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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to the 1930s.

Having trouble finding Christmas pictures from the '30s, so if you have old family photos from this time, they'd certainly be appreciated!

Again - large-scale blowups will not be available for many of these, but are included
if they were to be had.
homeless men 1938 Christmas New York
New York - January 1938. "Unemployed Workers." Tree left from Xmas 1937.
Probably they just acquired this as an after-Christmas castway.
Every one of these fellas was a kid, once, and had a real Christmas.
Now they're just trying to keep their ears from freezing,
- but they have a Christmas tree!
Oh, the power Christmas has ...

Kid writing to Santa 1937

Letter to Santa? Homework? This picture came with a bit of confusion about the date. One source said 1927. No way! Another said '37. More likely. Someone else said they can see a 1941 Calendar on the wall. If so, I may have to move this one, but I can't make those numbers out, can you?

first Rockefeller Center Christmas tree
The first Rockefeller Center Christmas tree: - 1931.

1937 house Christmas illumination
Dated 1937. No other information, except in those days
every one of those bulbs consumed 9 watts! Add 'em up ....

girl with Christmas tree 1930

Christmas 1930 for a little girl named Norma Horydczak.

Christmas Main Street Spencer Iowa 1936
December,1936: - Spencer, Iowa. Note the lavish downtown Christmas lighting.
Well, it is the Depression ...

Boy with 1932 Lionel 
Christmas train

Christmas 1931-'32 for a boy with one of Lionel's first "0" gauge steam engine train sets.Looks like a #262 & T with 607,607,608 cars.

1930 Christmas tree and putz
A picture of a picture of a putz by a family named Schaffer - 1930.
Oh, I'd love to have a blow-up of this one!

1934 Christmas tree and putz
The Schaffers, again, in 1934
A Lionel #8 Standard Gauge boxcab engine is pulling its string of #332,#337,#338 passenger cars. This is Lionel's smallest Standard Gauge engine of the period, but even so - note how it dwarfs the 0 gauge Chicago American Flyer station and how much wider the track is than the regular 0 Gauge track above. Wish I could see what's on that track above, but I do see lots of '30s Japanese cardboard houses, and we have two types of those Noma stamped-steel street lights and the ubiquitous German twig fencing again.

The grand old "Standard Gauge," 2 1/4" wide, declined in favor of the familiar 35 mm "0" gauge from about the mid-'30s to The War. By 1939 they were selling only the track items and it was not revived postwar. However, as collector interest soared in the '60s, '70s and '80s, it has been revived and you can buy brand new track and trains in that gigantic old tinplate gauge again. In fact, more companies are making more tinplate trains right now than ever in the "Hay-days."

1930s Christmas car display
And interesting layout in which someone had cars moving around "tracks," instead of the usual trains - decades before the advent of slot-cars. It must have been compiicated underneath! The Plasticville fence around the perimeter shows this picture had to be taken in the '40s, but the rest of it is from the '30s. The cardboard houses definitely Pre War. After all that work you saved such a platform and put that same mechanized marvel up year after year.
I bet it made a lot of noise!


1950s Christmas tree photo
Remaining in the vein of elaborate home-made Christmas technology, "Grandpa" made this base to slowly turn the tree with complex electric slip-rings that permitted 6 circuits to revolve without getting all twisted up. I can see them... those metallic concentric circles with live house current exposed. Whew! Have they been lucky all these years! I wasn't sure where to put this picture. The archive source dates it "1950," and, indeed, we can clearly see those Noma 1950s illuminated plastic Santas everywhere. The contributor says his Grandpa made that base and other things many years before and so far - so good. My guess is he made that illuminated fence as well. He says that revolving tree base is still working - and he still uses it.

1930s girl with Christmas tree & putz
An unknown little girl by her tree in the early '30s. I've got a couple of those Noma electric tree-toppers. Remember those construction-paper chains and "Japanese lanterns" we used to make in school and at home while we had the measles?
vintage Christmas display photo
(New Dec. 2009)Rob Shoeberlein of the Maryland State Archives contributed this. His information on it was vague and seemed to indicate pre WW I, but I think it's later. Someone went to an immense amount of highly skilled effort in the construction. All of that train track was beautifully and meticulously laid by hand - the individual wooden ties tell the tale, and I believe it is the huge old 2 1/4" wide "Standard Gauge" track, because I see a Lionel #80 semaphore signal in the foreground, and those are 15" tall. This could even be from the '30s, because one saw more of this sort of handmade track, then, in the interest of acheiving realism and the houses seem to be the sort of realistic "0" scale model railroad kits
that were widely available, then. That's why I think that this is from the Thirties.
Gee, I sure wish we could see the trains!

vintage Christmas display 
(New Dec.2009)Another sent by Rob this year. It would have fooled me unless Rob himself hadn't looked up that tin lithographed firehouse in the rear left corner, because everything else in this tightly-packed little putz - and on the tree as well -could be traced back to 1900 and before. Rob found the firehouse listed in toy catalogs of the 1930s and, indeed, the style betrays it. Here we find it all surrounded by a lovely Dent cast iron fence. That little lamp post by the gate is French. I have one in my own collection. The mold-cast metal base is hollow and holds lamp oil. Yes, it's lighted by a tiny flame and the delicate "glass" panels are "isingglass," or mica. It's clear from this that someone was keeping an antique style of Christmas in the 1930s.
I kinda wish they hadn't added that firehouse ...

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Christmas shoppers 1940 Providence, RI
Dec., 1940: Providence, Rhode Island. A store front.
Christmas store front in Proveidnce, RI 1940
Another storefront in 1940 Providence. Things seem to be looking up, a little.
Providence store front
A 1940 Providence store from the inside looking out.
Look at that woman's hat! Is that a faucet on top?
What is that?

Woodstock, Vermont Christmas 1940
Woodstock, Vermont: Christmas 1940. This is slightly colorized,but the clarity and brilliance of it just takes my breath away. The snow. Those cars. The cold serenity. This is what Christmas looked like when I still believed in Santa Claus.

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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.