Sometimes, dating your lamps and boxed outfits can be difficult. Along with the identification of many early lighting outfits provided in the Gallery section of this site, I've decided to group together on these pages some information that will be helpful in determining at least a somewhat specific time frame for the manufacture of your electrical Christmas item. Everything will be presented in categories, and hopefully will be useful to the collector and hobbyist. Just click on any of the links below to jump to that specific section:



Some of what you will read on these pages appears elsewhere on this site, but for the sake of convenience I have chosen to put it here as well.


(Much of the information provided in this section on lamps is due to the hard work of Rick Delair, and is used here with his kind permission.)

In 1895, the Edison Electric Company offered the first popular miniature base lamps suitable for Christmas tree decorating. Most collectors refer to the shape of these straight sided exhaust tipped lamps as Edison pears, and also "balloons", "teardrops" or just simply "pears". These lamps used carbon filaments, and were made to run on various voltages, with the most common being 16 volts. The early lamps like these were rated for light output in candlepower (CP), and most were designated 1 or 2 CP. Typical characteristics of these earliest lamps are as follows:

A very prominent exhaust tip at the top of the lamp
A small round or oval paper sticker with the candlepower rating put on the outside envelope
A sharply-cut, turned brass threaded base
A black, horseshoe-shaped filament
A plaster, ceramic, black or red fiber insulator at the tip of the base

At first, these lamps were offered in clear glass, but colored lights soon followed with the introduction of red and green. Additional colors followed a bit later, including blue, amber, yellow, purple (rare) and milk glass. The collector can find these lamps that were made in the United States, as well as German and Japanese examples.

After about 1907, miniature Christmas lamps started being made with a black glass insulator at the tip of the base, and the vast majority were originating from Japan. The white paper candlepower rating on the glass envelopes was left off, and the country of origin was stamped into the brass base of the lamps. There are many color variations of these lamps available to the collector, and most of the major variations are pictured in the 1900-1920 section of this site. Lamps like this continued to be made until about 1915 or so. The collector will typically find that American and German made colored lamps from this period are painted while their Japanese counterparts are true colored glass.

Beginning in 1916, General Electric, the leading lamp manufacturer in the world, was selling their Christmas lamps with the new tungsten filament technology. Tungsten was a superior filament material, as it had none of the uneven burning disadvantages of carbon, and used far less current as well. The light output was whiter and brighter, and the filaments were cheaper to make. The envelope shape of the lamp was changing as well, as the manufacturing process would soon allow the delicate exhaust tip of the lamps to be hidden in the base where it would not be so easily damaged. The lamps were now round, and were technically referred to as a G-8 or G-9. The "G" stood for a globular shape, and the "8" or "9" stood for the size: 8/8th or 9/8th of an inch in diameter. See the Frequently Asked Questions section of this site for a more complete explanation of Christmas lamp sizes. Here is the breakdown of the evolution of the General Electric tungsten filament Christmas lamp:

1916 First use of tungsten for Christmas lamp filaments, round and with an exhaust tip. No markings, or simply MAZDA 14V stamped into the brass base.
1918 Tipless round tungsten filament Christmas lamps introduced. Same markings as above.
1919 The first smooth cone shaped lamps were sold, designed to imitate the shape of a candle flame. Markings on the lamps were in large letters around the glass envelope and read:  "G-E MAZDA  MADE IN USA."
1922 Fluted cone lamps introduced. Flutes are at an angle to each other and are shallowly molded. The GE marking on the glass reads: "G-E MAZDA   MADE IN USA". Pictured here is the "Snow Tip" paint variation.
1923 The straight fluted cones make their first appearance. Glass envelope size is a C-6 1/2. Markings read: "GE MAZDA   MADE IN USA".
1930 The smaller, true C-6 cones are introduced. Straight fluted, these lamps remained in production, virtually unchanged except for paint, until the 1970s. 
1934 The Mazda Detect-O lamp is introduced, and was sold for a period of about two years. Filled with a neon gas, it would glow  when burned out, enabling the owner to quickly locate the failed lamp on a darkened tree. Note the clear bottom to enable the user to see the glowing gas.

C-6 straight sided cone logo changes to a "stacked style":

1945 After World War II, General Electric discontinues the use of the MAZDA name on their lamps.
1949 General Electric switches from flat paint to a semi-gloss paint for their lamps. The colors are not as dark and rich as on the flat examples. The logo on the lamps reads simply "G-E"
1957 General Electric switches to a high gloss paint, and now uses aluminum rather than brass for their base material.
1959 The logo on the GE lamps changes to the famous "script in a circle" style, sometimes referred to by collectors as the "meatball logo".

The last year for the production of General Electric "C-6" lamps.





Here's a bit of information on the various light sockets that can be found on sets from several eras. Please remember that there are many variations of these sockets, and these illustrations are just a few examples of some of the most common styles to be found.

Wood Socket.jpg (7637 bytes) Rounded Compo Socket.jpg (6184 bytes) Mottled Compo Socket.jpg (7803 bytes) Composition Socket.jpg (6458 bytes)


1905-1915 1915-1935 1920-1927 1925-1930 1925-1935
Made of white glazed porcelain, this type of socket is by far the earliest. The example in the picture is from a parallel wired outfit, hence the four wires coming out of the bottom. Series wired outfits are far more common, with just two wires to each socket. You'll find this type of white sockets on pre-1905 sets. Next in line is the green glazed ceramic socket, used on outfits from 1905 to about 1915 or so. The green color was far more attractive on the tree than the white, but the ceramic was more shatter prone than the porcelain and was easily damaged. This is a wooden socket, used to my knowledge only on the battery powered outfits. Use of these sockets started in about 1915 and continued until 1935, when the battery sets were no longer manufactured. An early composition socket, this style is often confused with wood but is much heavier. Composition, the most common form of lighting socket found in sets from this era, was offered in many different shapes. It was the forerunner of today's modern plastic- sturdy and durable, but can be (and often was) damaged by excessive heat. It is almost always found in green and sometimes (but rarely) in red. A red and green mottled version of the socket described above. Mottling was popular through about 1940, and was also offered in Bakelite after 1928. The most commonly seen style of composition socket, this style was used until the mid 1930s, when Bakelite became the universal favorite for socket material..
Beginning in the late1930s, almost all lighting manufacturers were using black Bakelite as their socket material. This practice continued well into the 1950s, when the switchover began to the use of plastics.




1900-1915 Electrical wiring used in lighting strings from this era were predominately made of stranded copper with a green silk wrapped or braided cover. The silk can be identified by a slight shine or sheen to the material. Additionally, the wires in the cord set were separate, and were merely twisted together between each socket
1915-1930 This time period saw the use of green cotton covered stranded copper wiring. Also, the two wires in the cord set were wrapped together inside another cotton braided covering, keeping the set much neater than the separate wires of the preceding style.
1930-1941 Multicolored cotton covered wires were the norm here, and wiring from this era is much thinner than that offered in previous years. Sets made for outdoor use had heavier wire, which was lacquered for durability. Rubber wiring was also introduced for use outdoors, but did not become popular until after World War II.
1945-1950 These postwar years witnessed the changeover from cloth covered wires to vinyl, plastic and rubber coatings. The earliest vinyl wiring was red and green colored individual wires, twisted together. Plastic covered wiring from this era is quite stiff, and the rubber-coated wires were found to be quite short lived.
1950-Present Almost all wiring is now green in color, and made of stranded copper covered in various forms of vinyl.







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