Angels We Have Heard and Seen

aimee suzanne kruse-ross | angels | dec. 2016

Wisconsin's vintage holiday treasures

This special season comes once a year, and often, at the heart of all things nostalgic, are the holiday decorations that we've grown up with. Our great grandparents brought decorations from their home countries, and many were purchased right here in the United States. After the festivities, they were lovingly packed away in bits of wrinkled tissue paper year after year. Many were lost or broken and some even fell out of favor. But whatever the reason, many families continue the tradition of keeping the decorations of their ancestors, and may now be quite pleasantly surprised to learn that many of these ornaments are now highly sought after collectibles.

Since moving to Wisconsin five years ago, I have discovered that it is a state that is wealthy in terms of vintage holiday decorations. It's the Holy Grail, if you will, of vintage holiday and a mecca worth planning for, as Wisconsin's vintage has been a well-kept secret.

But that is changing. Many items are rapidly becoming sought-after. Those looking for the nostalgia of their childhood, or their parents' childhood, these items take them back to a time of youth, and of course, we all agree that most things of our youth were the best.

A porcelain angel by Holt HowardThis past year, my trusty sidekick and I were on a year-long quest to find the best vintage Christmas items. We looked for the shiniest, the most unusual, the delicate, anything that would make us stop dead in our tracks, and exclaim, “Oh my gosh! We have to get that!" A prevalent theme for the year was angels, as we have unearthed more than a dozen vintage holiday angels, all of various materials, ages and manufacture. Most of these are from Germany, but Japan and America also found their way into our collection.

So let's see what we found.

Likely part of a set of several, we found two tiny porcelain angels with fired glaze over bisque and heavily trimmed in 22-karat gold. These measure a scant 2-inches tall and are from 1950s. Manufacturers like Enesco, Napco, Relpo, Lipper & Mann, Inarco, Holt Howard, Commodore and PY made many of these porcelain beauties. Many of these porcelain figures were added to lighted, snowy landscapes atop mantles and tabletops, along with the additions of miniature sceneries with paper, snow-flocked houses, accented with loofah-sponge trees.

A Rauschgoldengel Doppelfolie of German manufactureNext up was a Rauschgoldengel Doppelfolie, or Golden Angel. These popular, and extremely elusive, tree toppers were made in Germany from the 1930s until the early 1950s. This angel is the traditional symbol of the world famous Christkindlesmarkt that takes place outdoors in the main square of Nuremberg each December. It is an event not to be missed as vendors, warmly dressed in mittens and mufflers, often holding a steaming mug of Gluvine to keep fingers warm, show off their finest holiday wares.

Rauschgold angels were made as far back as the 18th century, and were originally made with paper-thin sheets of pounded brass. This angel, in her original box and tied with her original waxed twine, is the first we've ever discovered in the wild. She is lavishly layered in colorful sheets of heavy aluminum foils, pleated to precision. She's also received additional accents of Dresden foil trims and hand-painted facial features. Her original sticker shows that this item originally cost five Deutschmarks.

The American version of a Rauschgold angel is by way of this stunning example, circa 1950 or 1960. Resplendent in metal foils, this angel epitomizes the Atomic Era, that period after the second war when metals were no longer rationed. She is constructed entirely of metal foils and paper. All the metallic components like the textured foils, punchinella, metallic millinery trims and pleated mesh, are all layered over cardboard. Her face is molded paper, with hand-painted details. To date, this is the tallest tree topper we've ever found. She measures 20" tall.

Koestal angels are another highly sought after item and, this year, we found six. Made in Germany, the angel's faces and hands were cast in wax after which facial details of the hair, lips and eyes were hand-painted to stunning realism. Hair was usually painted in metallic gold. The gowns on many Koestals were crafted from fine brocades, velvets, and metallic braids. In addition, many were trimmed with Dresden papers, and foil wings completed the look. Often Koestals either carried smaller Koestal children, banners of holiday sheet music, or exquisitely crafted hand-held metal lanterns.

Celluloid angel ornaments appeared and were manufactured in Europe during the 1950s. We managed to find one ornament. Most hail from Germany, and were made in dozens of poses including entire orchestras of musical angels spanning all gamut of instruments. You'll find these angels in numerous themes, some are floating on clouds of original curly angel hair, and some were made into candleholders for the table or mantle. Even tiny versions can be found, and most were used to decorate delicate, table-top feather trees.

As you can see, there are perhaps hundreds of items out there waiting for the collector to herd them into a collection. Start small, find what you like and have fun! There's nothing like opening your boxes of decorations each year, as you often forget the treasures that have been packed away. It is a delight each season when you unpack your decorations and review your new heirlooms. And please, keep those heirloom ornaments.

To all our Frankly readers, have a wonderful holiday season and a beautiful close to 2016.

Next year's Frankly Holiday Highlight will focus on vintage holiday items made exclusively in Wisconsin. Some examples are: Evergleam aluminum Christmas trees manufactured in Manitowoc, tin snow-sledding saucers and toys made by Sheboygan Toy Co., cast iron tree stands made by Brillion Iron Works, etc. As a head start, we just unearthed three cardboard boxes of original, lead tinsel from The Tinsel Factory in Sheboygan. You'll see that next year!

If you have a vintage holiday item that was manufactured in Wisconsin, and you'd like to see it featured in the 2017 holiday edition of Frankly Green Bay, please drop me a line at mverdi1996@gmail.com.

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