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Putz Houses Are Perfectly Charming for the Holidays

Mixing the charm of vintage putz houses with today’s decorations creates a magical Christmas display.

When I was helping one of my daughters with her home decoration for the holidays just the other day, I asked her if she had any putz houses. She had a spot in her kitchen where one would be the perfect touch.

These sparkle coated cardboard houses were once a common part of Christmas decoration. Often used with train displays or under the family tree, the little houses were inexpensive paper buildings that looked like they were covered with snow.

Today these pretty little houses are treasured by vintage enthusiasts. Referred to as putz houses, the little structures became popular in the early part of the 20th century and continued to be found in dime stores through the 1960s.

Thought to be a Moravian Dutch tradition, it seems that the snow covered houses, churches and public buildings were meant to resemble a charming town, ready for Christmas. The snow was actually mica, a crystal mineral that creates a magical sugary look to the colored houses.

The nativity scene was at the heart of this tradition that recreated Jesus’ birth in a homey way with the little homes surrounding a nativity. Other Europeans copied the Moravians and developed their own distinctive creche scene tradition and many of these included villages, surrounding the Holy Family.

In the United States, the villages often included skating scenes, country churches, town squares, houses, picket fences and trains.

Fur trees made out of bottlebrushes also are often part of the vintage putz scenes, which are generally placed on top cotton covered platforms to create the perfect snowy landscape.

House windows were covered in colored cellophane and the houses allowed for lights to be added through holes in the back of each small house, making a warm glow.

These cute little putz houses are again popular and you can find new cardboard villages that duplicate the originals from the 1900s, complete with accessories. These new sets are reproduction copies; so if you are looking for vintage originals, take care to shop with reliable antique dealers and ask for the real thing.

Japan, Germany and the United States produced these little treasures. Germany made some wonderful wooden putz houses too, which are more rustic and include lots of farm animals and rural details.

Many of these shiny little houses have been sold online and auction sites often list putz as its own category since they’ve become so popular with retro decorators. You also can find examples in our own Centre Market shopping district, Sibs and at most antique and vintage shopping spots.

These little houses, churches and Christmas villages are perfect for decorating under trees or across the mantle and kids love them — so if you don’t own any, find a few! Nostalgic and warm, they’re a lot like Christmas.

For comments or suggestions on local treasures to be featured in Antique of the Week, Maureen Zambito can be reached via email at zambitomaureen@hotmail.com or by writing in care of the Sunday News-Register.

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