Whirligig Christmas

Antique Candle-Powered Chimes


Eric Holzenberg collects and researches candle-power Christmas-themed chimes, such as those produced in Germany and Sweden in the early 20th century. In 2003, he provided several pages of information on these delightful decorations to George Nelson, for him to publish on his Old Christmas Lights Museum web page. Sadly, George's site closed down in late 2009. Fortunately, Eric retained the original files, and he has completed an extensive revision and expansion of his own pages. We are pleased to present them here.

A Note About the Photos: Clicking on Eric's photos will display a larger version, generally 800 pixels high (the width depends on the subject matter). On some computers, your browser will shrink this "blowup:" a bit to make it fit on the page. In this case, you'll see a little magnifying glass icon when you "mouse over" the photo. Clicking on the "blowup" will show its true maximum resolution so you can examine the details. If you need a higher-resolution version, say for a magazine article, please contact Eric Holzenberg directly.

All of the information and pictures in this section of The Antique Christmas Light Site © 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 by the author, Eric Holzenberg. All rights reserved.
Please contact the author HERE before quoting large sections of or borrowing pictures from this or any other section or page of this web site.




Introduction & History

"The Candles burn, the angels turn"

or those of us who grew up with them, candle chimes — or "angel chimes" as they are popularly known in English-speaking countries — blend light, motion and sound in a captivating and uniquely seasonal way. To a child they are magical; but all angel chimes work on the same relatively simple physical principle: lighted candles create a warm updraft of air, which moves an impeller carrying small clappers; as the impeller rotates, the clappers ring a set of chimes. Most of candle chimes were intended as Christmas decorations, and seasonal figures — particularly angels — are dominant in the design, either as ornaments, or as supports for the clappers or some other part of the apparatus. Angels are also prominent in the names of these toys: "Angel Chimes" in English, “Engelgeläute” in German, Änglaspelet” in Scandinavia, and “Enkelikellot” (a term derived directly from the German “Engelgeläute”), “los angelitos” in Spanish-speaking countries, and “carillon des anges” in France. However, the term "angel chimes" in whatever language derives not from the design of these toys, but from an ancient popular legend that on Christmas Eve bells throughout the world are rung by angels announcing the birth of the Christ Child. The legend was revived in Europe in the nineteenth century, and many pious poems and stories about it survive from that period. The earliest “Engelgeläute” take their name from that now-forgotten sentimental tale, and were originally designed specifically to evoke it. 

So much for the name. As for the object itself, one ancestor of the physical angel chime is the German pyramide (left), a candle-powered revolving wooden Christmas toy made in the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) region of Germany from at least the mid-nineteenth century. This descends in turn from the stationary wooden pyramid set up at Christmas in some German homes since the Middle Ages (a modern reconstruction is shown below right). The triangular shape of these “pyramides” represented the Trinity, and they were often decorated with candles (symbolizing Christ as the light of the world), the Star of Bethlehem, and other ornaments. The ancient custom of the decorated wooden pyramid is known to have survived well into modern times, and it appears to have morphed, first into the hand-made candle-powered revolving wooden “pyramide,” and later into the sturdier, mass-produced tin or brass toys we know today as “angel chimes.” (Incidentally, the stationary medieval pyramide is also an ancestor of our Christmas tree.) Another and more direct ancestor of the modern angel chime is the candle-powered metal whirligig used either as an ornament in the boughs of the Christmas tree, or as a tree-topper. The ad below, which shows examples of both, is from a German periodical of the early twentieth century.

But how did these whirligig gadgets develop into the familiar angel chimes of today? Who designed the first angel chimes, and when and where were they made? Since World War II most metal candle chimes have been manufactured in Sweden, and some makers of modern "Swedish Angel Chimes" would like you to believe that their product is “an exact replica of a beautiful old Swedish original.” It's an intriguing claim, and conveniently vague, in that nobody has ever seen the "beautiful old Swedish original” referred to. The American firm of Holt Howard put forward an even more dubious origin for its line of angel chimes:  “Many years ago in the kingdom of Bavaria, a devoted troubadour fashioned the first Angel-abra. Presented to the beautiful, young Princess Anna along with the lavish gifts of Knights and Nobles, the troubadour’s offering captured the fancy of the happy Princess and became her most prized possession.” Although the story is pure invention, naming Bavaria as the place of origin for the angel chime is at least in the ballpark, geographically. In fact, this type of candle chime, its design, and its modern name, can be traced with certainty to the Westphalian  city of Solingen, to the specific year of 1905, and to the particular manufacturing firm of Adrian & Stock.  

More Pictures and Information Follow in the Gallery:


Introduction & History


Gallery Page One

Adrian & Stock and the Origins of the "Angel Chime"


Gallery Page Two

Other Pre-WWII Chimes


Gallery Page Three

"Swedish Pattern" and Other Post-WWII Angel Chimes



Please note: the chimes illustrated on this site are from the author's personal collection, and they are not for sale. For those wanting to buy
particular chimes illustrated here, eBay is the best source. The author welcomes comments, additions and corrections, particularly information on manufacturers and variant models, as well as advertisements and entries
in contemporary catalogs.

Eric Holzenberg