You Are Here.
Jump to other pages.
What is a Glitterhouse? - A brief introduction to an overloooked Christmas tradition. This is a closeup of Howard Lamey's glitterhouse village. Click for bigger photo.Return to Big Indoor Trains(tm) primer pageOn30 Display Trains
O Scale Accessories
O Gauge Christmas TrainsOn30 Christmas Trains

Written by Paul D. Race for Big Indoor Trains™
Click to see Christmas Collectibles with railroad themes.




















































































What is a Glitter House?

Click for bigger photo.Many baby boomers remember their family building little communities around their nativity, Christmas tree, or train set at the holidays. Quite a few remember including inexpensive, glitter-sprinkled buildings made of pasteboard and imported from Japan.

Our family had at least two very small sets that were probably postwar, but apparently the best sets were made in the 1930s. I actually haven't thought about them for decades. Then I was contacted by Howard Lamey, a fellow who builds these little houses as a hobby. Howard put me in touch with some prominent collectors, and I began to realize that the glitterhouses were far more widespread and more important to mid-20th-century Christmas celebrations than I had thought.

The First "Christmas Villages"

Between 1910 and 1960, many familes set houses, scenery, and other accessories around their train sets, Nativity displays, and/or Christmas trees. These displays paid little attention to scale, or time period - it wouldn't have been unusual to see the Wise Men crossing in front of a Lionel station, for example. And, in many homes, the display took up the whole room (often a parlor). They've been called "Christmas Gardens," "Train Gardens," and other things, but the strangest name I've heard for them is "putz."

It turns out that many German-Americans used the term "putz" the way we might use the term "putter." As in "Are you going to quit putzing around with those light strands and decorate the tree already?" During Christmas, many families "putzed" around with the Nativity display and the makeshift community around it right up until Christmas day. So the Nativity and anything set up around it came to be called the "putz." In families without a Nativity display, the putz might be set up around the train set or the Christmas tree. (Because, the term "putz" is derogative in some cultures, I try not to use it until I make sure people know what I'm talking about.)

Like their candbox predecessors, many early putz houses had printed patterns on the walls. Later this gave way to solid paint and glitter. This house is an in-betweener that is missing the porch roof. Click for bigger photo.What is a Putz House?

The Christmas Garden/Train Garden/Putz tradition was probably well in place before Japanese paste-board houses arrived in this country. But they caught on immediately.

According to one collector, Ted Althof, cardboard houses made to be filled with candy were around in the early 1900s. But the "breakthrough" came when Japanese-made pasteboard houses started coming with colored celophane windows and a hole in the back for electric Christmas tree lights, which were just becoming available to most families. This breakthrough may have occurred in the mid-1920s. But the earliest definite catalog listing Ted can find of such a set comes from 1928.

At first there was no glitter to speak of - evidently it took the cardboard houses a few years to evolve into the glitter-covered buildings most of us remember today. Ted has catalogued an amazing variety of these things and attempted to narrow down which kinds were made in which years. So, when you visit his site (the link is listed below), be certain to check his history pages.

Except for the pointed porch roof, this house could have been built in Bethlehem; most putz house collections had at least one flat-roofed house that looks like it was made to go with the Nativity. Click for a slightly larger photo.On that note, I have noticed that some of these structures had flat roofs with "parapets." I suspect that the designers thought they were imitating Bethlehem architecture to attract nativity-minded customers. On the other hand, Ted has found a line or two that look like they were made specifically to go with toy trains. So it's possible that the designers had both nativity-users and train-users in mind. Either way, the putz soon took on a "life of its own" in many homes.

Where Did They Come From, Anyway?

Somebody in Japan put a lot of creative energy into designing these fanciful products, but we have no way of knowing who. Click for bigger picture.Ted has also tried, unsuccessfully, to find out who was designing all of these wonderful structures in pre-war Japan. He did learn that the factories were very cruel places to work, a sad, ironic, footnote to this history. But if you know anything about the Japanese designers, please contact me or Ted and help us give credit where credit is due.

Glitterhouses Today

Putz houses are becoming recognized collectibles (some of the unique buildings are in high demand). One person with a unique collection is author Antoinette Stockenberg, whose link is below.

In addition, several folks besides my friend Howard Lamey are building replicas for families and friends. They have experimented with modern materials to find out what materials best give the "look and feel" of the originals; yet each creation is unique. (Some of the buildings Howard has built are shown in the title photo - click on it for a "blow-up")

Conclusion

If you have photos of your glitterhouse collections or projects that you would like to share with our readers, please contact us, and pass along as much information about your houses as you can. We'll be sure to give credit where it is due.

