Tinsel

For one of our Christmas favourites, tinsel has an expensive and dangerous past.

The first tinsel dates back to Germany in the 1600s. Then, as now, people used it to reflect the lights on their Christmas tree. Unlike now, they used strands of silver. That made it very expensive, but it also tarnished quickly and lost its sparkle. 

Tinsel was then made with cheaper metals like copper and tin until the First World War. But, with those metals needed for war production, aluminium was briefly used instead. It was soon discarded as a fire hazard, but the next choice was no better.

Lead was cheap, but also toxic. So, in the 1970s, production switched to plastic. Now the largest manufacturer in the UK alone produces 14 million metres of tinsel every year.