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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The Wildey's latest Christmas ornament.The Edwardsville Intelligencer, November 26th
The Leading Real Estate Magazine in Southwestern Illinois Since 1990. Published by the Edwardsville Publishing Co., LLC · 112014 Edge of the Weekend. THE EDGE OF THE WEEKEND is a product of the Edwardsville Intelligencer, a member of the Hearst ...Read more
Wildey offering new Christmas ornamentThe Edwardsville Intelligencer, November 26th
The Friends of the Wildey Theatre have released their fourth Wildey Theatre custom Christmas ornament. The ornaments are part of a larger fundraising effort to support the theater. The 2014 collector's ornament is a likeness of the Wildey stage and...Read more
Christmas ornament workshop set for SundayNiagara Gazette, November 26th
Contributed photoThe Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum is hosting a Christmas ornament workshop from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Posted: Thursday, November 27, 2014 3:00 am. Christmas ornament workshop set for Sunday Staff reports Niagara Gazette...Read more
Ridgely Historical Society selling 2014 Christmas ornamentThe Star Democrat, November 25th
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Optimist ornament shows Prange windowsThe Sheboygan Press, November 24th
The Sheboygan Optimist Club is offering a hand-crafted three-dimensional Christmas ornament depicting the H.C. Prange department store Christmas windows. Ornaments sell for $20 each and are available at Ara's Beks & Pottiers, 652 South Pier Drive; ...Read more
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The guile of Machiavellian strategy and the finesse of Sun Tzu's “The Art of War” are on display in the Christmas Ornament Exchange Game, where church ladies reveal their killer instincts. Like Mayans on a search for treasure who will stop at nothing, ...Read more
How to DIY a Kim Kardashian #BreakTheInternet ornamentMashable, November 12th
Kim Kardashian's Paper magazine cover is the stuff of a workout guru's dreams and Tumblr-worthy memes. It's only fitting that when presented with such an astounding opportunity, we'd want to take full advantage of all Kardashian has to offer. So, we...Read more
The White House is getting a 3D-printed Christmas ornamentWashington Post (blog), October 30th
Decorating the White House for Christmas is a long-held tradition, with generations of first ladies showing of confections in the shape of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and sparkly ornaments atop Douglas fir trees throughout the residence. So prepare...Read more