Antique, retro and collectible Christmas ornaments enhance decorations

December 3, 2007

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

Antique Christmas decorations are fun to collect because there are so many different types. There are ornaments that hang on Christmas trees. There are decorations that sit on a mantel or tabletop. There are decorations that start as common household items from long ago, but are turned into Christmas decorations with a few simple embellishments.

The Little Red Hen, an occasional store in Dassel, has many antiques or collectibles that became Christmas decorations when candles, ribbon and sprigs of greenery are added, said Brenda Rydberg, operator and owner of Little Red Hen.

In the front of the store, along Atlantic Avenue, Rydberg filled an old wood box with evergreen boughs. She also entwined a garland and a string of little white lights among the spindles of a section of white porch railing.

Inside the store she has a pair of old ice skates tied up with greenery and ribbon to make a wall-hanging Christmas decoration.

Another collection idea is to group antique Christmas decorations.

“Put like colors together,” Rydberg said.

For example, Rydberg starts with an antique bowl or plate, and then fills it with old-style ball Christmas tree ornaments and a few sprigs of greenery.

She also groups Christmas items that are not necessarily decorations by themselves. Rydberg collected old records and books about Christmas and arranged them in a group in a pleasing design.

Another way to display Christmas decorations is to use an antique backdrop, such as a headboard from an old bed. If the cardboard box the antique tree ornaments came in is still in good condition, the ornaments can be placed in the box’s compartments in a pleasing arrangement, she said.

Rydberg also has several stand-alone Christmas decorations from long ago. Her favorite is an electric candle. Little Red Hen also has an aluminum pom-pom tree from the ‘50s, a vintage Christmas tin, and a pair of red wool Santa pants.

One of the more unusual Christmas items is a music box covered with wax, she said.

The next Little Red Hen occasional sale will be Saturday, Dec. 15 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. After Christmas, there will be her usual end-of-the-month sale, Thursday through Saturday, Dec. 27-29, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Donna Rae Larson of The Mansion in Dassel also has a favorite antique Christmas item. It is a cast iron Christmas tree stand that dates to the 1880s.

She bought it at a garage sale at a farm house. The stand’s three legs are hinged on one end and have two sharp prongs on the other end. The legs do double duty. Not only do they hold up the metal cup in which the tree is placed, but also grasp the sides of the tree trunk.

“That tree stand is amazing,” Larson said.

Larson’s all-time favorite, though, were some plug-in metal bells from the 1940s that played tunes. Unfortunately, she sold them last Christmas, and now she wishes she had kept them.

Larson said most of the antique, eclectic or collectible Christmas decorations at the Mansion come from ordinary garage sales.

She has a Santa Claus sleigh made of tin from the early 1900s, she pointed out.

The Mansion also has a collection of mugs molded in the shape of Santa’s head that date from the 1930s to the 1960s. One of the mugs has both Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus’ faces on it.

Many of the best Christmas collectibles are dishes. Larson has peppermint-themed dessert plates and wine glasses with delicate winter landscapes painted on them.

Larson also has some items from her own grandmother, such as a Teddy bear made from Christmas fabric in the 1950s. Her grandmother also gave her a tiny sleigh pulled by two reindeer that dates from the 1920s. It’s so fragile, Larson tries not to handle it too often.

The Mansion will be open every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Saturday, Dec. 22, so people will have a chance to see the Christmas decorations. The Mansion also will host an open house Saturday, Dec. 15 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.