The sparse tree, with a few sporadic branches and berries, is a far cry from the plethora of extravagant and illuminated wonders on offer today. Nevertheless it was the stuff of dreams when it came into a little girl’s life when she was eight years old in 1920. So much so she kept it for her entire life – and she lived to be 101.
The 31ins tall tree has 25 branches, 12 berries and six mini candle holders. It’s grounded in a small wooden base, which is painted red with a simple decorative emblem.
It delighted Dorothy Grant, who was born in 1912. She was wildly excited when the Christmas tree arrived at her home in Forest Road, Loughborough, Leicestershire.
And though baubles were an extravagant luxury shortly after the 1914-18 First World War, she got round that by decorating the tree with cotton wool to mimic snow.
Dorothy treasured it until she passed away at the age of 101 in January 2014. It was inherited by her daughter, Shirley Hall, 84, who lives near Loughborough. The tree will go under the hammer at Hansons Auctioneers on December 15 with an estimate as modest as its looks, £60-£80. But it’s hoped the power of Christmas nostalgia could see it hammer higher.
Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons Auctioneers, said: “It has to be the humblest Christmas tree in the world. But as simple as it was Dorothy loved it. It represented the magic of Christmas and became a staple part of family celebrations for decades.
“The fact that it brought such joy to Dorothy is humbling in itself. It reminds us that extravagance and excess are not required to capture the spirit of Christmas. For Dorothy it was enough to have a tree. It may appear sparse to us today but to her it was special. She enjoyed decorating it with cotton wool to make it look as if it was sprinkled with snow.
“We understand Dorothy’s mother, who was born in 1891, bought the tree in 1920, which would make it 123 years old. It’s likely she purchased it from Woolworths. The popular department store started selling some of the first mass-produced artificial trees around that time and Woolworths opened a store in Leicester in 1915. Some of the first artificial Christmas trees utilised machinery which had been designed to manufacture toilet brushes.
“This is one of the earliest Christmas trees of its type we have seen. A similar example, purchased in Scotland for the equivalent of 6p in 1937, sold for £150 at Hansons in 2019. Another example, found in Derby, hammered at £420 in 2017. It was secured by the American Christmas Tree Association.
“The power of nostalgia could help this tree find a special home too. It may appeal to a museum. The waste-not, want-not generations of old are still teaching us an important lesson about valuing the simple things and not replacing objects just for the sake of it.
“The seller is parting with the tree now to honour her mother’s memory and to ensure it survives as a humble reminder of 1920s life – a boom-to-bust decade. Despite the devastation of the First World War and Spanish flu pandemic, there was renewed optimism. The Roaring Twenties saw major advances in science and technology. But the decade also brought the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. Sadly, war, the aftermath of a pandemic and economic instability are still with us today. But, then as now, Christmas joy will never be dampened.”
The Christmas tree will be offered in Hansons Auctioneers’ December 15 Oxfordshire Fine Art and Antiques Auction.