Antique and Vintage Christmas Ornaments

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.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Bohemian Christmas Decorations

Bohemian Christmas Decorations

This simple site showcases over 500 artistic Gablonz glass bead antique and vintage Christmas tree ornaments, made … [read review or visit site]

Papa Teds Place

Papa Teds Place

The late Theodore H. Althof, Jr's beautiful collection of vintage dimestore cardboard Christmas 'putz' village hous… [read review or visit site]

Old Soviet Christmas Cards

Old Soviet Christmas Cards

This site showcases over 1000 old Soviet Christmas and New Years cards from 1950 to 1990. Browse through page after… [read review or visit site]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage 13-1/2" Fabric/paper Made German Christmas Feather Tree With Ornaments24 Vintage Antique Poland & West Germany Glass Christmas Ornaments Indents+13 Vintage Glass Christmas Ornaments Shiny Brite Double Indent Misc.Early German Cardboard Wall Clock Christmas Ornament Covered With Glass Sand Vintage Glass Ornament "unusual"Vintage Antique Hand Blown Mercury Glass Christmas Ornament 24 Vintage Shiny Brite Christmas Ornaments Includes Bumpy Double Indent Ornamens13 Vintage Plastic Twinkler Spinner Birdcage & Stars Christmas Tree Ornaments6 Vintage Italian Glass Diorama Christmas Ornaments 12 Vtg Ufo Shiny Brite Glass Xmas Tree Ornaments Neat Shapes Variety Atomic Vintage Blown Mercury Glass Christmas Ornament Tree Garlands Strings RareAntique Vtg Mercury Glass Xmas Tree Ornament Lot Mica Rim Deep Indents GermanyVintage Christmas Decoration Glass Ornaments Large Poland A56 12 Vtg Fancy Poland Glass Xmas Tree Ornaments Some Tear Drops Indent ShapesVintage Christmas Pixie Elf On Deer Ornament Made In JapanCazenovia Abroad Rm Trush Sterling Silver Christmas Waving Angel Ornament W Tags1978 Reed & Barton Christmas Star Sterling Silver Christmass Ornament PendantVintage Christmas Decoration Glass Ornaments Indent Poland A64 Vintage Mercury Glass Beads Garland Multi Color Christmas 118" 2 Box Sets Of Shiny Brite Feather Tree Ornaments (bells-lanterns-balls)8 Vintage Carved Wood Anri Christmas Angels With Musical Instruments-italyAntique Germany Glass Moth Butterfly Spun Glass Wings OrnamentVintage Christmas Figural Mercury Glass Ornaments (tree Cones) Antique Clip On Paper Christmas Tree Christmas OrnamentVintage Lot Of 5 Twinklers Birdcage Ornaments Pink & Blue Spinner Xmas Tree Rare Antique Victorian Christmas Cornucopia Candy Container With Diecut Scrap!12 Vintage Shiny Brite + Glass Christmas Ornaments In Box Vintage Christmas Decoration Glass Ornaments Ufo Shiny Brite A62Vintage Xmas Mini Feather Tree Glass Ornaments Miniature Pinecone Bumpy LotVintage Japan Elf Pixie Knee Hugger Christmas Ornament LotAntique Unsilvered Carousel Christmas Ornament W Metal Tinsel & Dangle Bell VtgCazenovia Abroad Windsor Park Sterling Silver 3d Christmas Ornament Peace Dove11 Vintage Shiny Brite Pink Glass Christmas Tree Ornaments-stenciled-pinecone-Rare & Unusual Spun Cotton Lrg Mushroom With A Snail Vintage Christmas OrnamentTowle Sterling Silver Christmas Ornament Angel 'German Valentine Day Candy Container Ornament Red Heart Antique Vintage Vintage Mercury Glass Christmas Tree Ornament Lot Tea Pots Mica!Towle Sterling Silver Christmas Ornament 1997 Seventh Edition Angel 'Towle Sterling Silver Christmas Ornament 1994 Fourth Edition Angel '8 Antique Christmas Ornaments, All Embossed, All Different11antique Vintage Germany & Japan Glass Feather Tree Christmas Ornaments Variety24 Vintage Poland Glass Christmas Ornament Christmas Balls In Original BoxLot 12 Vintage Glass Bulb Christmas Tree Ornaments Indents 18 Antique Vtg Mercury Glass Xmas Tree Ornaments Mixed Lot Stripes Shiny Brite +Cazenovia Abroad Windsor Park Sterling Silver 3d Christmas Ornament Sitting DogVintage West Germany Glass Christmas Ornaments ~ Pink Bells W/ Mica ChurchesVintage 1971 Gorham Sterling Silver Snowflake Christmas Tree OrnamentTowle Sterling Silver Christmas Ornament 1993 Third Edition Angel 'Towle Sterling Silver Christmas Ornament 1996 Sixth Edition Angel 'Vtg Box 12 Poland Large Santa Skier Indent Teardrop Xmas Tree Glass OrnamentVtg Mercury Glass Ornaments Icicles Feather Christmas Tree Figural LotTwo Vintage Antique Christmas Face?? Ornaments Very Old Vintage Glass Christmas Tree Ornament Lot Feather Tree Horn Barrel Mica Acorn12 Vintage 3" Mercury Glass Tree Ornaments Red Indents Reflector W. GermanyLot Of Vintage Christmas Tree Ornaments JapanVintage Owl Glass Christmas OrnamentLot 12 Vintage 4'' Indent Teardrop Hand Paint Mercury Glass Christmas OrnamentsTowle Sterling Silver Christmas Ornament Angels Candles Religious Church 'Towle Sterling Silver Christmas Ornament 1997 Old Master Snowflake 'Vintage De Carlini Set Of Three Snowmen Standing Glass Decorations Made In Italy