Dear Helaine and Joe:
I recently purchased this interesting tree stand at a local thrift shop. I am curious about its history and current replacement value. It is made of a heavy metal and is missing one arm.
K. C., San Antonio, Texas
Dear K. C.:
It is said that the Christmas tree originated in Protestant homes in Germany and Livonia (modern Estonia and Latvia) in the 16th century.
There is also the charming legend that the lighted Christmas tree originated when the 16th century Protestant firebrand Martin Luther was walking home on a cold winter’s night. It is said that he saw the stars sparkling through the branches of the evergreens, and this inspired the wiring of candles onto the boughs of Christmas trees.
Christmas in general and Christmas trees in particular had a slow start in the United States. The Puritans were against the special celebration of Christmas. In fact, it was an offense punishable with jail time if a person celebrated Christmas in any way other than by going to church. The first Christmas tree is said to have appeared in North America in 1781 at a party held by Hessian soldiers in Quebec, Canada.
Christmas trees did not widely appear in American homes until the 1830s, but it was images of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert around the Christmas tree at Windsor castle that pushed the custom over the top. But putting a large tree in a private home raised some issues beyond the candles burning the house down.
In the 19th century, finding a support system for holding a Christmas tree upright was a challenge. The first supports were usually flat boards or cross-shaped props, but a bit later some Christmas trees were placed in pots or boxes, and the ugly old dirt that filled the containers to support the trees was covered with rocks, moss, paper or nuts.
In 1876, Herman Albrecht and Abram C. Mott of Philadelphia patented and subsequently manufactured a Christmas tree stand that was based on the design for flag stands. The Albrecht and Mott stands were not signed, but those of Martin Merk were signed. These hard-to-find stands carry his name and an 1891 patent date.
Such stands were expensive at the time, and many used homemade stands (and buckets full of coal). The tree stand in today’s question appears to have been homemade from sheet iron and then hand-painted. Based on the clothing and features, the Santa figure appears to be Continental European in origin and dates from the early 20th century.
If K. C. finds the missing arm offensive or makes the stand unusable, he might find someone to repair it properly in the same aesthetic. The missing arm does affect the monetary value, but even if the repair is done properly and seamlessly, the value will not increase all that much. This is a wonderful one-of-a-kind piece that should be treasured by K. C. and his family for generations to come. Currently, the insurance replacement value is in the $400 to $500 range.