This holiday season, a major revival is in full blossom in the realm of holiday decorating, art, and antiques. Many people have renewed the age-old custom of building and displaying miniature Victorian-style holiday villages in their homes. Young and old alike participate in the design of these traditional holiday decorations based on the old German markets of Thuringia.
Museum in Miniature
Today’s miniature village scapes derive from the miniature villages designed to adorn the table atop which the first holiday trees sat in the late 19th Century. Contemporary versions, though, feature varied tiers, miniature buildings, ersatz snow, and figurines galore. Many mini- holiday village installations rival the work of any professional museum exhibition designer. Enthusiastic holiday decorators may employ mini factory buildings of cardboard or lithographed tin to gumdrop pathways and chocolate bar rooftops. Many of the items in these displays were acquired from friends, family members and during flea market or yard sale shopping sprees over the months all in anticipation of the holiday season.
Made of cardboard and filled with candy, miniature holiday houses were initially used to decorate a table top beneath early Christmas trees. In the 19th Century, small block villages were manufactured in Germany for the world market. Along with the Christmas tree, Prince Albert of Great Britain introduced the Christmas village to the world based on Germany’s famed Christmas markets or villages, a tradition that dates back to the mid 1500s. The Thuringian Christmas or holiday markets grew into holiday fairs. Back then, the merchants offered necessities of the season including hand blown Lauschen ornaments, silver tinsel, and miniature architectural structures and innovative toys. Christmas markets and holiday villages were set up in German towns to provided citizens with the special needs of the season like regional crafts, gifts and specialty foods.
Originally intended as sets for display under the Christmas tree, miniature villages simulated winter wonderlands. In the early 20th Century, Christmas villages evolved with the popularity of toy towns and Lionel train sets. In America, cardboard candy containers and miniature tin houses were displayed beneath Christmas trees as early as the 1920s. By the 1930s, many toy and miniature building manufacturers including the toy train maker, Lionel, offered Christmas villages in sets of eight structures each. Why eight? That was the number of holiday lights on a circa 1920 string which would be hidden within each mini building. The set of eight little village buildings would create a suitably diverse holiday town complete with church, shoppes, and a few well-appointed homes.
By the post war years, miniature Christmas villages were produced from flocked cardboard in Germany, Japan, and the US. These printed villages could then be folded compactly for shipping and assembled upon arrival for display beneath the Christmas tree or on the family piano.
Little Houses/Big Money
Famous miniature “architectural firms” included the McLoughlin Brothers of New York and the Built-Rite Toys firm who teamed up with the Warren Paper Products Company to offer mini holiday town displays in the early decades of the 1900s. After World War II, Bachmann Brothers introduced the Plasticville line of miniature buildings to accompany model trains. Not to be confused with dollhouses, vintage miniature Christmas villages often command high prices at auction. For instance, a miniature village from the Bliss Company offered a lithographed cardboard pharmacy, opera house, bank, and post office and sold for $16,500.00. That’s big money for some little houses. While price is no object by 2007 standards, a Sears & Roebuck miniature Christmas village would have cost only 69 cents in 1934.
Now, miniature holiday villages are not only conversation pieces, but catalysts for friends and family to participate in the tradition by building their own decorative villages at home. Happy holidays.
Celebrity Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author, and award-winning TV personality, Dr. Lori presents antique appraisal events nationwide. To learn more about your antiques, visit www.DrLoriV.com, www.Facebook.com/DoctorLori or call (888) 431-1010.