A while back I attended an auction and bought a box filled with Christmas decorations. The box lot included some Shiny Brite ornaments, a few of the brush and wood trees, and at the bottom were several cardboard houses. They were covered with glitter and had imitation stained glass windows. These were actually made of a colored cellophane paper.
One was a church, another a windmill, and the others pretty traditional cottage style homes. They not only left glitter on my jacket but also deposited a fond memory. We had these at our house every Christmas! Back in the 1950s, mom would pull them out of the attic, straighten them out a bit, and then begin to strategize the best way to display them. She would lay down fluffy, white “snow,” often called angel hair. I have learned that this was spun glass and actually quite a dangerous product indeed. It was highly flammable for one thing, but there was also the possibility of cutting your hands if you did not handle it correctly.
I once asked her what these paper houses were called and she said “putz houses.” At the time, I did not question her, thinking perhaps it was the maker’s name. As I recall, they were stamped “made in Japan” on the bottom. I also remember that they did not always make it from year to year; these were not top-quality pieces!
So, how did they get to be called “putz” houses? The name does not sound at all Japanese. And it’s not. Turns out that they were given that name by the German-Americans who used the term “puttering around.” So when you were doing your holiday decorating, taking your good-natured time, they would say you were “putzing.” The name just stuck.
These are still a charming collectible today, often found reasonably priced on Internet sites, antique and consignment shops and even thrift stores. They continue to have appeal, in part due to their low cost (usually $5-10 each), and they are nostalgic to all of us who grew up in the 1940s to 60s.
When I got my treasures home, I decided to do what mom did and put a few up. I had several of the brush trees, and even a metal Barclay ice skater from my husband’s childhood. I put together a little scene and it turned out so cute. I am anxious to hear the response from our holiday visitors who will surely exclaim “Gee, we had some of those at home!”