Until the mid-1800’s, Christmas trees were mostly decorated with homemade adornments or edibles like fruits and nuts. But the German entrepreneurs based in the glassblowing center of Lauscha had a better idea. They began producing decorative tree ornaments made out of blown glass. In the 1880s, F.W. Woolworth imported the first of these baubles into the U.S., triggering the American love affair with Christmas tree ornaments.
The first molded-glass Lauscha ornaments resembled fruits and nuts, presumably to replicate the tradition of putting the real things on trees. Glass pickles, of all things, were also produced. These were reportedly hung on trees in order to make a game of seeing which child could find it first—the reward was a year of good luck. Cookie shapes such as hearts and stars followed the food ornaments, while ornaments depicting children, saints, and animals appeared shortly after that.
Around the same time in northern Bohemia (now the Czech Republic), glassblowers were making what are now known as Gablonz ornaments out of silver-lined glass beads. Wire was used to string the beads together in a variety of shapes—from windmills and chandeliers to spiders and stars. Later, between the wars, transportation-themed ornaments appeared resembling boats, zeppelins, airplanes, and bicycles.
Meanwhile, in Dresden, beginning in about 1880, some nine different companies were making embossed cardboard ornaments, which are highly collectible today. Some were printed on just one side (referred to as "flat" by collectors) while others were printed on both ("double"). The most elaborate of the Dresden ornaments were those built of two molded pieces that had been glued together. Colors ranged from silver and bronze (to replicate the look of metal) to naturalistic hues (as you might guess, lobster ornaments were painted red).
Early catalogs by Dresden manufacturers such as Edvard Witte show menageries of common barnyard creatures as well as more exotic beasts—lions, polar bears, birds of prey. Eagles and owls were especially popular, and if you are in possession of an ostrich pulling a cart, then you own a particularly rare Dresden ornament. Flowers, fruits, and vegetables were common, but angels and other ornaments with religious themes were less so, making them more collectible today.
A particularly interesting subset of Dresden ornaments are those made between the 1930s and 1960s, reflecting the Soviet influence on that part of Germany. Some of these so-called Russian Dresdens seem oblivious to the political winds that swirled around them—a clown head, a man walking a dog, Puss ’n’ Boots—but when the ornament consists of a silver star with a hammer and sickle in its center from 1935, or a cute little waving Cosmonaut from 1960, the intended message is obviously more overt.
The handmade German ornament trade foundered after World War I, so American manufacturers filled the void, mass-producing ornaments that were sent to other companies to be decora...
Today, collectors of antique and vintage Christmas tree ornaments tend to focus on themes, periods, materials, or even shapes. For collectors of Shiny Brite in particular, a set of ornaments in its original festively colored box is also desirable.
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Recent News: Christmas Ornaments
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Mayor Kaler Organizes 2014 Student Christmas Ornament ContestSurfKY News, September 15th
2013-Student-Christmas-Orna 2013 Christmas tree with student ornaments.PADUCAH, Ky. (9/15/14) — Following the success of last year's Student Christmas Ornament Contest, Mayor Gayle Kaler is again asking for students to handcraft Christmas ...Read more
INTERVIEW: Wicked author Gregory Maguire reveals his favorite witchSheKnows.com, September 15th
A witch ball is like a reflective Christmas ornament you hang from the ceiling to make sure there aren't any witches hiding in corners. After dutifully checking that he was, in fact, alone (no creepy critters crawling), he hesitantly whispered, "Baba...Read more
Unmanly hurtPhilly.com, September 13th
She bashed a heavy Christmas ornament over his head, cutting him badly. She threw things at him, hit him, kicked him, belittled him, blocked him from leaving the house when he tried to avoid the confrontations she was itching to have. The neighbors got ...Read more
The Top of the MountainThe Newtown Bee, September 12th
Newtown Woman's Club has introduced its 2014 Christmas ornament. The 27th in an annual series, this year's pewter ornament features the Dayton Street Bridge. The ornament has once again been produced by Woodbury Pewterers, Inc, is still an oval ...Read more
The Buzz: Christmas stores coming soonAppleton Post Crescent, August 31st
"Hopefully, we'll be opening the last weekend of October," said Michele Malvich, one of three Milwaukee-based sisters who own and operate the Christmas ornament store. It also has seasonal branches in Milwaukee malls and the Mall of America. Malvich is ...Read more
2014 City Ornament Picturing Pasfield Home UnveiledWICS-TV, August 24th
"By the powers given to me as mayor of the City of Springfield, I hereby declare this to be the official Christmas ornament for the City of Springfield and it is absolutely gorgeous," proclaimed Mayor Mike Houston Saturday afternoon. This weekend the...Read more
2014 Christmas ornament contestWALB-TV, August 20th
2014 Christmas ornament contest - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports. Contests · Health Connections · Ask the Expert · Ask the Attorney · Jobs · Coupons · Advertise with Us. Subscription Center: Manage Account · Sign Up. SITE SEARCH...Read more
Quilted ornament contest now openQuad City Times, August 7th
Quilted ornament contest now open: The Friends of the Eldridge Library are sponsoring a quilted Christmas ornament contest. All the materials needed and instructions may be purchased for $3 at the circulation desk during regular library hours and are...Read more