Vintage Aluminum Christmas Trees
I tend to be a little obsessed with design trends of the '60s and early '70s, and one of my favorite motifs from this era is the aluminum Christmas tree, featuring delicate branches made of shiny tinsel.
These vintage Christmas trees are a gorgeous and sparkly symbol of the space age. In fact, at one point, they were frequently referred to as "Space Age Christmas Trees" by manufacturers. The predominant color for sale was silver, of course, but trees in other colors were made too—pink, red, green and blue.
Today, original vintage pink aluminum trees can be somewhat elusive and they can command some big bucks on eBay. If you just want the look though, many manufacturers today sell pink Christmas trees as once again the aluminum look is a popular option for holiday decorating. I have frequently seen pink aluminum trees at Target.
The first aluminum Christmas tree made its debut in 1959. They were originally manufactured by the Aluminum Specialty Company, but the style was quickly adopted by other manufacturers such as Reynolds Aluminum and they were a huge hit with the public. The aluminum tree maintained its popularity well into the Seventies and it is making something of a comeback today.
Today, vintage aluminum Christmas trees are highly sought after by mid-century and space age enthusiasts, as well as those who collect vintage Christmas decorations and other collectibles. You can find them on sites like Ebay and Etsy, but shopping locally at thrift shops, consignment stores. antique shops and garage sales is a good bet as well.
Decorating Your Vintage Tree
If you are looking for tips on how to decorate your vintage aluminum tree, here's my advice on how to handle your tree so it will continue to offer you joy year after year.
If you've just bought your very first vintage Christmas tree, or you want to make sure to preserve one that has been in your family for awhile, there are definitely some things to consider. The delicate aluminum tinsel can't hold the same weight as real evergreen trees or their contemporary artificial counterparts.
Use Lightweight Ornaments
The tree branches themselves may be made of steel, but the "needles" are paper-thin strips of aluminum and the tree trunk is usually made of wood, so you want to hang lightweight, individual ornaments gently. Avoid using garlands as they can damage the tinsel. And avoid anything that could potentially snap the branch off the tree as you will find that splinters of wood often come with it and this can make it difficult to fit the branches back into the slots along the tree trunk.
You'll note my tree is decorated with small red plastic Christmas ornaments. You can definitely use vintage glass ornaments on the tree, but I suggest making sure the ornaments are sized appropriately for the height of your tree. My tree is between 3 and 4 feet high, meaning it can sit on a tabletop or in a bay windowsill, so the smaller ornaments look really cute on the tree.
Don't Use String Lights
Lights present a fire hazard with an aluminum tree. The branches are frequently too delicate to hold them and could easily snap off of the wooden base of the tree, making them difficult to get back on it again as they usually take some of the wood with them. The aluminum is naturally sparkly anyway, and will look gorgeous in a room with some soft lighting.
Get a Vintage Color Wheel
To enhance the sparkle of your tree safely, pick up a rotating color wheel, either vintage or modern. Usually made up with three or four lights of different colors, you can place this on the floor in front of your tree and watch the tree's colors change before your eyes as the lights revolve. Even in full daylight, you can see the effect the color wheel has on the tree limbs in the video below.
Color wheels are especially useful for aluminum trees since they usually are not strong enough to hold strands of Christmas lights and having warm lights on the tree branches themselves could present a fire hazard.
If you can't find a color wheel, a halogen light set on the floor and pointed at the tree will make it sparkle nicely too or you could try other spinning lights. I have a little disco spinning ball I picked up at a thrift shop that throws some fun light. Just don't place halogens too close to the tree as it can be a fire hazard.
Aluminum Tree With Color Wheel
The Color Wheel in a Darkened Room
Contemporary Aluminum Christmas Trees
If you find that hunting down the perfect vintage aluminum tree is proving too difficult and too expensive, or you just don't want to have to worry about the delicate maintenance they require, then a contemporary silver tree may just be the answer.
The truth is, an aluminum tree that is made today, decorated with the right vintage or retro Christmas decorations can look just as stunning as a tree that comes from the 1960s and it will likely be quite a bit less fragile.
Pack It Away Carefully
After Christmas is over be sure to pack up your tree carefully so it will be ready for next year. Most aluminum trees come with individual wrappers for each branch. It is a pretty good idea to use them for keeping the delicate branches protected while your tree is in storage.
Visit the Aluminum Christmas Tree Museum
The world-renowned Aluminum Tree & Aesthetically Challenged Seasonal Ornament Museum and Research Center (commonly known as ATOM) is on exhibit for the 3rd time at the Transylvania Heritage Museum. It will be open Wednesday through Saturday from Saturday, November 12 until Saturday, December 24 (except November 23rd through November 25th).
The Transylvania Heritage Museum in Brevard NC hosts the aluminum Christmas tree exhibit annually.
© 2008 Emma