It’s the Holiday Season: Where Have All the Blow Molds Gone? (2023)

Nov 27, 2018 | By Gayle Manley, Editorial

On the day after Thanksgiving, thoughts turn to gift shopping, holiday decorating and searching for the perfect Christmas tree. For many families, setting out yard decorations is a longstanding Black Friday tradition that engages everyone throughout the day. It’s the season to pull out those illuminated extruded-plastic blow molds of Santa, the Nativity, angels, and Disney characters – decorations that have evoked nostalgic childhood memories for generations.

It’s the Holiday Season: Where Have All the Blow Molds Gone? (1)

Blow mold figures have grown to be so beloved that enthusiasts and collectors shop all year ‘round to find prized additions for their holiday landscape. Their second-hand treasures are found at flea markets, garage sales and antique malls. Newly produced items could be found at the neighborhood hardware store and big-box department stores. While they may be constructed as a simple light bulb mounted inside a colorfully painted extruded-plastic form, blow molds deliver megawatts of holiday cheer and fond memories.

From mid-century through the 1990s, numerous plastic blow mold manufacturers closed. Beco, Poloron, Santa’s Best and others are just a few well-known blow mold houses from the now bygone era. Serious collectors continue to search for their characters and frequently pay premium prices to own a piece of blow mold history.

It’s the Holiday Season: Where Have All the Blow Molds Gone? (2)

Sadly, after 60 years of plastics production in the USA, the most recognized and largest U.S. maker of blow molds closed its doors in 2017. General Foam Plastics, headquartered in Virginia Beach, shut down its production facilities in Norfolk, Virginia and Tarboro, North Carolina. Long-time workers were released, final orders shipped and remaining product inventory sold. Plant assets were sold at a public auction in March 2018. As news and industry publications noted, like many other U.S. manufacturing firms, the company succumbed to foreign competition and aging facilities.

General Foam maintained the rights to produce its own copyrighted designs as well as those of predecessor figures from Empire Products, Carolina Enterprises and Judith Novelty. As competitors Beco, Poloron and Santa’s Best closed, General Foam/Empire purchased their mold forms.

Since the 1950s, Empire and General Foam’s famous Nativity Scenes have appeared under mangers in churchyards across America. Similarly, Santa figures have stood tall, peering at shoppers from small-town department store windows or been part of the holiday scenery in TV movies. The company also produced blow mold selections for Easter and Halloween that remain popular with collectors. If a child carried a pink, orange, purple, blue or black pumpkin-shaped treat pail at Halloween, it most likely was manufactured by General Foam/Empire.

It’s the Holiday Season: Where Have All the Blow Molds Gone? (3)

Union Products of Massachusetts, known for Don Featherstone’s iconic pink flamingo, had ceased blow mold production in 2005. The company was acquired by Cado Products Inc. circa 2009. A glimmer of hope for collectors: last year, Union Products reintroduced a limited line of Christmas blow molds. Cado President Bruce Zarozny stated that production began with classic figures such as a Santa, the penguin and a nativity scene. This seasonal line will be expanded in the future; currently offered products can be found at various hardware stores.

Given the duration and breadth of General Foam/Empire’s Christmas production, buyers may be able to find pieces at auctions, yard sales, flea markets and antique stores for several years. However, a word to the wise: shop now – resale prices have risen significantly this year. Choice items such as the Santa Train and Coal Car (red) were available last year at asking prices of $225 to $400. EBay listings are posted in 2018 between $499 and $799. Owners of the earlier “green and black” train model are fortunate to have a scarce, premium piece. More common 13” candles, snowmen, and Santas could be found in 2017 for $12-$18. This year, demand is driving prices upwards, reaching $20 to $35.

When buying blow molds online, auctioneers may specify “local pickup only” due to their size, packaging requirements and shipping costs. If you are lucky enough to find a local business with new “old” stock, don’t debate. Supply of larger and unique pieces with limited production will disappear quickly. Unlike those foreign-made inflatables of the 21st century, the demand for American-made blow molds will grow, not deflate, in the pre-and-post-Christmas 2018 season.


