Ask About Antiques Christmas Ornaments: Sparkling Memories Made Of Glass

by Budd A. Moore, Ed.D.

As we all know collecting is a phenomenon that has captured the hearts of many Americans. Today, we collect anything and everything. It should not come as any surprise that there are collectors for things that pertain to one of the happiest times of our years and perhaps the most joyous times in our memories.

Christmas has always had a special place in the hearts of Americans as a symbol of family closeness, holiday celebrations and a deep sense of religious identification with the meaning of the season. The trappings of this happy time have become the target of collectors in the 1960s and 1970s and developed into a frenzy in the 1980s and 1990s pushing the prices of these items even higher.

The first tree ornaments used in this country began very simply and were homemade. They soon followed the inevitable human pattern to elaborate and re-invent and became very intricate works of art that were truly beautiful. An 1869 issue of Harper’s Bazaar described ornaments that resembled fruits, globes, and flowers of colored glass. There were clowns, bells, birds, and little gnomes that concealed their identities behind tiny masks that made children wonder who they really were.

As with many things brought to this country from abroad, glass tree ornaments came from Germany. The center of ornament production was in the town of Lauscha just north of Nuremberg. Ornaments of varying quality and beauty were made there for many years. It took an American icon to increase the public’s demand for these decorative little trinkets that brought smiles to little faces and sparkles to many little eyes on Christmas morning. F.W. Woolworth, the 5 & 10-cent tycoon, was almost single handedly responsible for the huge influx of glass Christmas tree ornaments in the 19th century and on into the 20th. After their introduction into the stores they flew from the shelves and became very popular with Americans in their desire to carve out the moments of happiness that Christmas brings each year. By 1909 it was said that he sold about $25 million worth of these ornaments. With Woolworth’s help Lauscha became the Christmas ornament capital of the world. In the 1930’s Germany was joined by Czechoslovakia as a major source of these ornaments.

Many different types were produced in the golden era of the ornament from 1890 until the 1930s. Figurals of many types were mad and decorated. Fruits and vegetables, animals, doll, clowns, etc. were very popular. I have seen two different busts of the Baby Jesus with inlaid milk glass eyes. One of the more valuable ornaments was the likeness of a pickle, either green or silver. Apparently, the tradition in Germany was that the pickle ornament was hidden among the many hundreds of others on the tree, and the child who found it on Christmas morning received an extra gift that was very special.

Christmas is about traditions. Memories of Christmas in our lives are ways we sometimes usher out the blues. Through it we can return to the magic fantasy that holds youngsters spellbound in the dead of night to see if they can hear the prancing of hooves on their roof that can only mean that the legend was real. As adults we should never let go of these joys, even today, as a way to turn back the clock to happier times when life was carefree and Christmas was a shining star in the crown of our recollections.

World War II ended the flow of the beautiful ornaments, never to be resumed again. War can interrupt the joys of life, but it can never extinguish the shining magic of the Christmas season. Even in the darkest hours of World War II and in all of the far-flung outposts of the world, Christmas was still observed.

American ingenuity and manufacturers took over to insure that the sparkling dreams that are sprinkled throughout our consciousness could begin anew. Just before the war the Corning Glass Company had a ribbon machine that could produce ornaments faster than a machine gun could fire its bullets, somehow more desirable than what was about to burst upon the world in 1939. The company delivered a quarter of a million decorated ornaments to Woolworth’s for Christmas that year. As the lights went out all over the world in 1939, the sparkling glass decorations on Christmas trees gave Americans hope in the darkest of hours. Somehow the glass ornament was a symbol of hope and peace at that time - and even today.

Currently, these glass works of art of our past, things that would not allow our hopes for peace die in the depths of despair during those years are even more treasured today than ever. Each ornament had a story with it as we remember the special Christmas holidays of our youth. These glass ornaments are collected for their beauty and their nostalgia. What could be more of a motivation to collect than to bring back those hours that we felt were magic in our young lives?

Auction Action: [Recently sold at Matt Hurley’s Legacy Auction Center, 2800 Buchanan Trail East, Greencastle, Pa. 17225]
* Three Frank Feathers Canes, 1937, 1940, 1947, $14700
* Frank Feathers Carved Bible, $2000
* Frank Feathers Carved Spoon, $1500
* Grand Rapids Postmaster Toy (orig. box), $2000
* String of Brass Sleigh Bells, $450
* Enterprise Coffee Grinder, $235

Moore, Ed.D., is a specialist in the valuation of antique and collectable objects of the last 100 years. He is an educator, counselor, and avid antique enthusiast as well as a candidate member of the American Society of Appraisers. He has been a collector of antique American Art Pottery and has been a dealer for over 20 years. He is familiar with nearly all lines of American Art Pottery, twentieth century glassware, Art Deco, and Art Nouveau categories. If you have a question about antiques or collectibles, you can e-mail him at or drop him a letter at 8864 Lorford Drive, Chambersburg, PA 17201-9335.