Looking back through history, tinsel used to be a health and safety hazard!

Looking back through history, tinsel used to be a health and safety hazard! Image: Kindlena/Shutterstock.com

When we think of tinsel today, we think of a lightweight, shimmery decoration that scallops windows and wraps around our Christmas trees.

It’s an affordable staple to our festive decor, and it really makes an impact.

But, was it always such a good idea?

The exact origins of tinsel is unclear, but it seems that it was first invented by the Germans around the year 1610. Much more valuable than it is now, it was actually manufactured from thin strips of real silver!

The word comes from the French term estincelle, and was once reserved for the wealthy only. It was made by being hammered into strands that could be hung on branches.

Because of the expense, by the early 20th century, people were producing cheaper alternatives. Some of that mass produced tinsel contained aluminum or copper, but metal shortages during World War I made that idea impractical.

So that left the heavy metal, lead. But, it wasn’t pure lead. It was an alloy with other metals, sometimes with a shiny tin coating on top. And for a while there, everybody was happy. Fast forward to the 1960s, though, and scientists started to realise that this type of tinsel was possibly putting festive goers at risk for lead poisoning.

Metallic, shiny tinsel nowadays is usually manufactured from plastic. It gets its finish from the heating and evaporation of a metal, which is then used as the coating and because the decoration is less weighty than it was before, it can be hung just about anywhere on the tree or around the home.


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Written by

Anna Ellis

Originally from the UK, Anna is based on the Costa Blanca and is a web reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at [email protected]

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