What happened to blow mold Christmas decorations? ›

Although two of the leading manufacturers of classic blow molds, General Foam Plastics and Union Products, went out of business in 2018 and 2006, respectively, other companies such as Cado, which acquired Union's molds, the Twillery Co. and Mr. Christmas are turning out new models and reproductions of old ones.

What are blow molds for Christmas? ›

Christmas blow molds are the plastic, light-up figures and lawn ornaments of our childhood. If your lawn didn't boast a Santa blow mold, reindeer blow mold, and a snowman, were you really celebrating Christmas?

What are the most sought after blow molds? ›

One of the earliest and also the most popular and famous blow mold is the pink lawn flamingo which was designed by Don Featherstone. He is the most famous blow mold artist out there and his blow molds are very collectible. A lot of his blow molds will even have his name on them, like my Dracula blow mold.

When did Empire stop making blow molds? ›

Due to dramatically decreasing sales in the 90s, Empire downsized in 2001 and no longer began producing blow molds. Its molds and machinery were sold in an auction and another company called General Foam Plastics purchased many of them.

Are blow molds coming back? ›

The blow mold industry is starting to return and the interest in the inflatable market is going the way the blow molds did in the early 90's. Quality of the new inflatables is declining and materials are getting thinner and cheaper.

How do you restore Christmas blow molds? ›

If the paint on your blow mold appears faded or scratched, Sansing says you can freshen it up with plastic-friendly spray paint, such as Fusion All-in-One by Krylon. "First, use masking tape and a precision knife to cover the sections of the mold you don't want to paint," she advises.

How can you tell how old a blow mold is? ›

Be sure to turn your blow mold over to look for any markings. Many times these markings will be embossed, and if they are there, they can be usually seen easily. In addition, sometimes there will be a date listed as well, and that is an instant way to determine if your blow mold is old. This is the front of a new one.

Why are blow molds so popular? ›

The seasonal outdoor decor, known as blow molds, have become increasingly valuable as the companies that made them went out of business and as collectors remember them from their childhood. The price, Barrows said, often depends on the decoration's size, condition and age.

When did Christmas blow molds come out? ›

The first blow molds were made in the 1940s, but they didn't really catch on until Don Featherstone graduated from art school in 1957 and went right to work for Union Products. He designed a duck and then a pink flamingo.

Is blow molding cheap? ›

Blow Molding is Relatively Inexpensive

Cost is a big factor in any manufacturing, especially a large-scale, industrial plastic manufacturing job. Blow molding is typically quite inexpensive compared to other fabrication methods, making it completely customizable and scalable to your or your client's needs.

What is the best way to clean blow molds? ›

Mix a squirt or two of detergent in a large bucket of water. Hose down the blow mold and scrub the entire mold using your brush and the soapy water to remove surface dirt. Take the time to rinse the scrub brush of any old flaked paint that may get caught in the bristles.

Who invented blow molds? ›

Enoch Ferngren and William Kopitke produced a blow molding machine and sold it to Hartford Empire Company in 1938. This was the beginning of the commercial blow molding process. During the 1940s the variety and number of products were still very limited and therefore blow molding did not take off until later.

What are the names of blow molds? ›

In general, there are three main types of blow molding: extrusion blow molding, injection blow molding (one stage), and injection stretch blow molding (two stages).

Why are plastic blow molds so expensive? ›

When something is rare and there is a demand for it, it's hard to come by and often very expensive. With the rarity of well-maintained blow molds also comes the fact that some of the original companies that made these products are out of business. This makes them even more collectible.

How can you tell if a blow mold is vintage? ›

Do Look For A Barcode. If you ever see a barcode sticker on your blow mold, then you know it can not be older than the 1970s. Companies began using UPC barcodes in 1974. However, remember that anything over 30 years old IS considered vintage … so even if there is a barcode, it may still be a vintage find.

Did General Foam Plastics go out of business? ›

Note: since GFP is now out of business, their website is defunct.

What is the difference between blow mold and injection mold? ›

Injection molding is used for complex solid components whereas blow molding is used for thin-walled hollow parts. Injection molding forces plastic into a mold under high pressure. Blow molding, on the other hand, expands a hollow tube of plastic into a mold using compressed air.

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