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The Expert

Kitschmas Collector

Travis Smith, 46, proprietor of Good Eye vintage collectibles and author of

Sunday, December 19, 2004; Page M03

KITSCHMASTIME: I was a retro enthusiast in the early '80s; I wore the sharkskin suits, drove a Chrysler Imperial and had retro furniture in my home. It seemed natural to continue with the theme for Christmas. I started buying up '50s, '60s and '70s vintage ornaments because I wanted my tree to be period perfect. Of course, that led to wall decor and lawn ornaments -- it became an obsession along with all my other obsessions. I now own three aluminum trees, about 300 vintage ornaments and maybe 100 other decorative objects. The rest of my collection I display and sell in my shop, Good Eye (4918 Wisconsin Ave. NW, 202-244-8516), through the holidays. We call it "Kitschmasland."

HOMEMADE FOR THE HOLIDAYS: My favorites to collect are what I call "sixties bored housewife" ornaments. I've heard them referred to as beaded or jeweled ornaments; I've even heard them called Victorian, although I don't see anything Victorian about them. They were a popular craft, probably starting in the early '60s and into the '70s. People would buy these kits with sequins and beads and fake-looking plastic jewels that they'd put on Styrofoam balls to create elaborate ornaments for the tree. To me, these pieces are most special because they're really one of a kind. Sometimes you can also find life-size cutouts that people made and painted themselves and put on their front lawns, like Santa and his sleigh and reindeer.

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NUCLEAR NOEL: What I love about Kitschmas is the innocent sweetness of the items. There's even this whole milieu of "Atomic Christmas" that was inspired by popular space-age imagery. You could buy Santa ceramics with atomic-symbol eyes or little plastic sputniks to hang on your tree. People weren't quite jaded yet.

HO-HO HUNTING: During the summer, I really wanted a pink aluminum tree for the Kitschmasland display. I was tracking a six-foot-tall '50s model on eBay. I dropped out at $500 and it ended up going for $1,100. So my advice to anyone who wants to start collecting Christmas or Hanukkah kitsch is, start soon. It keeps appreciating in value and, as with all antiques or vintage collectibles, the resources will dry up eventually. And if you do come across any pink or turquoise aluminum trees, please call me immediately.

As told to Sally Congdon-Martin

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