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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It seems like Kim Kardashian's naked butt has been everywhere recently, and now it can be on your Christmas tree! During an appearance on The Meredith Vieira Show this week, Kevin Jonas revealed a special hand-made ornament he crafted to resemble ...Read more
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White House Displays 3-D–Printed Christmas Ornament Contest Winnersartnet News, December 17th
In October the White House announced its first-ever 3-D–printed ornament challenge in partnership with the Smithsonian. Artists, designers, engineers, and students from around the nation were invited to design an ornament to be 3-D printed and hung on...Read more
Our Daily Salt fights hunger with Wisconsin-shaped Christmas ornamentMilwaukee Neighborhood News Service, December 17th
Felisha Wild displays an unfinished rolling pin near the turning machine in her workshop. (Photo by Raina J. Johnson). In the three years since a small woodworking business started in a basement, the owners have won a local business plan competition, ...Read more
Boy Scouts unveil Shelton's 2014 Christmas ornamentShelton Herald, December 16th
From left at the ornament prclamation announcement are Carol Perdagast of the Friends of the Dog Park; city Parks and Recreation Director Ron Herrrick; the Friends' Lynn Todd Reid, Dave Pendagast and Peg DeMaine; scout David Keith; woodcarver Tim ...Read more