The beginning, Wood and cardboard
It is very likely that the idea of setting up houses with Christmas dates from the last century. German and Czechoslovak immigrants in America placed representations of buildings and figures during the Christmas period, carefully hand made of wood and called these “villages” Putz .., actually a German collective name for everything that you can decorate. These Putz were quite similar to the traditional nativity scene and usually consisted of a farm, church, sheep and shepherds. Exported to images from their native country. This tradition did not go unnoticed ..
Around 1860 the Butler brothers were one of the first with a mail order company in America. By importing their merchandise from all over the world via trade travelers, they were able to offer their many items cheaply. These gentlemen were later responsible for the so-called “Five and Dime” stores that had to compete with the advancing department stores. Hence the name “penny and dime” store.
At that time there was a lot of traveling to get trade from, among others, Europe. One of these traders was F.W.Woolworth. During one of his many European trade travels, F.W. Woolworth in 1890 in the German town of Thuringia, where he became acquainted with, among other things, the glass industry that Germany was already rich at the time. He saw many glass ornaments there, especially for the Christmas party. A trial shipment directly led to a long-term, reliable relationship and many shipments followed their way to America. Germany and Christmas were now mentioned in the same breath. The homemade wooden houses that were so popular among German immigrants were also made in Germany at an affordable price and imported for the “Five and Dime” stores of the Butler brothers.
When the Christmas tree became more popular, these villages were also placed under the tree from now on. The familiarity of these houses increased, and in Germany meanwhile more and more was made for the United States. Around the turn of the century they even brought houses to the market with lots of details such as trellises and flower boxes. These details unfortunately made mass production impossible and the industry turned mainly on manual labor. The first world war, however, changed a whole lot. Many years before America was involved in the struggle, the flow of goods to America was already slowly being closed and eventually completely shut down.
The “St. Louis Christmas catalog”, an American magazine, showed still images of houses and figurines imported from Germany in 1920. It was not until 1929 that the same catalog reported a series of eleven houses and a church made of cardboard.
This form was more suitable for production and at the time of the “Five and Dime” stores as a set in box including figurines cost about one dollar. In his search for other purchasing channels for the “Five and Dime” stores because of the war, F.W. Woolworth also in Japan and there told about the success of the imported Christmas houses. Japan jumped around this growing market around 1930 and brought complete cardboard sets of 8 houses for 59 cents including snow on the roofs, and the first with an opening for the lights of the Christmas lights.
later China and Taiwan also followed with cardboard villages. Milled coconut was painted as snow in the paint and trees of sisal were added.
From around 1940, the sets were also produced in America itself, from cheaper brown cardboard at a retail price of 69 cents. These cardboard sets remained until about 1960. The history of the now “high-tech” Japan mentions nothing more about these houses as if they were ashamed of this simple form of production …
The handmade “Putz” and the cardboard sets from then, have been the base for the Christmas villages of today.
“We can hold such an object in our hands and know those times were real, and welcome back whole parts of who we were into who we are … and let the inner child in each of us out to play again” Papa Ted ( Ted Althof), largest collector of Putz from the US – died at the age of 71 in 2012