Other Resources for Putz Houses and Related Information

Putz House Construction Articles:

    Click to see our beginning glitterhouse construction article.

  • What You Need to Build Glitterhouses
  • Building a Glitterhouse - A detailed primer on starting your own glitterhouse hobby, including free downloadable plans and detailed instructions for making simple houses and churches.

  • Click to see detailed directions for building this vintage-style pasteboard house.Building the Little Charmer - A new glitterhouse project that is a step up from our beginning glitterhouse. Includes free downloadable plans.

  • Building a Picture Window House - Another new glitterhouse project. This one includes Click to see detailed directions for building this vintage-style pasteboard house.unique features such as a sand finish and picture window that reveals a "Christmas scene" Includes free downloadable plans and directions.

  • Building the Union Station - This original project by designer Howard Click to see free downloadable plans,  directions, and graphics for this vintage-style Christmas house.Lamey is inspired by two traditions - the cardboard Christmas houses that were popular in US homes between 1928 and 1965 and the Lionel station that was popular for most of the 20th century. New, October, 2008!

  • Building Glitterhouse Bases

  • Click to see free downloadable plans,  directions, and graphics for this vintage-style Christmas house.Building a Bay Window House - Bay windows were popular in Europe for centuries; they were also popular in the mid-20th century in North America. This project will add a nice variety to your Christmas village.

  • Winter Trees from Floral Picks - A quick and inexpensive way to add interesting textures to your putz or Christmas village. Click to go to article.

  • Free Scenery Set Pieces - Add a vertical dimension to your Christmas village or railroad for little or no investment.

  • Click to see the Spook Hill IndexWelcome to Spook Hill™ - Howard has designed a whole, family-friendly, Halloween community built in the vintage "putz-house" style. Includes many free downloadable plans, photos, and detailed instructions.

  • Welcome Click to see the Sandy ShoresIndexto Sandy Shores™ - New for 2009! For those who like summer, or looking forward to summer, Howard has designed a series of seaside projects that are so much fun, you can almost smell the salt water. Includes many free downloadable plans, photos, and detailed instructions.

  • Click to go to articleSusan Yasinsky's Adirondack Glitterhouse - A fan of Howard Lamey's LittleGlitterhouses.com site has sent us an example of a unique project. Her "Adirondack" house came after she had made several traditional glitterhouses and wanted to try modeling a real building. This article shows what a little self-confidence can do for you. New, July, 2009!

  • Click to go to articleDannyelle Nicolle's Glitterhouse Blog - "Life is a Party" blogger Dannyelle Nicholle shows her unique pastel glitterhouse village in her blog. She says she made 21 of of these last year, then added her favorite, a pastel version of the "Little Charmer." Click here to see the article. New, December, 2010!

Other Resources: Return to Big Indoor Trains(tm) primer page

  • To Return to the BIG Indoor Trains(tm) Primer Page, click here.

  • Click to see Howard's site.LittleGlitterHouses.com - Putz house builder Howard Lamey now has his own site, begun in December, 2007. You can get ideas for your own project, commission your own custom-built glitterhouse, or buy a precut kit and finish it yourself.

  • Click to go to article.A Brief History of Christmas Villages from our Family Christmas Online™ site. If you enjoy setting out a holiday village of any kind, we think you will enjoy learning about the deep roots of this multicultural tradition.New for 2009!

  • Click to visit the 'Cardboard Christmas' site.Cardboard Christmas - A new resource about collecting and making glitterhouses, including cross-reference links to many hard-to-find, but useful articles, as well as a free forum for asking questions and sharing discoveries.

  • "Papa Ted's Place" - Ted Althof's extensive resource about vintage pasteboard houses. It includes history, many photos from other people's collections, and resources to help you build your own. Ted was a train collector who came across as set of these a few years ago and wondered if anybody had ever bothered to do serious research on them. So he started asking questions and assembling the answers people gave him into a series of web articles. Sadly, Ted passed away in October, 2012, but he gave us permission to keep an archive of his site, which is by far the best single resource I have found on this topic.

    If you want to jump right to some GREAT photo pages, try this link. I hope you have high-speed internet because there are a lot of photos on this page and the following ones, but they are inspiring as well as inspirational.

