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...
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 decorated, often by hand. The largest of these symbiotic business relationships was between the Corning Company and Shiny Brite. In 1940, Corning was producing as many as 300,000 ornaments a day, which Shiny Brite decorated and packaged from 1937 until 1962—you can date the ones produced during World War II because their metal caps were replaced with cardboard ones to save metal.
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.
Interviews & Articles
About 42 years ago, my wife, Darla, went to a very large white elephant sale and found a box of antique Christmas ornaments. She t… [more]
I grew up in a home without any antiques. As a small kid, I started decorating my parents’ home for Christmas. I don’t know what i… [more]
The following is a history of these wondrous little artifacts called cardboard Christmas village houses - a history devoted to est… [more]
Ever wonder about that box of vintage Christmas decorations in the attic? From wooden nutcrackers to glass Christrmas tree ornamen… [more]
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
Bohemian Christmas Decorations
Papa Teds Place
Antique Christmas Lights Museum
Old Soviet Christmas Cards
Other Great Reference Sites: Christmas
Top eBay Auctions
Recent News: Christmas Ornaments
Source: Google News
State Capitol Christmas ornament to celebrate black bear's recoveryDaily Comet (blog), May 21st
Unveiling the ornament at 3 p.m. .today in the House chamber will be House Speaker Chuck Kleckley and officials credited with helping to protect the bears. They include Public Service Commissioner and former state senator Foster Campbell; Executive...Read more
Freeze column: 12th annual Bare Bones 5K even more special than normalSalisbury Post, May 19th
Somebody is going to get a gigantic Christmas ornament for a May race. Come out and join the celebration as we honor the Salisbury's Police and Fire personnel as well as the military, both veterans and currently serving. Pass the word. We would love to...Read more
Ferguson, Zimmerman to wed SaturdayLaGrange Daily News, May 17th
A “Christmas ornament” party on Dec. 23 hosted by Claire Acree, Lia Conrad and Lauren Wagner at Cleo Ceramics. • A “Miscellaneous” shower was held Feb. 15 at the home of George and Mary Lynn Childress. Also hosting were Terry and Ginger Booton,...Read more
'NOS4A2': draining the potential from his young victimsThe Seattle Times, May 17th
the “Locke & Key” graphic novels with Hill, avoid portraiture; instead, they offer visions of objects encountered along the plot's complex, winding path: an IV bag full of blood, a motorcycle wrench, an autopsy hammer, a shattered Christmas ornament...Read more
Fleeing Oregon Suspect Begs Cops To Save Him From Columbia RiverHuffington Post, May 16th
Wagner was arrested in Southington, Conn. after allegedly stabbing a woman with a Christmas ornament while fleeing from a craft fair vendor that accused her of shoplifting. The victim tried to block Wagner's escape, but was slashed with a seashell...Read more
Christopher Radko Gallery Presents the 2013 Christopher Radko Charity ...PR Web (press release), May 16th
The Radko Celebrate Martha Christmas ornament, featuring a gorgeous and classic Old World Santa Claus dressed in sage green robes, is very special to Christopher Radko CEO Heather Richardson. She created the Celebrate Martha ornament in honor of...Read more
A screaming good timeThe Advocate, May 15th
On May 7, 20 Beta Club students from Verda toured Celtic Media Centre, where the fifth- through seventh-graders visited the mixing room, the screening room and set warehouses and made Christmas ornament props for the upcoming holiday film “Papa Noel...Read more
Cop was threatening not threatened trial hears - Simcoe.comSimcoe.com, May 15th
Nevill was called to the Bayfield Mall to investigate a broken Christmas ornament, but the situation quickly escalated into a violent takedown, court has heard. In the video, Stern is bleeding from his head while he is pinned to the ground by two...Read more