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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Reminder: Hallmark's Ornament Launch In July Is Not Christmas CreepThe Consumerist, July 7th
“We've been holding Ornament Premiere in July for 15+ years,” a Hallmark representative explained to Consumerist, explaining why the company needed to hold its Christmas ornament premiere during July. That means now the company has been at it for ...Read more
'I am not a racist': Prison guard suspended one day for Facebook 'joke' about ...Raw Story, July 6th
A Wisconsin prison guard who posted a joke on Facebook last year featuring a Christmas ornament of President Obama with a joke about lynching a black man, received a slap on the wrist with a 1-day suspension reports the State Journal. Officer Collin ...Read more
Send to KindleThe Weekly Standard (blog), July 6th
For the past 35 years, a large portion of the funding for the WHHA has come from the sale of its annual White House Christmas Ornament. The 2015 edition honors President Coolidge, who lit up the first National Christmas Tree in 1923. This year's...Read more
4 on the Floor for the FourthRicochet.com, July 3rd
150701120633-calvin-coolidge-nationals-exlarge-169 Quietly (which seems appropriate), it's been a good year for Calvin Coolidge. America's 30th President is this year's choice as the White House Historical Association's annual Christmas ornament...Read more
Former ambassador paid for 'George W Bush Expressway' signs along N. CentralDallas Morning News (blog), July 2nd
Tichenor also happened to be the original recipient of Bush's cardinal painting that became a Christmas ornament sold in 2013 at the George W. Bush Presidential Center, where Tichenor served on the national finance committee. The stretch of Central ...Read more
Coolidge joins Nats' racing presidentsThe Hill (blog), July 1st
The White House Historical Association previously partnered with the team on their last annual Christmas ornament design, according to CNN. That ornament featured references to Coolidge, the first president to light the national Christmas tree in 1923...Read more
Nationals call up guy who's been dead since 1933Cleveland Sun Times, July 1st
As part of the deal, the Nationals are selling a Coolidge Christmas ornament, asking White House trivia questions during games and helping run an educational program in D.C. hich schools. The WHHA is pretty excited about the race expanding. “That was ...Read more
Book Review: The Dangerous Christmas OrnamentCommunities Digital News, June 21st
In “The Dangerous Christmas Ornament,” author Bob Siegel gives 12-year-old Mike Owen the ability to make wishes. Not just one, not just three, but an unlimited number. Mike's eccentric Aunt Loureen arrives with an ornament empowered to grant Mike's ...Read more