Wednesday, January 06, 2010

129-130 (2010 #4-#5). Christmas Collector's Guides

These two Christmas collector's guides are by Robert Brenner. I borrowed them via interlibrary loan to research outdoor Christmas decorations for 1910 through the 1940s, as mentioned in my previous post.

Christmas:1940-1959 : A Collector's Guide to Decorations and Customs is a "revised 2nd edition" with 2004-2005 prices, according to the author's website. The book is profusely illustrated with gorgeous full-color photographs of ornaments, decorations, and other Christmas paraphernalia and ephemera, as well as nostalgic black-and-white period photographs. Interestingly, many of the latter have prices listed in the captions.

The text, however, is nearly impossible to read. The font used in the book is very small. Sentences are repeated in nearly identical format on the same page, often in adjacent paragraphs. Apparently the proofreading was very poor, as every time the phrase "after the war" appears, "after" is capitalized, irregardless of its position in the sentence. Finally, there are many detailed descriptions of items that are not illustrated, which is frustrating.

The organization of the book adds further to its tediousness. After an introductory section on "Our European Past," divided by decades from 1850 to 1939, the book has two chapters, one on the 1940s and one on the 1950s. Each chapter covers the same topics - historical perspectives, cards and paper, trees and decorations under them, European and American influences on glass ornaments, other tree decorations, how homes were decorated, and indoor and outdoor lighting. However, since there weren't that many changes from one decade to the next, there is a lot of repetition. Although there are no footnotes or endnotes, there is a references cited list at the end of the book, as well as a two-page index.

This edition of Christmas Past: A Collector's Guide to its History and Decorations was published in 1985. That (and the referrals to East and West Germany) immediately dates the price guide at the end of the book, but that was of little interest to me anyway.

The 216-page book has 14 chapters, also well-illustrated with black-and-white and full-color photographs of ornaments and other decorations, as well as black-and-white period photographs. Most of the latter appear in the first two chapters, on the evolution of Christmas celebrations and "The Christmas Tree and What Lies Under It," and are quite interesting in and of themselves. These two chapters also benefit from numerous quotations (most footnoted) of personal Christmas memories from various places and times.

The next eight chapters cover various categories of tree decorations (Christbaumschmuk in German), ranging from "miscellaneous" (why this is covered first is not clear) to three chapters on glass ornaments alone, divided into time eras. Then there are a chapter each on "early" tree lighting (i.e. candle holders and counterweights) and electric lighting. The latter chapter gets a bit technical, but it's fascinating to see the different kinds of decorative bulbs (such as bubble lights) manufactured over the years.

The 13th chapter, on "Ornaments - Stories Behind Them and How to Disply Them," is quite interesting. This is followed by a chapter on dating and repair of ornaments, the footnotes (16, although the numbering in the text skips from 15 to 17), short bibliography, and two-page index.

Overall there are fewer proofreading errors in this book and it is more readable, although the font again is very small. I would have liked to see a short glossary (with illustrations for examples) defining terms such as "Mazda" lights, Dresdens, kugels, chromos, and "Venetian Dew" (tiny glass beads applied as a glitter). Once again, there are many detailed descriptions of items that are either not illustrated at all, or there are no references to the matching illustrations.

[These books were both obtained via interlibrary loan from various libraries around the country, and are being returned to them tomorrow.]

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