Holiday Pins: A Few of Our Favorite Things
Holiday Pins: A Few of Our Favorite Things
A selection of holiday pins on display at the Richard T. Liddicoat Gemological Library at GIA in Carlsbad. Curated by librarians Chris Rogers and Rose Tozer. Photo by Kevin Schumacher/GIA
It’s that most wonderful time of the year: the lights, music and good cheer are on full festive display. For many jewelry lovers, a favorite way to celebrate the season is with a treasured holiday pin – or two, or more – front and center on a coat or sweater.
Rose Tozer, a senior research librarian at GIA in Carlsbad, has been known to wear more than a dozen at once to get display time for as many of the nearly 200 in her collection during the holiday season.
“My mother started me on them when I was in college. She would look at my outfit and say ‘you need a little pin’ and then she’d lend me one,” Tozer said. “The very first pin my mom gave me was an enameled snowman I would wear on my herringbone tweed overcoat.”
Holiday pins first came into fashion by way of “Art Deco masterpieces” in the 1920s and ‘30s, according to Kathy Flood, who has written several collectors’ guides, including “Comprehensive Jewelry Guide to Christmas Tree Pins,” published earlier this year. Homemade felt pins were popular during the Depression and holiday corsages were popular in the 1940s, but it wasn’t until the 1950s and ‘60s that holiday pins were mass-produced.
A glittering clear crystal Swarovski tree and an authentic Weiss tree. The stone-on-stone construction of the Weiss tree makes it too complicated to copy, according to holiday pin expert Kathy Flood. Photo courtesy Kathy Flood
The most-purchased tree from that era was the Weiss candle tree design, said Flood, which was in stores for the 1962, ’63 and ’64 holiday season. “Available in three sizes, sometimes it feels like there wasn't an American child or man who didn’t buy one for their mother, teacher, girlfriend or wife,” she said.
Many holiday pins ‒ costume jewelry composed of plated, enameled metal, plastics or wood, all often ornamented with crystal stones ‒ were the creations of major jewelry houses such as Eisenberg, Trifari, Swarovski, Hollycraft and Weiss. Well-known individual designers and companies include Miriam Haskell, Stuart Freeman, Erickson Beamon, Robert Lee Morris, as well as couture names from Nina Ricci and Elsa Schiaparelli to Givenchy and Molyneux.
Even the highest-end names ‒ Bulgari, Cartier, Chanel and Belperron ‒ produced treasures in trees that are most coveted and prized.
“They are stunning arbors of precious metals and fine gems, loaded with design integrity,” Flood said. “These truffles of the jewelry world, on the occasions they turn up for sale, are hunted out at top auction venues such as Christie's and Sotheby's. Some trees have turned up on catalog covers for December sales.”
This 1991 Christie’s auction ad features a Christmas tree pin of jade and other gems.
Photo courtesy Kathy Flood
The Christmas tree – an iconic symbol of many people’s favorite time of the year – is the most popular pin motif, recreated a thousand different ways, said Flood, who trimmed her holiday forest down to 1,000 trees.
“It's surprising how much effort designers put into creatively portraying them,” she said. “They range from beautiful to funny, inspired to classic, wild to a snooze. Also, many collectors come to trees because their mothers loved them and collected, or they inherit a collection.”
Snowflakes, wreaths, bells, Santas, reindeer and snowmen are other holiday pin motifs.
“Probably every collection has a terrific St. Nick, beautiful bell, etc., especially when someone wants all of a house's designs, but most effort seemed to be put into trees, so, they are the wittiest, prettiest and were issued in more profusion, so there's more to choose from,” Flood said.
Some of GIA librarian Rose Tozer’s most treasured pins include this tree and wreath
from her mom’s collection. Photo by Kevin Schumacher/GIA
Tozer’s favorites – a wreath, tree and Santa – are the ones that once belonged to her mom.
“After she died, my sister and brother very generously let me have all of them,” she said. “My next favorite one would definitely be an Eisenberg Ice Christmas tree: all white glass. That was my first expensive pin ($48). I had buyer’s remorse for months! I bought it in August and not until I wore it in December did I relax about it! That is one I always make sure I wear.”
