Lighting Outfits: 1900-1920,  page 2


The National Ever Ready Company issued this outfit around 1910, using green porcelain sockets. Although a bit misleading, the term "electric candles" was used in the early years to help people unfamiliar with the product understand its use. The term is particularly inappropriate with this set as the round lamps are a far cry from the candles people were used to. The outfit was obtained from an 97 year old hardware store owner, who reported that this particular set was provided free of charge to his father, in the hopes of enticing him to sell the outfits in his stores. (The marketing ploy apparently worked). The Santa pictured on the cover and the inside label is from a Thomas Nast illustration. Santa Claus Label.jpg (25481 bytes) Santa Claus Electric Candles.jpg (26795 bytes) Round Carbons close up.jpg (15063 bytes)
Manufactured by USALITE, this outfit utilizes round carbon filament lamps as well and has a handy add-on connector (later patented as " Tachon") at the end of the string. It dates circa 1918. USA 1 outside.jpg (20740 bytes) USA 1 inside.jpg (27274 bytes) Single round carbon.jpg (6942 bytes)


A rare box of German replacement candle shaped lamps. For a very brief time around 1912, several manufacturers offered these lamps in their outfits in an attempt to switch traditional "candle decorators" over to the new electric lights. Although quite pretty, these delicate lamps broke easily, and probably did more harm than good in convincing a skeptical public about the virtues of electric tree lighting. These 2 lamps have managed to survive the years and still function quite well.

German Replacement Candles.jpg (14459 bytes)

A trio of Ever Ready balanced pine cone colored glass lamps. Actually made in Germany and imported by The Ever Ready Company, colored glass lamps did not have the flaking paint problem of their flashed or painted counterparts, and are stunningly beautiful when lighted. A disadvantage of these lamps was their cost-about twice that of typical painted bulbs. Coloring the glass was expensive, especially in traditional red, as in the early days real gold was used to obtain the ruby red coloring. The set is circa 1912.

Ever Ready Replacement Pinecone lamps.jpg (18735 bytes)

These Santa Claus brand lamps are the painted, carbon filament type. Due to the fact that the box specifies a carbon filament, this can help us date these to after about 1917, when tungsten lamps were also available. It was not a good idea to mix carbon and tungsten filament lamps on the same string, as the two types had very different electrical resistances. Mixed operation would cause early burnouts.

German Santa Carbons.jpg (15899 bytes)

Here is a group of painted carbon filament lamps from Japan. Painted lamps had one advantage over the colored glass bulbs in that the paint was more translucent, thereby allowing the filament to be a bit dimmer than in the colored glass variety. True colored glass lamps can be very dark (especially in red and green), and when operating, most have about half of the light output of painted bulbs. Circa 1915-1920.

Carbon Group.jpg (9506 bytes)


This 1918 outfit by ISCO Products is a typical economy outfit of the very late teens. Having no provision for adding additional lighting sets, it is intended to decorate a table top sized tree. I had not heard of the ISCO company before the discovery of this set-more research needs to be done. The outfit includes Japanese colored glass carbon filament lamps and a porcelain screw-in current tap. ISCO outside.jpg (52241 bytes)
ISCO Label.jpg (17720 bytes)
ISCO inside.jpg (29623 bytes)


This is the cover from an outfit offered by the Marshall Field & Company department store. The kit is an example of an 18 lamp festoon. Each string has 9 sockets connected to the porcelain junction box. This box allows the addition of more lighting festoons if needed. A look inside the box shows two lamp compartments, each holding 10 bulbs. The outfit contains two spare lamps, a common practice in the early 1900s. Marshall Field Festoon outside.jpg (237207 bytes)
Marshal Field Festoon end label.jpg (37682 bytes)
Marshall Field Festoon inside.jpg (33159 bytes)


An interesting outfit, this set is made to run off of a 6 volt storage battery. The directions specify the use of an automobile or tractor battery, or one of the "newly introduced" radio batteries. Most commonly used in homes not yet wired for electricity, the set uses eight 6 volt lamps. It has a crude little on/off switch made of green composition, and the wires end in metal terminals that seem to be made for radio battery use. The light sockets in this set are made of green painted wood, and this outfit is circa 1918. Battery Set label.jpg (26300 bytes)
Here is a close up of one of the lamps in this outfit. It is a "flat sided" shape unlike its 15 volt cousins. The carbon filaments of these bulbs draw a considerable amount of current, and one had to be careful not to run down the car or tractor battery! Battery Lamp.jpg (4139 bytes)
A view of the inside of the box. Outfits like this were available with either all clear or all colored lamps.
Battery Set inside.jpg (46274 bytes)


