the actual light socket were made of dissimilar metals, causing them to corrode and fuse together, making lamp replacement impossible after a year or two. A third disadvantage was that the paint flaked off horribly, as shown in these pictures. These issues, plus the fact that they were a high priced product offered for sale at the height of the Depression, led to their discontinuance in 1933.

UPDATE: Bruce Feddema, a friend and fellow collector, has reported that he recently added a Pine Cone Santa to his collection, similar to the one pictured above. The major difference is that on his example, the metal components are all made of brass. His parts were fused together as well, and when Bruce applied a small amount of penetrating oil to begin to separate the pieces, a clear liquid began to ooze out from where the pieces were joined. Bruce is certain that this liquid is old lacquer, used to keep the brass parts from tarnishing. He speculates that the heat from the light bulb inside the Dresden light caused the lacquer to melt, and as the light went through repeated cycles of heat and cold, the lacquer eventually got so thick and heavy that it fused the parts together.

It seems logical to assume that the manufacturers of the metal parts realized that the dissimilar metals they were using were causing problems, and at some point switched to an all-brass construction. However, the lacquer they used to keep the metal from tarnishing eventually caused the same fusing problem they were trying to avoid! My thanks to Bruce for this most interesting information.


Date Manufacturer Notes Outside of Box Inside of Box
1929 NOMA

In 1929, NOMA issued this box art for the first time, exclusively used to promote their new outside light strings. The printing quality for this particular box design was not very good, and it is most often found with rather severely faded and/or misaligned printing. For some reason, perhaps cheaper Depression era inks, the box seems to be more susceptible to fading than most, resulting in weak colors. This is a book style box, and the string contained within uses the then new C-9 outdoor swirl lamps, with General Electric's newly patented high quality inside coloring process, insuring that the paint could not scratch off.

ca 1929 NOMA

Here's another example of a twinkling outfit, this one by NOMA. Circa 1929, the twinkling device is practically identical to the Gacor set discussed on the previous page, even down to the metal sockets. I believe it is safe to assume that NOMA either purchased their twinkling devices from Gacor, or by the time this set was made, NOMA had purchased the Gacor company or patent rights. This NOMA box is very typical of the other sets that were sold by the Company, with the only difference being the word "Twinkler" added in small letters. This outfit sold for $5.98, and like the Gacor outfit, was not a big seller.

ca 1929 Boehland & Company Paul Boehland and Company sold the unusual tree topper on the right, called the Fairy Crown Christmas Tree Tip, beginning in 1929. It was patented in 1928 and assigned number 1,690,397.  When new, the metal star had much more metallic glitter on it.
ca 1929 NOMA Metal Tree top stars were first introduced in the early part of this decade by the Propp Company. Consisting of a five pointed star and three candle lights to make a string of 8 lights, the set was a popular seller. NOMA offered this set first in 1929, after their merger with Propp.
ca 1929 NOMA This outfit, although produced no earlier than 1929, shows the earliest C-9 lamps that were offered by General Electric-smooth glass and outside painted. This collector surmises that the set is an example of the use of overstock lamps, as by the time this outfit was offered, C-9 textured inside colored lamps were the standard. From the collection of David Neely.
ca 1929 NOMA NOMA offered tow versions of this particular C-6 outfit, both with rubber wires. One type was weatherproofed for outside use, which is exceedingly rare in series wired outfits with miniature base C-6 lamps. From the collection of David Neely.
ca 1929 NOMA Starting in 1929, NOMA also offered a "pigtail" version of the Star topper which is pictured here, designed to screw into an existing string of lights as a substitute for a single bulb.
ca 1929 Peerless

Offered by Peerless, this is an unusual set containing intermediate base round GE Mazda lamps. Originally sold as outside painted bulbs in 1927, the lights were not popular as Christmas lamps and by 1928 the more appealing flame or swirled shaped bulbs had replaced them. In an attempt to re-introduce the cheaper to manufacture round bulbs to Christmas decorators, GE offered an improved version of the lamp with inside coloring to last longer as in the outfit above. But, just as before, people preferred the more traditional cone shaped flame bulbs, and  the rounds were no longer marketed as Christmas lighting by 1930. 

End of Chapter


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