Christmas Nostalgia: Putz Houses

You're probably giggling about the name. No, I am not referring to the Yiddish name for a fool or an idiot. I am making reference to a name of a decor - a German Christmas decor of little houses. The name, Putz (pronounced "puts") is a Pennsylvania-German term for: ornament, decoration, and finery.

Our parents or grandparents saw them at the "five and dime" department stores. In fact, on one that I own still has the original 19-cent price tag. At this time I have about a couple dozen, along with an assortment of the miniature "bottle brush" trees. Sometimes I scatter them around the house, and other times I clump an assortment together to create a "village." So, what is the history of these charming little cardboard houses and churches with the cellophane windows? 

A splash of pink on my mantle
America first started seeing these little pasteboard (cardboard) houses in the late 1920's in dime stores and in Sears and Roebuck, and Montgomery Ward catalogs. They would often come in little boxed sets with a mixture of various styles of these miniature houses, and even churches. In the late 1920's and early 1930's, they became very popular as the Japanese started creating them, and especially before the Occupied Japan era, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. It was after the attack the importing of the Putz houses from Japan were put to a halt. 

Tucked among my collection of bears ready for Christmas 
The creators of these miniature cardboard houses earned very little, but the detail they would put into these houses were colorful and whimsical using mercury glass beads, cellophane, mica flakes, and glass glitter.  These little houses would adorn mantles, Christmas trees, and even placed around electric toy trains. 

Today, these vintage little charmers are still available on places like eBay (be sure they are tagged as "vintage" and not "vintage-like" if you are wanting the originals), but you won't be paying the original "five and dime" prices for them. Prices have gone up, but considering their history and scarcity (due to being made of fragile materials), it makes sense. The good news is today they have been reproduced, and even patterns, kits, supplies, and even tutorials are available so you can make a collection for yourself to pass down for years to come.


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