A view of the outside of a box by the Henry W. McCandless Company showing the typical "Holly" pattern of paper used by several companies to decorate the outside of their boxes.  This same paper can be found on outfits by Propp, Ever Ready, and USALITE. Use of this paper usually indicates an early outfit. This set is circa 1915. McCandless outside.jpg (140570 bytes)
The end of the box, showing the label. It is unusual for Christmas lighting outfits not to include lamps, but this set is plainly marked "without lamps". Additionally, it seems that this same box was used for many different combinations of sets, as the words "without lamps" and the socket count are both stamped in blue ink rather than printed. Perhaps the smaller outfits included lamps, but this large set fills the whole box, leaving room for little else. McCandless end.jpg (156271 bytes)
Inside the box is a very typical festoon of the early 1900s showing the porcelain connector box that allowed additional strings of sockets to be added. Most add-on strings were 8 socket units, but occasionally it is possible to find 9 socket strings. The example picture here has three strings of 8 sockets for a total of 24.  McCandless inside.jpg (28792 bytes)
Here's a picture of the festoon out of the box, showing the tree strings connected to the junction box, as well as the power cord and screw-in connector.  Triple Festoon.jpg (234859 bytes)


Figural Christmas lights first became available in America in 1909, and in 1910 the November 12th edition of Scientific American Magazine carried this small article on the new lights, transcribed here in its entirety:


"The electrically lighted tree is now a feature of the holidays in many homes. This year, some new kinds of miniature incandescent lamps are available which should make the electrically lighted Christmas tree more artistic and beautiful than ever. The bulbs of the new lamps, instead of being mere "pocket editions" of the ordinary incandescent bulb, are shaped and colored to resemble fruit, flowers, birds and animals. Commercially, they are classified under five heads (sic), as follows:"

1. Small fruit: including apple, blackberry, gooseberry, lemon, mulberry, orange pear, peach and strawberry.

2. Large fruit: including apple. orange, peach and pear. 

3. Nuts: including acorn, pine cone and walnut.

4. Flowers: including lily, rose and thistle.

5. Animals: including canary, clown, dog, owl, snow man, and Santa Claus.

"It is doubtless somewhat embarrassing to Santa Claus to be classified as an 'animal', but there seems to be no alternative. The bulbs are colored by hand with waterproof paints by professional toy makers. The realistic effect is considerably heightened when the lamps are lighted. As far as the base and filaments are concerned, the miniature incandescents are just like the conventional decorative lamps used in the past (and still available) for Christmas tree illumination. They have 3/8 inch miniature screw bases, and are designed to be burned eight in series on circuits of from 100 to 120 volts. By using a bell ringing transformer they may be burned in multiple, but while the arrangement has the advantage that the burnout of a single lamps does not extinguish others, the cost of equipment is considerably greater than with the series system. The bulbs contain one candlepower filaments, but the coloring material absorbs a large percentage of the light and softens the remainder by diffusion. Whether festooned on the Christmas tree or used to decorate the room or table, these fascinating little lamps add a touch of light and color that harmonizes with the yuletide spirit."


Figural, or "Fancy Lamps" as they were first called, were at first sold individually, usually out of boxes of 20 or 24 on the store keeper's counter. Occasionally, a complete boxed set of 8 or more matching bulbs would be offered, but the cost would be prohibitive. The first figurals sold for more than twice the price of a standard Christmas lamp. Below are some pictures of the earliest of these figural lamps. All of the lamps with the exception of the countertop box are circa 1910. The box is circa 1920.

Songbird- The exhaust tip for this lamp is the beak Figural Songbird.jpg (22423 bytes)
Large pear- The flaking paint on this example is typical of the problems with these early lamps Figural Large Pear.jpg (51756 bytes)
Clown- The exhaust tip on this example is the tip of the clown's hat Figural Tipped Clown.jpg (66089 bytes)
A typical 1920s countertop box of figural lamps Fancy Lamps.jpg (33562 bytes)
Large mulberry Figural Mulberry.jpg (56032 bytes)
A beautifully painted angel Figural Angel.jpg (81009 bytes)
Lily Figural Lilly.jpg (55219 bytes)

1900-1920 continues...





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