Treasure Hunts for Holiday Pins
The reasons jewelry lovers are drawn to collect holiday pins are as varied as their designs, but for many it is often an emotional connection.
Flood distinctly remembers when she discovered them at a hair appointment in November 1993. The salon owner handed her a glass of wine and the December issue of Vogue, which she happened to open from the back.
“If I hadn't, I never would have seen Candy Pratts Price's stunning “Last Look” page, with 18 of the most gripping holiday brooches ever designed,” Flood said. “It's hard to express the feeling I had when I saw them. They produced an intense aesthetic pleasure.”
This plastic tree was created by Stuart Freeman for Vogue magazine. The trunk is made from real bark from Central Park. Photo courtesy Kathy Flood
“And amid the masterpieces by Bulgari, Cartier and Mme Belperron was a plastic tree wound with glittering jeweled garland and a trunk of real bark from Central Park,” she said. “That tree really penetrated my desire zone and I looked for its designer, Stuart Freeman, for a decade.”
Flood’s passion for the pins was strong enough, she knew she could get at least one book out of it. Research would be required – which conveniently paved the way to building a collection. Her background as a journalist helped her develop expertise in key areas, such as designers, manufacturers and the jewelry industry in general.
‘When I first began looking for Christmas trees, if you'd asked me how many different trees or designs there are, I would have guessed 50. Now I'd estimate closer to 5,000,” she said. “The first Christmas after I discovered the tree as collectible holiday pin, my husband bought five for me as gifts and thought, ‘Well, that's that. There can't be any more.’ That's the madness of it all: there are always more. One you've never seen, even after 21 years of forest ranging, suddenly springs up and you're like, ‘What?’”
Tozer, whose mom encouraged her to add a little sparkle to her coat, said she didn’t really become a devotee until she started to work at GIA in late 1989, “where most everyone has caught the jewelry bug.”
Since then, she’s found them everywhere: garage sales, antique/collector’s shows, the car wash (“truly, some of my best finds!”), department stores, stationery stores, the pharmacy.
Tozer makes sure she wears this all-white-glass Eisenberg Ice Christmas tree every year.
Photo by Kevin Schumacher/GIA
“Usually when I’m not looking for them is when I find them,” she said. “When I started collecting, I refused to pay more than $10 for a pin. After all, I really only wear the pin once. I was pretty successful for a long time holding to that amount but it’s hard to find them that cheap anymore. I’ve now bumped that up to no more than $40.”
Flood, who lives in St. Louis, Missouri, said one of her most thrilling buys was the unopened Christmas tree pin inventory of a drugstore in the Southeast.
“It was the old-time kind of drugstore that carried all sorts of wonderful goodies,” she said. “The owner, who must have died suddenly and the store closed, had ordered gorgeous tree pins by Laguna, made in Austria. They were all still boxed, on their original velvety green cards and wrapped in crinkly brown paper stamped Austria all over. It's one of the all-time great trees.”
Sometimes, however, just the experience of hunting the pins can be almost as fulfilling as coming home with one.
“We walked into an antiques shop on Cherokee Street in St. Louis during the holidays,” Flood recalled. “The proprietress was engaged in an overly long conversation with a customer, so we decided to leave,” she said. Before they got out the door, however, she called out to them and Flood asked if she had any Christmas pins.
“She glared at me in a rude and suspicious way. It turns out she was a major collector of Christmas tree pins and thought I was pulling her leg. I had no idea,” Flood said. “She started pulling out tray after tray of the best trees from under the counter. All hers; none for sale.”
They got together every year during the holidays, and even traded trees. Then one year, the shop was boarded up, and Flood learned the woman had died.
Flood did fulfill a decade-long pin quest when she finally found Stuart Freeman, designer of the Christmas tree with real bark in that 1993 Vogue. The whole experience came full circle in 2014 when Freeman had lunch with editor Candy Pratts Price, who originally created the page that launched Flood in this collecting sphere.
“Stuart got a photo of Candy in the cafe, holding up my book. It was almost as thrilling as hearing Stuart say, when I first found him, ‘Yes, I think I have a few of my Vogue trees left in storage,’” she said. “That was a cue-the-medics moment!”