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Vintage Aluminum Christmas Trees

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Emma wants you to get the most out of your holidays all throughout the year and loves to help you come up with new holiday traditions.

A Beautiful Vintage Aluminum Christmas Tree

A Beautiful Vintage Aluminum Christmas Tree

A Retro Christmas Tradition

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.

Vintage Ad for Reynolds Aluminum Christmas Tree

Vintage Ad for Reynolds Aluminum Christmas Tree

A Marketing Campaign Gains Traction

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 '70s, 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 and consignment stores. antique shops and garage sales are 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 a while, 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 three and four feet high, meaning it can sit on a tabletop or a bay windowsill, so the smaller ornaments look really cute on the tree.

My vintage tree is about three feet tall. It's perfect to fit on top of a table.

My vintage tree is about three feet tall. It's perfect to fit on top of a table.

Don't Use String Lights

Lights present a fire hazard with an aluminum tree. The branches are frequently too delicate to hold 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.

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Christmas Color Wheel

Christmas Color Wheel

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 of 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.

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 to keep the delicate branches protected while your tree is in storage.

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).

— Transylvania Heritage Museum website

© 2008 Emma


Rebecca Graf from Wisconsin on December 23, 2008:

I grew up with live trees every year so I never knew what an aluminum tree was until I saw Charlie Brown. Still didn't believe they existed until my famiily was talking about seeing them in the stores. Wow! You learn something every day. Don't know if I want one still but I would be interested in seeing on up close.

Stacie L on November 18, 2008:

my best friend family had one of these.There was a color wheel that turned and a spotlight on it.It changed colors every 5 minutes. I prefer the real thing.:)

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