    Other features of "Papa" Ted's site include:

    • Building from Scratch - "Papa" Ted Althof has collected tips and photos from other glitterhouse builders including Tom Hull and Ted Howard.
    • Repair and Restoration - "Papa" Ted Althof publishes Tom Hull's tips for restoring damaged antique glitterhouses.
    • Making "Flocked" Windows - Tom Hull's method for making "fuzzy" windowframes on celophane, with additional tips by author and glitterhouse collector Antoinette Stockenberg.
    • Repairing or Replacing Trees Tom's article about the "lufa" trees that were common on pre-war glitterhouses, and can be repaired or else replaced by new lufa carefully cut, soaked with dark green acrylic paint, and allowed to dry before gluing and applying white paint for "snow."

    Click to be charmed by Antoinette Stockenberg's wonderful Christmas displays.
  • Antoinette Stockenberg's photographs and comments on putz houses and life in general. - This is an entirely different kind of site from Ted's, but first class in every way. Antoinette is a published novelist who started decorating her home with putz houses some years back, started learning about the hobby, and the rest is history. She populates her putz with period-appropriate accessories, including "flats," inexpensive vintage figures made like tin soldiers. She also writes some nice articles about her putz villages and other subjects. The above link takes you to her home page, which usually has great photographs of her mantle-top putz. Be sure to look at previous years' pages to see other buildings, accessories, and arrangements.

  • Click to go to Rhonda's article.Putz House Article on the "Christmas Notebook" Page - Blogger and crafter Rhonda C. has posted detailed photographs of her process for making a Christmas glitterhouse based on one of Howard Lamey's beach house patterns. If you have trouble visualizing exactly what it looks like to have the cardboard and everything laid out while you're working on it, this is a great resource. Thanks, Rhonda.

  • Click to go to the original magazine article.Putz House Patterns from the 1960s - After commercial cardboard Christmas houses got hard to find, Earth-friendly magazine Pack-O-Fun published free plans and instructions for making your own cardboard Christmas village from recycled materials. We put a little more detail into our articles today, but this gives you a good insite into the history of "build-your-own" putz houses.

  • Click for to see Catherine's site.Catherine Henry's Glitterhouses - The proprietor of the "Not Your Average Sock Monkey" blog has built several our glitterhouse designs, mostly with a few modifications you may find interesting. To see her December, 2009 blog on the subject, click on the photo to the right.

Other Pages about Christmas Memories, from this site and Family Christmas Online™

Click to sign up for the 'Trains-N-Towns™' newsletter, with articles about display villages, indoor railroading, and much more





































































































































Visit our BIG Train Store™ Buyer's Guide Pages













































Click to see articles and resources for a joyful family Christmas.










































Click to see new and reissued Lionel trains

































The Wonderful World Of Disney Christmas Tree: Collectible Disney Tabletop Christmas Decor
To Return to the BIG Indoor Trains(tm) Primer Page, click here.Return to Big Indoor Trains(tm) primer page


Click to see exclusive, licensed train collections in your favorite pro team colors!

Click to see exclusive, licensed Disney(r) train and village collections!


Home Pages
Reading Index Pages
Buyer's Guide Pages
Return to Big Indoor Trains Home page Return to Family Garden Trains Home page Big Indoor Trains Primer Articles: All about setting up and displaying indoor display trains and towns. Garden Railroading Primer Articles: All about getting a Garden Railroad up and running well Garden Train Store: Index to train, track, and other products for Garden RailroadingBig Christmas Trains: Directory of Large Scale and O Scale trains with holiday themes
On30 and O Gauge trains to go with indoor display villages and railroads


Visit any of the links below to see quality collectible Christmas gifts and
decorations that have been popular with our readers.

Click to see collectible table-top trees, including animated ceramic trees from Thomas Kinkade(r) and other world-class designers. Click to see collectible Christmas wreaths designed by world-known artists. Click to see classic nativity sets, including collections from world-known designers. Click to see collectible Christmas ornaments by world-known designers. Click to see Christmas collectibles with railroad themes - designs by Thomas Kinkade(r).

Note: Big Indoor Trains(tm), Big Train Store(tm), Family Garden Trains(tm), Big Christmas Trains(tm), Garden Train Store(tm), and Trains and Towns(tm) are trademarks of Breakthrough Communications (www.btcomm.com). All information, data, text, and illustrations on this web site are Copyright (c) 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 by Paul D. Race. Reuse or republication without prior written permission is specifically forbidden.


For more information, contact us.