PRE-ELECTRIC ERA VINTAGE
LIGHT SET GALLERIES RELATED
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
CONSTRUCTION CORDS AND
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
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:
||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.
||Tipless round tungsten filament
Christmas lamps introduced. Same markings as above.
||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."
||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.
||The straight fluted cones make
their first appearance. Glass envelope size is a C-6 1/2. Markings
read: "GE MAZDA MADE IN USA".
||The smaller, true C-6 cones are
introduced. Straight fluted, these lamps remained in production,
virtually unchanged except for paint, until the 1970s.
||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":
||After World War II,
General Electric discontinues the use of the MAZDA name on their lamps.
||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
||General Electric switches to a
high gloss paint, and now uses aluminum rather than brass for their
||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.
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CORDS AND SOCKETS
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.
| 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
|| 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
|| 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.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE
ELECTRICAL CORD USED IN CHRISTMAS LIGHTING
||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
||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
||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.
||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
||Almost all wiring is now green
in color, and made of stranded copper covered in various forms of vinyl.
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