Light Up the Lights …Or Not

One of the first vintage Christmas items I ever accumulated was a string of vintage lights that had belonged to my great grandparents. I always thought it was so cool with its tiny matte-finished, faceted, screw-in bulbs. For safety reasons, the string was eventually discarded, but I couldn’t bring myself to toss those tiny old lightbulbs, so I saved them in a little box packed away with my ornaments. Over the years I’ve found many more old lights to keep those orphan bulbs company.

I love finding light sets in their original boxes, especially ones that have never even been out of the box. I used to be of the mindset that vintage Christmas items needed to be in use as intended to be displayed, but the boxes themselves are so cool that I like to just set them around the house as decorations in their own right.


These mid-1950s Kristal Lights by Noma are my absolute favorites. I found these last year at an estate sale and I literally had to crawl on my hands and knees four feet under a staircase just to retrieve them. How they stayed in such great condition in such a terrible place I’ll never know. They were either used very gingerly and replaced in their box or, more likely, never even used at all. All of the bulbs, boxes and strings are pristine condition. I have to fight myself not to actually use them. The colors are so fun, I really do wish there was a modern equivalent.

Going back a few more years, these Paramount lights are from the 1930s. With colorful art deco packaging and flame-shaped bulbs, these sophisticated lights have never been out of their boxes even once. Their waxy cloth-wrapped wiring is still arranged as it was when they were packed at the factory over 70 years ago—and each set even comes with its original spare bulb! 


I found these Noma lights from the late 1950s just last weekend while out with Tammy and Angela. Although the graphics might make you think they were older, there are a few things that give away their age. These strings are equipped with safety washers that prevent tree trimmings from becoming lodged in the sockets, preventing fires. Safety features and precautions didn’t really start showing up until the late 1950s and 1960s. The cords are also vinyl covered rather than cloth, meaning they are 1950s or newer. But the biggest tell was probably the date stamp on the inside flap of the box displaying 1958 as the production year. Occasionally vintage things make it easy on us.

Although I’ve kept the loose bulbs around in boxes and bags for years, I never quite knew what to do with them. Tammy, being the Christmas decor trailblazer that she is, decided to just throw them in a bowl for decoration—and they looked cool. Really cool. So, I’m going to idea thief that one and vintage bulbs will be making their debut in my Christmas decorations this year.

Included in that will be these original Noma bubble light bulbs. Several of these are burned out, but they’ll look just as cool sitting about as they are. I’ve seen people place them in candelabras and use the working ones that way, but be warned: the aging plastic doesn’t respond well to heat and I’ve seen many of them melt completely once lit after a 60 year hiatus.

Although vintage lights are cool, it’s not a good idea to attempt to use them as you would new lights. First and foremost, the wiring is old and the shielding may not hold up to operating temperatures, making it a bit of a fire hazard. Plus the bulbs are old and the filaments and paint are fragile, not to mention quite hard to replace. I like to take mine from time to time and quickly plug them in, still in the box, just to see them glow for a moment. If you do choose to use them, use them supervised and only for very short periods of time.

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