103-Year-Old Artificial Christmas Tree Sells for Over $4,000

The tree was originally purchased for 8-year-old Dorothy Grant in 1920

Small tree
The 31-inch-tall tree is billed as the "humblest Christmas tree in the world." Hansons

A simple 31-inch Christmas tree with 25 branches, 12 berries and 6 small candle holders sold for £3,411 (more than $4,000) at auction on Friday.

Billed as the “humblest Christmas tree in the world,” it exceeded the estimated price of £60 to £80 (roughly $76 to $102), according to Hansons Auctioneers, which attributes the high sum to the “magic of Christmas.”

“It would have been bought for pennies originally, but it’s sold for thousands,” says Charles Hanson, owner of the auction house, in a statement. “That’s astonishing. I think it’s down to the power of nostalgia.”

The tree originally belonged to Dorothy Grant, whose family purchased it for their Leicestershire, England, home in 1920. When she first saw it, the 8-year-old girl was “wildly excited,” per the auction house. She decorated its branches with cotton wool that resembled snow, as baubles were an “extravagance” at the time.

Grant cherished the tree for the rest of her life. When she died at the age of 101 in 2014, her 84-year-old daughter, Shirley Hall, inherited it.

“The seller decided to part with it to honor her mother’s memory and to ensure it survives as a humble reminder of 1920s life—a boom-to-bust decade,” says Hanson. “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. But, then as now, Christmas joy will never be dampened.”

Although it resembles the mass-produced artificial trees sold by the American department store Woolworths, it features red paint on its wooden base that differs from the Woolworths products. Hall suspects the tree might have been purchased from a shop in London.

Some of the first artificial Christmas trees—made using goose feathers that were dyed green—came from Germany in the 19th century, according to the auction house. In the 1920s, Woolworths began selling some of the earliest mass-produced artificial trees, and the British Addis Housewares Company developed the first trees made from brush bristles in 1930.

Grant’s tree isn’t the first sold by Hansons. In recent years, similar historic Christmas trees have fetched much smaller sums. In 2019, for example, a Woolworths tree purchased in Scotland in 1937 sold for £150 (about $190). It had originally belonged to Catherine Smith, who bought it for the Christmas following the birth of her son, James.

“Dad grew up as an only child, but his mum did her best to make Christmas special for him,” James’ daughter, Claire Barnett, told the auction house at the time of the sale. “On Christmas day he remembers getting an orange, a shiny penny, a game and some sweets in his sock by the fire.” For many years, the family displayed the tree every Christmas.

Similarly, Grant’s tree “became a staple part of family celebrations for decades,” says Hanson.

“The fact that it brought her such joy is humbling in itself,” he adds. “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. The waste-not want-not generations of the past continue to teach us a valuable lesson.”

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