Note: This is an archive of "Papa" Ted Althof's online tribute to cardboard Christmas "putz" houses and their history. At Ted's request, this archive was established in early 2012. Except for critical updates and announcements, it will remain as Ted left it in October, 2012.
For more information, please scroll to the bottom of the page.

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Christmas store window 1920 photo 1920
to the1920's

Christmas 1923 store window Washington, D.C.
A classic '20s storefront! This is the Sport Mart at 1303 F St. N.W., Dec. 1923 in Washington D.C.
Christmas store window vintage Lionel 
trains 1923
Here you see a portion of the Lionel "Early Period" line as it was between 1919 and 1924 - as they were displayed and sold in their Day. Lionel began transitioning to a whole new line and look of trains in 1924. "0" gauge trains in the foreground - one Standard Gauge set in the rear. And just look at all the other great toys in this window!
That's no cap-gun in the center, either!

Click here for giant, high-res blowup

Master View of the Store

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1920s Christmas store window photo
Another storefront, same era. That's Lionel's largest 0 gauge train set prior to 1924, but missing one car.
Click here for blowup
Notice the odd-looking early Christmas lights strung across the top of the window with the exhaust-tip bulbs. These are either carbon filament or the very earliest of the tungsten types, putting this picture earlier than the one above. This is also in Washington DC - photo dated 1921.
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Christmas tree and family 1923
This is the Dickey family of Washington, D.C. in 1923. Mr. Dickey was a prominent attorney.
> Blowup

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Early 1920s Christmas tree and putz
Hauck Family. No other information available.


This same picture turned up colorized. Whoever did this did an amazing job, but I preserve the black and white version because whoever did it could have had no way of knowing the original colors of all those ornaments and so on.
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Christmas tree and family 1921
The Dickey family again - 1921.

1921 Santa in airplane TB drive publicity
1921. Remember Santa in space ships in the '50s? This is a publicity shot for a TB drive. Before we had penecillin, TB was the AIDS of Pre WW II days. Terribly contagious, you could pick it up from a pay phone or at the movies. Drives went on incessantly.


radio apparatus 1922
Dec.19, 1922 - Washington, D.C.: Rep. Vincent Morrison Brennan, R.-Michigan, eavesdrops on House proceedings via modern, convenient AM radio.

Christmas tree and family 1929
The Dickey family again - 1929.
That wind-up tin ship on the floor is to die for with collectors. They fetch prices beyond those of the rarest old trains today because guess what? They were meant to float on water and most have long since rusted out or were sunk! - but true works of beauty in their day.
All hand-soldered, hand-painted construction.

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Christmas tree and elborate putz early 1920s
There are early 1920s lights on the tree, a pair of Lionel cars with what looks an Ives engine but no tender, so it couldn't have been coupled to those cars. A MARVELOUSLY crafted putz with working waterway, waterwheel and fountain -
- but as you see -
- no cardboard houses.
George Barkhausen family.


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boy with 1920s Erector set
Dated 1924. "1,000 Toys in One."


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antique Christmas garden display

Although this photo was labled "1947," I didn't believe it. That Lionel train and everything else I see are early 1920s. But in the blowup you can see an Auburn rubber toy car - definitely 1940s -the only giveaway. I'm leaving the picture here, anyway.

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1920s Macy's Santa unloading truck
1920s Macy's Santa with kids

Scrutinize the kids. Some seem to have dirty faces, but really their cheeks are chapped by the cold outside and the dry hot air of steam heat indoors. A common problem in those days that was taken as normal. This is Macy's in New York - 1925.

1920s Christmas postal dead letter office
Christmas in the Postal Dead-Letter Office. Also 1925.
1921 Christmas store window Oldsmobile
An Oldsmobile dealership in 1921 - down the chimney and out!

Saks Fifth Avenue 1920 Christmas store 
Speaking of Christmas windows .. Saks Fifth Avenue, Dec 1920.
Sorry, PETA: Those were very different times.

Christmas party Volunteers of America 1925
Here's a fun Christmas party ..Volunteers of America - 1925.

Christmas tree and family 1921
Unidentified family - 1921.
Their facial expressions seem as dead as that poor tree. Scarcely a needle left on it.

1921 James J. Davis Secretary of State
Christmas at home

Christmas 1921 for the James J. Davis family of Washington DC. The boy seems mystified as to why that big Pullman car floor toy won't fit on the American Flyer "O" gauge track. A rather modest Christmas for the U.S. Secretary of Labor under Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover, wouldn't you say?

Kid with Christmas presents 1921
Dorsey family "Best Christmas Ever" -1922

Lionel Christmas train 1928
A modest, but very tidy putz dated 1928 with a Lionel #253 engine pulling two "Classic Period" 610 cars.... and for the first time - a couple of very small Japanese cardboard houses! And don't you love the little "penny-toy" cars and trucks? Some of those could even have been Cracker Jack prizes. I can remember getting neat little metal toys from Cracker Jacks in the 40s. The prizes must have been even better in the '20s.
Those street lights are very simple bent and straight metal tubes on metal dish bases that came in sets of 8, as they were really a C-6 light-string in disguise. They were very inexpensive compared with the fancy Lionel and Ives train accessories and are still often found. Some say they were "Noma," but i don't know.

