Feather Christmas Tree - A Treasure From the Past

By Gail Giaimo
Feather Christmas Tree


Decorate your home with a goose feather Christmas tree. The old-fashioned German feather trees are still popular today. Yes, it is actually true that the feather tree was the first artificial Christmas tree and they were originally made in Germany as early as 1845. Like many inventions, the tabletop feather tree came about out of necessity. By the mid-19th century, decorated Christmas trees were more popular than ever; however, in Germany deforestation was widespread, especially during the Christmas holiday season.




Feather Christmas TreeIt had become the fashion to chop off the tip of a large fir tree to use as a Christmas tree; however, this practice prevented the tree from growing taller and thus made it useless as a timber tree. Statutes were enacted to limit people from having more than one tree, hence protecting the forests. With the introduction of the "goosefeather" feather tree, this problem was resolved. Goose feathers were plentiful and these feather trees began to be produced as a cottage industry as the alternative to cutting a live tree. The goose feather tree became the first artificial Victorian Christmas tree. Metal wire or sticks were covered with goose, turkey, ostrich or swan feathers. The feather sticks were drilled into a larger one to resemble the branches on a tree; the feathers were often died green to imitate pine needles. The trees were made to resemble the locally growing white pines of the German forestland, so they had wide spaces between their branches, short "needles," and composition "berries" on the end of every branch tip.


German Feather Christmas Trees

Meanwhile in America, cut live trees were the cherished way to make the holiday come alive.  When the Germans immigrated to the United States, they took their beloved portable feather tree with them to use in their new homes. While it was the German immigrants that introduced the Victorian feather Christmas tree into the U.S., the practice of using artificial trees really did not take off in America until Sears Roebuck first advertised artificial trees for sale in their 1913 catalogs. Often they had berries and candleholders at the branch-tips and a round white base.  They ranged in size from 55 inches to 17 inches tall.  By the late teens, Japan followed suit and manufactured feather trees for the U.S. market.


Feather TreeFeather Tree Styles

In the 1920s the feather Christmas tree was gaining in popularity, especially to European-born Americans continuing to follow their customs. However, by the mid-1930s the feather tree popularity declined somewhat as the tree farm industry grew. In an effort to revive the market, Germany began supplying Montgomery Ward with a wider variety of color choices and fancier designs on the tree stands. Artificial trees all but disappeared during WWII. Then after the war, in the 1950s, feather trees were replaced by artificial Christmas trees made of synthetic substances, like visca and aluminum.  It's no small wonder why feather trees are now a popular decorating choice for people with period homes.



About Dresden Star Ornaments’ Feather Tree:

Glenn and I designed our own feather tree because we wanted a tree that would work better for displaying our hand-made Christmas ornaments than the feather tree that we had.  Antique trees were too flimsy and in poor shape; new trees were too narrow and did not have the features we wanted; so we designed a tree that took the best qualities of the old trees, but with better features to meet the needs of our Dresden Star Ornaments’ customers.

We have created our very own feather tree design, with all the wonderful qualities of the antique feather tree, but with more durability and bigger, sturdier bases. Each tree is handsomely handcrafted by master feather tree maker, Dennis Bauer, in the traditional German style. Branches are constructed with thicker diameter wire therefore able to handle heavy ornaments. Side branches are "staggered" for a natural look and are soldered to main branches so they stay in place. Branches are plentiful and bottom branches are wider for a fuller, more natural look. Delicate authentic composition berries grace every branch-tip and are hand-rubbed to a rich dark-red. Bases are large and sturdy, and much less apt to tip. They are constructed in solid wood, and are hand-painted with a gold accent stripe and antiqued finish. Soft goose feathers are hand-picked and hand-dyed with variations in color to look like antique feathers. The feather Christmas trees are 44 inches tall -- perfect for a parlor table!

Photos courtesy of Dresden Star Ornaments. Visit the Dresden Star Ornaments web site to see their many handmade Christmas ornaments, feather Christmas trees, antique and vintage putz for under the tree, antique and vintage Christmas accessories, antique and vintage tree fences, adjustable brass ornament stands, Santas and more. Dresden Star Ornaments www.victorianornaments.com