Vintage charm

Published 2:31 am Sunday, December 7, 2008

Postally used” are not words that are tossed around in general conversation, but Ann Howard tosses them quite often.

According to Webster, “postally used” applies to a postage stamp that has been cancelled in the normal course of postal business, rather than to devalue it for sale to collectors.

Howard’s interest in postally used stamps has less to do with the stamps than it does with the postcards that were given flight via the little licked ticket to travel.

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Howard collects postcards from the early 1900s. She has about 5,000 of them and, of those, about 1,000 are Christmas postcards.

At Christmastime, she takes selected postcards from safekeeping, ties ribbons to them and hangs them on her Christmas tree.

The tree is adorned with about 350 postcards and many other vintage ornaments that she had collected through the years. Each ornament is attached to the tree with a bow and a memory.

“I’ve been collecting Christmas ornaments since I was a child,” Howard said. “I was so fascinated by the bubble lights that my grandmother had on the tree that I’ve never gotten over it. And, I loved going to the V.J. Elmore dime store with my mother and buying ornaments.

“Back then, you could buy individual ornaments for like five cents or two for a nickel if you didn’t get the fancy ones. But if you bought a nickel ornament, you had gotten the top of the line. You could get ornaments in boxes, too, but my favorites were the individual ornaments in the little bins with glass sides. I loved Christmas decorations and ornaments then and I still do.”

For Howard, the Christmas postcards are just another facet of the Christmas collecting that began with those shiny, glass ornaments from the dime store.

“I’ve been collecting vintage Christmas cards for a long time,” she said. “They’re all from the late 1800s and early 1900s, and I find them at different places like antique shops and on the Internet. Some have been given to me. But they all depict how Christmas was a long time ago and how we imagine that Christmas should be.”

Many of the Christmas cards have notes written on the back and Howard said she enjoys reading the Christmas greetings and well wishes that were extended a hundred years or more ago.

“Back years ago, people often didn’t have a nickel to buy Christmas ornaments so they made them,” she said. “They made scrap and tinsel ornaments. They took pieces of paper – or scrap –and decorated them with glitter and tinsel to make pretty ornaments for the Christmas tree. And, they would also cut Christmas motifs off Christmas cards and from magazines and make ornaments from them by adding glitter or tinsel. The process was much like we used to do in Bible school.”

Taking a cue from those “vintage” methods of making ornaments shine and sparkle, Howard adds glitter and tinsel to the postcards that she uses to decorate her family Christmas tree.

Each year, Howard has a thousand postcard ornaments from which to choose. She hangs them on the tree until she can’t find another empty spot to hold one.

“I don’t have a favorite postcard,” she said. “They are all so pretty and so interesting. It would be hard to pick a favorite. They are all my favorites. (It’s) kind of like your children: You don’t have a favorite; you love them all.”

Even though Howard doesn’t have a favorite vintage Christmas postcard, she does have a favorite ornament. It’s a simple little glass bell that is easily lost among the many vintage dime store ornaments that adorn the tree.

“It’s a simple little bell with a glass clapper,” Howard said. “You just don’t see those anymore, and it’s a very special ornament and my favorite.”

As much as Howard enjoys decorating her family Christmas tree with vintage ornaments, she might enjoy sharing that love of old Christmas with others even more. For that reason, she agreed to share her vintage Christmas ornament collection with the public through the Johnson Center for the Arts’ “Christmas Tree Extravaganza,” which is the featured exhibit at the Center through the Christmas season.

On the Square Antiques in Troy sponsors one of 12 trees that are displayed at the Christmas Tree Extravaganza, and it is decorated with many of Howard’s ornaments.

“Gail Thompson at On the Square Antiques did much of the decorating,” Howard said. “She hand-glittered the Christmas postcards that we chose to use as ornaments and put the ribbons on,” Howard said. “We also used many of the vintage glass ornaments and about 400 feet of garland and wood and glass beads. The tree is topped with an angel with a paper face and a dress made of angel hair.”

Beneath the tree is an 1880s Victorian rocking chair and a doll bed from the same period.

Teddy bears add a special touch to the vintage Christmas that has been recreated for the enjoyment of all of those who visit the Johnson Center for the Arts.

There are 11 other trees donated by Terra Cotta Home and Outdoor Market that have been decorated for the Christmas season. Everyone is invited to visit the Johnson Center for the Arts on East Walnut Street in Troy and enjoy the spectacular display of Christmas trees. Admission is free.