Another Blowup

1923 putz, tree and 
Dec 16,1923: Don Manuel Tellez -"Charge de Affairs" of Mexico - and family. The little girl is "Emily."

Did i say the "first Japanese cardboard houses" in the previous photo? What are these little houses all over the Tellez's putz? Gosh, i wish the quality were better!
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vintage Lionel train Christmas display photo
(New Dec 2009 This one was sent by Rob Shoeberlein of the Maryland state Archives with the vague date reference that it was taken before the 1920s, but there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is sometime between 1918 and the mid '20s. The boy's costume is a dead give away to the early Twenties, but mainly it's the train makes me certain. That's Lionel's humble #33 locomotive pulling three humble #100 series Standard Gauge freight cars. The #114 boxcar has been added to Lionel's smallest starter set #37. It still has just the circle of track that came with that set. ( 42" diameter circle for size reference.) Production of this "Early Period" style ceased in 1923. We see also see that the locomotive's headlight has been replaced with a C-6 Christmas light cone bulb, as often happened with the old trains because they fit the same sockets, and those style bulbs were not available pre WW I. We also see three of Lionel's street lights - two #58s and one #57 "Broadway." These streetlamps were available from the mid teens to the 1950s, but not that kind of train. These early sets were rather tinny and poorly engineered, but nevertheless expensive!" That set without the boxcar sold for $18.50 - that's easily the equivalent of $250 today - and came with no transformer. There were too many different kinds of power across the country to include a transformer that would work for everyone, in those days, and many homes had no electricity at all. My late Uncle Jim Sutter had the passenger version of this set as a kid, and ran it from a car battery. The acid ate a hole through Grandma's rug and into the floor and we heard the story of it every Christmas ever after.

Lionel Standard gauge set in Christmas display
Here's a larger Lionel set from the same period. The #50 locomotive shown pulling #35, #35, #36 cars was only made in 1923 and '24 - a medium sized Early-Period engine, one of two to feature the new, improved "Super Motor," which was to power Lionel's golden "Classic Period" beginning one year later and continuing to about 1937. This picture gives a good idea how BIG this gauge of trains was, and it's by no means the largest model.


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1920 Christmas display 
"A Keen Christmas - 1920:" The Christmas tree of Mrs. A.M.Keen, ca. 1920. Washington, D.C.- Harris & Ewing glass negative.
We have Howard Lamey to thank for spotting this one among the photo archives. A remarkable display! The trains, telegraph poles and lamp posts are German. It appears to be a small Bing or Karl Bubb 0 gauge set of charming European style. Of particular interest is the lower track down on the floor. Enclosed within another charming Dent cast-iron fence, this type of two-rail track with wooden ties is characteristic of the very earliest kind of electric trains. Setting them up was not for kids!You got a box of pre-cut ties with slits in them and flexible strips of steel rail which you had to push down into the slits. Lionel's earliest trains -between 1902 and about 1908 used this kind of track 2 7/8" wide. This track is narrower at 2", and marked an advance in that it came sectional, as I have just been informed, and that is definitely not a Lionel engine on it. I have never seen that little steeple-cab engine. I guessed Bing or Bubb or even Maerklin, but I just don't know. All the train stuff is pre WW I. In those early times, several manufacurers made running models of the strange little mining trains - now extremely rare - that hauled coal out of the ground, and so a mine is what we have here - complete with croquet players? Is that real dirt on the floor? It's not unheard of in early putzing ....

We have a marvelous blow-up of this one ...


This putz could be from earlier than the Twenties. There is nothing in it except the minature light bulbs that could not go back to 1900, but even those bulbs are of very early types - doubtless carbon filaments with the exhaust tips exposed on top.

We have a catalogue page identifying that mysterious, strange locomotive going in and out of those tunnels on the floor.
Howard Trains mining locomotive
It's by an all-but-forgotten American train maker - name of "Howard Electric Trains"
In business from only 1904 to 1910, HOWARD was the first to have operating electric headlights on toy electric train engines. Their trains were quite high-quality and sturdy for the times. Each piece came in a dovetailed, slide-top wooden box. The track was sectional, but of a doomed 2" gauge. Talk about rare! Train collector Dave McEntarfer who sent this and several other vintage pictures tells me that just 3 are still known to exist. It ran on 4 big dry cell batteries or 3 2-volt wet cells. It isn't possible to tell which year this page is from because HOWARD had the exact same catalog for all 6 of its years.


