History of Putz Houses

What is a Putz?

    Technically the German word putz means something "to put," but in German-American vernacular, it means something like "putter around." That relates to the subject of this web page because German-Americans and related cultures have been setting up little villages around the Christmas tree or Nativity for at least a century and a half. And generally, once the houses and accessories came out, family members (usually the mother) would "putz around" with the pieces until they were "just right."

    For many years, the "putzers" would use toy wooden houses or house-shaped cardboard candy boxes from Germany. But the advent of 8-bulb electric Christmas light sets brought about a new kind of putz house - Japanese-made cardboard houses decorated with sparkly materials and/or fake snow and equipped with translucent (usually cellophane) windows that glowed when you stuck a C6 light through a hole in the back. For over thirty years, mass-marketers like Sears-Roebuck offered fairly simple versions of these, usually in sets of eight. But in recent years, collectors have unearthed a fascinating variety of putz houses, many of which show surprising creativity for an art form which must have wholesaled in the penny-a-piece range.

    When I first became interested in collecting these houses, I started out trying to catalog every Japanese cardboard house ever made and then publish them in a "Collectors Guide." At one time I believed that there might be 1000 of them in existence -- but I was wrong. I now have thirty chapters with no end in sight. Since previously undiscovered houses show up all the time, I don't think I'll ever finish this project, but I will die trying.

    In addition, the cost of publishing this book in colored, library-quality pages would be prohibitive. However, if you're interested in a specific chapter, I have made some of those available. Please check back for more information on this project.

    In the meantime, you will find the following resources helpful.