Sharon Karluk Miller felt as if her family was the hippest on the block in her Chartiers Township neighborhood when they assembled their shiny aluminum Christmas tree, a style that was all the rage in the 1960s.
“I think growing up if your family had one they were the coolest and most modern family,” said Miller, about what had to be a George Jetson-inspired look in an era when many traditions were being reinvented.
“It’s our most-favored Christmas decoration,” said Miller, who now lives in Ohio.
The fireproof trees have a “spectacular ethereal beauty,” according to an old Alcoa pamphlet offering instructions on how to decorate them and includes a pattern to make aluminum butterfly ornaments. The tree style was invented in 1959 by the Aluminum Specialty Co. of Manitowoc, Wis., and it soon became a staple at Christmastime in 1960s America, the Pittsburgh-based company states on a website of innovative ideas.
While the tree’s popularity dropped off by the 1970s as they became negatively associated with the overcommercialization of Christmas, they are in demand today by collectors of vintage products. People who grew up with them now want one for sentimental reasons, local antiques dealers said.
“You used to be able to pick them up for $20 to $40 apiece. Those days a long over,” said Rhonda Jaquay, owner of Tim’s Secret Treasures, an antiques and collectibles store in Charleroi. “People want to relive that era.”
She had one such 5-foot tree selling for $150 last week, and it had its original color wheel and rotating base. Others sell on eBay for nearly $500 and companies offer reproductions for $800 or more online.
Inez Gilotty, owner of Main Street Antiques in Monongahela, said she used to always have two or three tinsel trees in her store, but they are becoming more difficult to find.
“People threw them away,” Gilotty said.
Miller, however, has held onto her family’s tree and hopes it gets handed down to future generations.
“Some of the aluminum has fallen off the branches, but it is still as beautiful as I remember setting it up as a teenager,” she said.
“It has been a backdrop in many Christmas portraits with friends and family.”
Nina Ward of Washington has the aluminum tree her father bought in 1962 when she was young, but it had not been put up for about 40 years – until this year.
“It was one of the first artificial trees that came out. My dad got it because it was supposed to be better for fires. We were able to keep the lights on all night,” she remembered.
Her children urged her to put it up as something different for her grandchildren. “It was really … really nostalgic,” she said. The treee spins around, lights, plays music – it has a music box. It was really special to put up. It brings back a lot of good memories.”