German Feather Trees

My friend, April Isbell Schneider inspired this post. She really likes German-style feather trees. If you research these beauties, you realize that historic ones are hard to find in proper condition to display, and the newly produced authentic ones are quite costly. I will show you April’s brilliant compromise at the end of this post.

German feather-trees and sassafras branch trees wrapped in cotton, became popular in Germany in the mid-1800’s because there was a mandate to discourage deforestation. There were actually statutes in place to limit felling trees. Since decorating indoor trees was very popular at this same time, people got creative.

Goose feathers were available in abundance. A cottage industry sprung up using goose, swan, and other bird feathers to create the evergreen-looking needles on the trees. The often green dyed feathers were wire twisted onto metal or wood sticks, and drilled or wired into a center pole. They resembled the German white pine with large spaces between the levels of the tree. One of our goose-feather trees at the museum has the traditional artificial berries at the end of the branches, intended to help hold the metal clip-on candle holders.

This, like most things at our site, turns into a wonderful German-American immigration story. In mid-19th Century America, there was no scarcity of live trees, and decorating live trees was popular. The large groups of German-American immigrants, even during the time of our early settlements in East Perry County, Missouri, brought the feather tree traditions to their new homes in America. Interestingly, these early portable little trees were some of the first artificial trees in America, because the popularity of artificial trees did not take off across the country until Sears and Roebuck introduced them in their catalog after 1910. After 1900, feather trees were also marketed by Japan. By the 1930’s, live Christmas tree farms became a trend. Montgomery Ward eventually offered varieties of feather tree colors, and fancier stands. Music box stands were popular. Our oldest feather tree, the Arbeiter Family tree, originally had a music box stand, but it was no longer with the tree when it was donated by our friend, Holly Fruend. Her family tree has a 100+ year history documented in our research library. It is a cherished piece in our collection, and has been lovingly decorated by Docent, Dorothy Weinhold for many years.

The Roth family from Columbus, Ohio, drove all the way here this year to donate our most recent historic feather tree. It is in pristine condition. We had a perfect day with Evelyn Roth and her children when they brought their beloved tree home to us.

Now, back to my pal, April. She wanted to create a goose-feather type tree for her historic ornament collection after being inspired by our trees. She found a small bushy little tree at a discount store. She cut the branches and trimmed until she created this! I am so proud of her. It is awesome and was an economical way to create a tiny German white pine-like tree–to properly display her antique ornament treasures.

By WW II, German feather-tree sales in America was virtually gone. There has been a resurgence in recent years to the point of great popularity. Our most modern German tree has white feathers.

I mentioned earlier the cotton-wrapped German trees that were popular during the same period in Germany. Typically, a sassafras branch was wrapped in cotton to create these pretty trees. Museum friend, Doris Dace created one I was privileged to display at another site a few years back. I hope I can talk Doris into creating one for our site next year. Here’s a photo of Doris’ tree.

I hope you have an opportunity to visit the Lutheran Heritage Center this season. We will begin posting more photos of the trees as the season moves along for our friends in the world who live too far away to visit. Remember, we are open from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. this coming Thur. and Fri. (the 12th & 13th) for the 15th Annual Christmas Country Church Tour. We will only close Christmas Day and New Year’s Day this season. The exhibit will be open until Jan. 15. Admission is always free, and this year we are delighted to display the Harold and Geraldine Gloystein Collection of more than 200 Nativity scenes from all over the world. Join Us, and Merry Christmas, Carla Jordan


2 thoughts on “German Feather Trees

  1. I have seen these type , yet i thought i was a young thin tree. Now I know its legimate. i have been to the Black forest and the trees were thick and tall. Knowing the history of Germany and their struggles and wins, I understand the structure and shape. Our uncle was in a German prison of war camp and talked some, yet appreciated being free and we loved him.

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