When it comes to decorating a Christmas tree these days, several traditional
items are used. A star or an angel is usually placed on the very top of the
tree, and draped around it is a set of brightly colored Christmas
lights...sometimes two or more strings are used. Tinsel can be draped over
the pine needles, and completing the adornment of the tree are those
wonderful little ornaments... the glass balls and figurines that can honor
dates, symbolize events, or simply provide a pleasant feature for the eye to
Ornaments have been hung on Christmas trees since the tradition of erecting
those trees first began. The modern custom began in Germany in the 1600s,
and had spread around the Western world by the 19th century.
Ornaments could consist of anything an artisan could create. In 1886, for
example, a typical Christmas tree in the United States would be hung with
"every kind of gilt hanging-thing, from gilt pea-pods to butterflies on
springs. There were shining flags and lanterns, and bird-cages, and nests
with birds sitting on them, baskets of fruit, gilt apples, and bunches of
grapes." These ornaments would have been made of very detailed embossed
To the collector of vintage and antique decorations, an ornament is anything
from a ball - a ball made of blown glass, (or more often than not of
plastic in today's world), and brightly colored, with or without an
additional design - to various kinds of figurines: depictions of religious
scenes or characters, Christmas icons such as Santa Claus, to generic items
such as figurines of athletes or cartoon characters!
Glass ornaments were first produced in 1847, in Lauscha, Germany by a
glassblower named Hans Greiner. Rather than spheres, these original pieces
were in the shape of fruit and nuts. Special compounds coated the inside of
these decorations to make them reflective. These ornaments proved popular
and Greiner soon had competition from other glass blowers in the area.
In the 1880s, the American F. W. Woolworth (owner of Woolworth's Five and
Dime stores) visited Germany and discovered these ornaments, which he began
to import. They became hugely popular throughout the country, and remained
so even though supplies from Germany were cut off during World War I.
Japan began exporting Christmas ball ornaments in 1925, as did
Czechoslovakia. Indeed, manufacturers in the United States didn't start
making these kinds of ornaments until 1939. Glass Christmas ball ornaments
continued to be made until the 1960s, when plastic ones came into use.
Collecting Christmas ornaments has been popular for decades, so much so that
their value has steadily increased and their availability has decreased.
Vintage and antique collectors therefore spread their nets far and wide to
find new examples of this craft.
How can you tell vintage ornaments from modern day ones?
Vintage ornaments are typically smaller and much thinner than ones produced
today. They were usually done in soft pastels, with carefully hand painted
Antique ornaments were hand blown, rather than machine made. If you remove
the stem from the base of the ornament, and check that base, you'll see that
hand blown ornaments have an uneven base whereas machine made ornaments will have a smooth base.What's the symbolism involved in some of the Christmas ornaments used in the past?
The star, usually placed at the top of the tree, of course represents the
Star of Bethlehem.
The lights represent the stars of heaven.
Fruit and vegetable shapes symbolize the harvest. Birds represented
messengers from the Bible, and were also symbolic of good luck and good
fortune. The fish shape is an early Christian symbol for Christ.
During Victorian times, at least one reflective ornament was typically
placed on the tree. Called a "Witch's Eye", it was supposed to ward off evil
Antique and vintage Christmas ornaments are typically stored away for most
months of the year, and then taken out to be proudly displayed during the
Christmas season. These fragile spheres of blown glass, or sculpted pieces
of wood and plastic, adorn the tree with a double meaning, both with their
sheer beauty and of the history behind them.
And each year as another Christmas passes by, each of those ornaments adds
yet another layer of history to its story.
For the serious collector of vintage & antique ornaments, Christmas is the
absolute best time of the year!
Please visit The Velveteen Rabbit Antiques for all of your vintage holiday decoration needs.