Collectible Christmas items range from antique hand-crafted pieces like blown-glass tree ornaments to vintage Christmas decorations and manufactured items like aluminum trees and limited-edition plates, nutcrackers, and cardboard Putz village houses. All are rooted in longstanding traditions: bells and tree ornaments, for example, have been associated with Christmas for hundreds of years.
Until the Victorian era, most Christmas trees were decorated with candles, cookies, and fruit, but in the mid-1800's German craftsmen began producing blown-glass tree ornaments in shapes like stars, fruit, and angels. Thus, the ornament tradition was born. Lauscha was the first company to make molded-glass ornaments, some of which were shaped like pickles (the first child to find the pickle ornament amid the cookie shapes and saints got a year of good luck). Bohemia glassblowers made Gablonz ornaments out of silver-lined glass beads, strung on wire into everything from spiders to zeppelins. Dresden artisans made names for themselves in the 1880s producing embossed cardboard ornaments, which included one-sided "flats" as well as molded and glued three-dimensional pieces.
In the days before electricity, glass ornaments had a practical value as counterweights and shades for candles. Counterweight ornaments looked like their less functional cousins in terms of their designs, but they came equipped with clips so they could be hung from branches. Shade ornaments had the obvious additional value of containing a candle's flame. Around the same time, companies such as Waterford, Swarovski, Baccarat, and Orrefors produced purely decorative crystal ornaments shaped like Santas, bells, and other traditional symbols of the holiday season.
Christmas was also influenced by the development of novelty papier mâché candy containers, which were used as ornaments, even after their contents were consumed. Some families made their own hand-crafted ornaments to hold the goodies hanging from the trees, which made these containers some of the earliest Christmas presents. The simplest design was the candy cornucopia, which was made from a piece of paper rolled into the shape of a cone.
In the 20th century, major retailers like Sears and Montgomery Ward began issuing Christmas catalogs, which themselves are now collectible. Department stores also featured model train sets at Christmas, helping to establish that tradition. Coca-Cola featured Santa Claus heavily in its early advertising, and Coca Cola Christmas items are now highly collectible, as are items as diverse as one of a kind sterling silver tree ornaments, Santa-shaped chocolate molds, and vintage Christmas records.
In a class by itself, though, is Christmas jewelry, as seen in the widespread popularity of costume jewelry Christmas pins and brooches in the shapes of trees, candy canes, and reindeer. Stanley Hagler, Miriam Haskell, and Trifari are just a few of the costume-jewelers known for their Christmas collections.