Tinsel Ornament Artifact Highlight # 37

This tinsel ornament was donated to our collection in 1983. It is an eight-pointed star or octagram. Four of the points are capped with small silver glass ball ornaments. The center of the star is decorated with green ribbon and a small red flower. It dates to around 1900-1920.

The star is one of the most recognizable symbols of Christmas. It represents hope and the fulfillment of a prophecy. The number eight in the octagram frequently represents beginnings, resurrection, and salvation.

Stars are often used as tree toppers to represent the Star of Bethlehem that guided the three wise men to the manger where Jesus was born.

The origin of hanging tinsel on Christmas trees might have its root in a European folk tale about a spider whose web turned into shining silver and gold on Christmas Eve. The use of tinsel dates to 17th-century Germany, where the wealthy decorated trees with strips of silver, which reflected the glow and flickering of candlelight.

Davenport Weekly Republican December 15, 1897

German immigrants brought this tradition to the United States and by the early 1900s, tinsel became a popular, reusable, and much more affordable Christmas tree decoration made of aluminum and copper.

The Sacramento Bee November 30, 1900

Heavy demand for copper during WWI put a stop to production of tinsel.

Military personnel from the Music Therapy Department. of the DeWitt General Hospital singing Christmas carols c.1940s. PCM Collection

Aluminized paper tinsel became very popular in the 1950s and 60s, but it was highly flammable, so lead tinsel became the standard.

Display at the Auburn State Theatre. Christmas 1939. PCM Collection

Lead did not tarnish or catch on fire, but the growing awareness of health problems associated with lead exposure led to the end of lead tinsel production in 1972. Today, most tinsel is made from plastic.

Christmas 1967. Richard Jones Collection, PCM Collection

The ornament was donated by Vincent Gianella of Auburn. Vincent Gianella was a professor of geology, who spent his career at the University of Nevada and the Mackey School of Mines. He was a resident of Auburn for twenty years and was a member of the Auburn Rotary Club, the Placer County Historical Society, and the Placer County Historical Museum Foundation.

Auburn Journal February 7, 1975