Rob Shoeberlein has done it again. To follow are three more vintage Christmas displays whose train contents date them surely between 1924 and the Early '30s... the Lionel "Classic Period." They are three different displays appearing to be from three different houses.
1920s Lionel train display
This is the stuff that train collectors dreams are made of. We have a big Lionel #402 or #402E (remote control reverse) standard gauge twin-motor locomotive pulling it's matched set of passenger cars #419,#418,and #490 - the size of big picnic bread loaves and with little swivel parlor seats inside. Flagship Set #403 or 403E in the 1924 through 1926 catalogs and continued throughout the decade.
On the other end of the track, some freight cars have been added to the big set - the giant, unwieldly #219 crane and three of the smaller 500 series freights. On the inside track are a couple of Lionel's pre-1924 smaller 0 gauge trains. Behind the big #403 set is Lionel's grand and massive #840 power station, which can only be likened to a tin wedding cake. And the whole rest of the layout is just loaded with Lionel bungalos, villas and other buildings, accessories and lamposts. That appears to be a small German station in the right foreground ...Bing, perhaps.

1920s Lionel train display
These trains are of the Lionel "Classic Period," also, but there is no standard gauge here. They have two #251 or 251E boxcab electric passenger and one freight. This engine and the passenger cars are rather hard to find, having been only made for a few years in the late '20s and are rather large for the 0 gauge track. The layout is packed with Lionel tin villas and bungalos and some other houses that appear to be made of wood. Note that extremely elaborate train control console on the right! It is comprised of lionel knife-switches and rheostats and etc, but this is a custom job and seems to be massive overkill for running just two trains. I'd bet the farm this set was in the home of an electrical engineer...

1920s Lionel train display
I like this one-train dogbone layout with it's three trees! It has charm. The train is headed by a Lionel #10 or #10E engine, Lionel's second smallest Classic Period standard gauge engine , the #8 being the smallest. That set usually has three cars... combine, pullman and observation. I only see two, here. We see a Lionel metal bungalo on the left - probably a #184 - and the widely found Lionel #122, not #124 station on the right. The difference was that the #124 had external light fixtures in addition to a light inside. Otherwise, both were identical and of standard gauge size and sold for decades. And we see a couple of automatic signals and some other things. And again we have a very strange control box on the left - if in fact that's what it was. It could be a box to contain batteries and speed controls - if the house had no electric There seem to be no lights on the trees. But then - it may have nothing to do with the train at all. To tell you the truth - I have no idea what that thing is. Another proudly home-made contraption? Radio? A quack medical machine? But I suspect it worked the train.
Of interest is that complicated stuff behind the bungalo on the left. That's a toy stationary steam engine apparently belted up to some wheels and pulleys to animate something - I see a little German tin windmill and pond, perhaps with a little fountain - and perhaps it's to pass for the local power station as well.

1924 Christmas tree photo
A Christmas in Toledo - 1924

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strange old Victorian house at Christmas

Not much Christmas showing, but this picture is dated Dec. 1921, Washington DC - a house built in 1876. Can you imagine the interior of such a place, of having Christmas in it?
Better yet -
The negative is damaged, but I just had to include it.

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Early 1920s Christmas tree and putz
A Christmas 1920 - Washington, D.C. - Blowup showing exquisite detail.

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CHRISTMASES of the 1930s


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Copyright 2000-2012 Theodore H. Althof,Jr.Except where noted, the contents of this website and all it's pages and submissions therein contained are the intellectual property of Theodore H.Althof,Jr. All rights are reserved. (Background musical selections are,of course, excepted.)

This archive was set up at Ted's request in early 2012, and, except for critical updates and
announcements, will remain as Ted left it in October, 2012.
The archive is kept online with the help of volunteers from the following affiliated sites and resources:
- Christmas Memories and Collectibles -
Visit the FamilyChristmasOnline site. Visit our collection of resources for collecting, restoring, and making your own cardboard Christmas houses. Return to the OldChristmasTreeLights Welcome page Visit Howard Lamey's glitterhouse gallery, with free project plans, graphics, and instructions. Visit Papa Ted Althof's extensive history and collection of putz houses, the largest and most complete such resource on the Internet. Craft and collectibles blog with local news of Croton NY.
- Family Activities and Crafts -
Click to see reviews of our favorite family-friendly Christmas movies. Free, Family-Friendly Christmas Stories Decorate your tree the old-fashioned way with these kid-friendly projects. Free plans and instructions for starting a hobby building vintage-style cardboard Christmas houses. Free building projects for your vintage railroad or Christmas village. Click to find free, family-friendly Christmas poems and - in some cases - their stories.
- Trains and Hobbies -
Visit the Internet's largest resource on choosing and displaying Christmas trains. Visit Lionel Trains. Click to see Thomas Kinkaded-inspired Holiday Trains and Villages.
Learn about backyard railroading with Family Garden Trains
Click to see HO scale trains with your favorite team's colors.
Resources for O gauge and On30 model railroading
- Music -
Carols of many countries, including music, lyrics, and the story behind the songs Wax recordings from the early 1900s, mostly collected by George Nelson.  Download them all for a 'period' album.
Best-loved railroad songs and the stories behind them.
Heartland-inspired music, history, and acoustic instrument tips. Own a guitar, banjo, or mandolin?  Want to play an instrument?  Tips to save you money and time, and keep your instrument playable.
The struggles and influences of early Jesus Musicians and others who laid the groundwork for the Christian music and worship that is part of our lives today.