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The Earliest Light Sets
Page Four


1912: This early outfit from the American Ever Ready Company is offered in a box quite typical of the outfits the company sold. It is an eight light set, without a junction box. The outfit includes two compartments to hold wire springs, used to attach the light sockets to the tree branches. This set is a bit unusual in that it includes these springs-most Ever Ready sets do not. The end view of the box shows the Eveready logo. This company later merged with The National Carbon Company, the same company still making Eveready batteries today. Inside the box shows the green porcelain sockets, the springs and lamps, and the screw plug connector.

1914: Here is a very early battery set of Christmas lights of unknown manufacturer. The box has no labels, nor any indication that it ever did. Someone has written on the cover "Very old lights- 1914." This collector agrees with the date, especially considering the wooden sockets were never painted green, an indicator of an early set. A look inside shows the round, carbon filament 6 volt lights, and the parallel wired festoon. This outfit lacks an on/off switch, another indicator of an early set. Outfits like these were powered from a 6 volt wet cell type battery, usually hidden under the table that the tree was sitting on. Remembering that this set has carbon filament lamps, it would have had a very heavy current draw, and a battery would have lasted just an hour or so in continuous use. 

ca 1916: A set of figural lamps imported by The Interstate Electric Novelty Company and trademarked Franco. The company was a major importer of figural lights in the early 1900s.This collector was quite lucky in that the original instruction booklet for the set was found underneath the cardboard insert that holds the lamps in place. Views of the cover and inside are shown here- the back of the booklet is totally blank. The figural lights include from left to right: a candle, peach, another candle, a monkey sitting on a log, a rose, another candle, a green frog and another rose. Inside, the box is stamped "Patent Pending the R.P.B Co." This is the box manufacturer, not the maker of the lights. The lamps are a mixture of German and Japanese origins. This collector believes that the outfit originally contained an all German assortment of lamps, with the Japanese lamps being later replacements. The set also illustrates an extremely early use of the "new" composition type sockets.
ca 1916: This set is a scarce outfit from the American Ever Ready Works of the National Carbon Company. Due to the name on the box, this outfit can be dated to the years after 1914 and before 1920. Another dating clue is the round tungsten exhaust tipped lamps made during the years of 1916-1919. Using these clues, and making the fairly safe assumption that the lamps are original to the outfit, the set can now easily be pinned down to a manufacture date between 1916 and 1919. Rarely does the collector have the opportunity to pin down a date so closely.  Inside the box, one can see the screw plug power tap, a green ceramic junction box, the two green ceramic festoons of eight lamps each, and the round, exhaust tipped tungsten filament lamps.  A close up view of one of the lamps in the set shows that the glass is heavily lacquered in red, which has held up surprisingly well, considering that it is at least 86 years old.
ca 1916:  A more typical battery outfit, this time with green painted wooden sockets and an on-off switch. The 6 volt set is by Diamond. Inside, we see the round, tungsten filament lamps and the parallel wired festoon. The white lamp, which is made of milk glass, is Japanese, and seems to be a replacement for an earlier burnt out lamp. All of the others in the set are American, with painted glass envelopes.
ca 1916:  By Peerless, this outfit is in a somewhat non-typical box, being a bit taller than most. Inside, there are eight early "tin can base" 16 volt hand painted lamps, and a festoon with green ceramic sockets. A close up of one of the lamps shows that the glass envelope is a bit larger than a typical lamp of the time. The lamps are marked with a patent date of 1902, which actually refers to Edison's patent concerning the base size (miniature) and thread spacing, not the entire light bulb itself.
ca 1917: Produced by the Triangle Electro Trading Company, this interesting set is called an "Auxiliary Outfit." The five socket string with a screw-in connector is meant to take the place of a single light bulb in an eight light series wired outfit. The lights are Celluloid, and were made into Christmas lights by various companies who converted simple German or Japanese toys. This set is missing two lights: a swan and a dog.  Celluloid is a compound made from nitrocellulose and camphor, generally considered one of the first plastics. The word "Celluloid" was actually a trademark of the Celluloid Manufacturing Company, and was registered in 1870. In the very early 1900s, many small German or Japanese toys and Putz animals were  made into figural Christmas lights like these. Most of these outfits were intended to be operated from battery power, but a few sets, (this outfit is one example), were made to be added on to a standard set of 8 series wired lights. Both series and parallel wired outfits are known to exist. Celluloid burns very easily and often suffered from spontaneous decomposition (accompanied by a strong smell of vinegar), and as a result the vast majority of these lights have been lost to the ages. One of the few remaining products made today from celluloid are ping pong balls.
ca 1917: Another interesting Celluloid outfit, this time by Betts & Betts, and sold under the name of Beso. This stand-alone outfit is powered by an unusual transformer device, reducing the voltage from 110 to 6. There are two festoons of eight lights each, and each festoon is wired in parallel, so that the failure of one or more lights does not affect the others. Instead of calling the lights Celluloid Figures, the company calls them simply Beso Non-Breakable Lamps.     


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