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The Earliest Light Sets
Page Two





A- This circa 1906 set from Empire is quite rare in that it is a 14 light set that is parallel wired rather than series wired. Each of the lamps in this outfit are rated for 120 volts, and burn at an extremely high temperature. Sets of this type were often as dangerous as the candles they were replacing due to these high temperatures.

B- A close up of the label on the end of the box.

C- A look inside the box shows the 120 volt lamps and the festoon. Note the junction box as well, allowing additional festoons to be added to easily expand the light set.


A- A very hard to find outfit offered for sale in 1906 by T.H. Bullock and Company, predominately a department store window fixture company. The company advertised two different outfits as being available: Outfit No. 1 with 24 colored lamps and a 50ft. cord for $11.00, and the outfit pictured here which is No. 2, with a 35 ft. cord and 16 colored lamps with a selling price of $9.50. (The set actually includes 2 spare lamps, for a total of 18, which was common practice at the time). 

B- A look inside the box reveals that the string was manufactured by General Electric, as evidenced by the round, barrel type junction box and typical green ceramic sockets sold by GE at the time. It is probable that T.H. Bullock and Company purchased boxed outfits from GE, and had them house-branded with their name. General Electric did not sell lighting outfits directly to the public, but through distributors, which were mainly local electric distributing concerns and independent hardware stores.

C- With the festoon removed from the box, the lamps can now be seen. The set retains 10 of the original lamps, which are the ones with flaking paint. The remainder are Japanese imported lamps, of true colored glass.



A- An eight light set of Santa Claus Electric Candles by the Jaeger Company, circa 1906. The size of this box is unusual in that it is considerably smaller than wooden outfit boxes, most likely due to the fact that the set features only the one festoon of lights. Label reads "Copyright 1906 by Mugler Engraving Company."

B- A close up view of the end label on the box, featuring three children in period clothing.

C- Inside the box, one can see the small lamp compartment, the green ceramic sockets and the white screw plug for attaching to the light fixture. No junction box is evident on this outfit, indicating that was one of the less expensive kits not designed to be expanded.


Entire Outfit as Found Box With Lid Close-Up of Box Instructions Junction Box Detail Porcelain Socket Detail
Kindly shared with us from the collection of Jeff Beights, this recent discovery might well explain why The American Electrical Novelty and Manufacturing Company did not promote Christmas lighting outfits in their catalogs of the time. The set, circa 1906, is clearly marked with the AENMC name on both ends of the box, and even includes a unique porcelain junction box bearing the Ever Ready name. However, this set was actually produced by the General Electric Company, and, except for the company name, was offered in a container identical to the GE light set sold at the same time. Note that the instructions (detail above) have even had the General Electric company name crudely cut out after the label had been applied. Also note that the name of the reseller, a P.W.A. Middleton of Bedford, Pennsylvania, has been rubber stamped onto the label. This crude alteration, coupled with the fact that this is the second of only two semi-complete sets discovered so far, suggest that the outfit was made in extremely limited quantities. Originally, the set included three festoon of eight sockets each, and twenty-eight pear shaped carbon filament lamps. This collector would like to sincerely thanks Jeff for his kindness and generosity in sharing his discovery with the rest of us!



A NOTE ON DATING YOUR LIGHTING OUTFITS FROM THIS 1900-1920 ERA: While nothing can guarantee absolute accuracy when dating any set of Christmas lights and there will always be exceptions, this collector uses a few guidelines applicable to 1920 and earlier Christmas lights:

   -White porcelain sockets are older than are the green ceramic ones, but evidence is beginning to show that the two styles were used concurrently, with the white being discontinued after the first year or so.

   -Green composition sockets are the latest, and almost certainly date to use during World War I (1917 and later)

   -Sets in wooden boxes were made until about 1913 or so, then the industry transitioned to cardboard containers

   -As we move closer to the 1920 cutoff, the cardboard used in containers becomes a bit thinner

   -Cardboard containers from this era have lift-off lids, never flip up (attached) tops

   -All lighting sets from this era originally came with screw plug type of power connector

   -Generally speaking, the electric wires used in these lighting outfits were much heavier than those commonly used after 1920


Heavy White or Green Glazed Porcelain
Green Glazed Ceramic
(used on Battery Sets)
Green Composition
Heavy Green Composition
 Green/red mottled Composition

The evolution of the series-type sockets. Time frames overlap due to parallel production periods. After 1930 or so, Bakelite sockets were used almost exclusively.



Carbon filament 1900-1910
pear shape
Carbon filament 1910-1916
round shape
Tungsten filament 1916-1919
round shape
Tungsten filament 1920-
smooth cone shape

The earliest lighting outfits utilized simple miniature versions of Edison's carbon filament lamps. While effective, carbon filaments had several disadvantages, among them a large current draw and uneven light output from lamp to lamp. Another disadvantage of the pear shaped carbon filament lamps was their fragile pointed tops, formed when exhausting the air out of the glass envelope. These points are known as exhaust tips. During routine handling in a string of lights, the tips were prone to breaking off, thus making the lamps inoperable when the vacuum was lost.

In 1910, General Electric, by far America's largest miniature lamp manufacturer, changed the design of their miniature Christmas bulbs, making them perfectly round in shape. The lamps still utilized carbon filaments. By 1916, GE introduced tungsten filaments in their Christmas lamps, selling them under the Mazda trademarked name.
CLICK HERE for more on the Mazda lamp story. For a more detailed story of early Christmas light bulbs presented on this site, CLICK HERE.

Tungsten is a superior filament material, burning cooler, longer, using far less current and providing a consistent light output from lamp to lamp. The earliest of these round tungsten filament lamps still had the exhaust tip, but by 1916, the tip had been moved to the bottom of the glass envelope, and was now contained within the screw base part of the unit.

In 1920, GE again changed their lamp style, this time making it a cone or flame shape. This basic form was to remain in use until the late 1970s.



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