Collector's Corner: Glass Christmas Tree Ornaments
By Michele Alice
With the holidays upon us, it's time to dig out that dust-covered bin of Christmas tree ornaments. Chances are, each piece is not cradled in its original package, nor lovingly wrapped in acid-free tissue or a soft towel for protection. And there are probably fewer than the year before last because the cat had scored three before being exiled to the basement rec room, and you had accidentally dropped one while taking down the tree.
No great loss - unless one had been a 1999 Hallmark blown-glass Star Trek Enterprise valued at $120. Or a vintage Italian-glass elf worth $135. Or an 1890's German Bubble Kugel that could take up to $1000 to replace!
Of course, the majority of old glass ornaments don't fetch nearly as much - most are worth well under $10 - but unless you bought your ornaments new, you may not know what you have in your possession.
Many old glass ornaments that have been inherited or picked up at yard or estate sales have no marks and have long since lost any tags or packaging that could help identify or date them, so the collector must depend on being able to recognize general attributes. For example, glass ornaments made in the U.S. during World War II were often clear or transparent with paper caps. This is because the metals that would have been used to silver the glass and make the caps were too valuable to the war effort to be utilized for decorations.
Another example: the many ornaments today referred to as "mercury glass." True mercury glass pieces consist of silver nitrate sandwiched between two layers of glass. They are thus heavier than regular single-walled silvered ornaments. Most date from before WWII, and are some of the most sought after ornaments today.
Gablonz ornaments are also recognizable by their construction, consisting of silvered beads strung on fine wire and shaped into various fanciful forms. Made in northern Bohemia (in what is now the Czech Republic) beginning in the mid-19th century, Gablonz ornaments are considered some of the most fragile and most collectible in the secondary markets.
Of course, if you don't know what you have, chances are that most other people don't know what they have either. This is a boon to knowledgeable collectors who troll local yard sales and thrift shops for rare specimens.
But whether you're a collector or you're just looking for something different to decorate your tree, you need to show extra care to safeguard your finds. Dust can usually be removed with just a soft cloth or duster. Beyond that, no matter how dirty they may appear, resist the urge to wash them. Soap and water have the potential to destroy any potential value by oxidizing surface coloring, or removing it altogether!
Lulusgroove (see resource section below) recommends gently cleaning some ornaments with Q-tips moistened with saliva. As disgusting as this sounds, this is actually standard practice by fine-art conservators. Human saliva is usually at or near pH (the measure of acidity vs alkalinity) neutral (7.0), and is thus less damaging than water. If you've ever been to a fine art museum, chances are that you've been admiring priceless paintings that have been cleaned with someone's spit!
If you would like to learn more about these popular collectibles, check out the resources listed below.
Update: I previously wrote about Red Rose Wade Whimsies and learned the news that collectors will no longer find the figurines in certain boxes of Red Rose tea. The company announced that customers will, instead, be able to select the pieces they wish to acquire by mailing to Red Rose the special order form found in the tea boxes along with a UPC code for each figurine. The whimsies will still be free, but there will be a sliding charge for shipping and handling dependent upon the number of
whimsies being ordered at any one time. More information about the program can be found at the Red Rose website.
Antique Bohemian Beaded Christmas Decorations - Link to website - Over 600 ornaments from 1870-1940 Bohemia are on view at this site.
eBay Guides - These two by lulusgroove are particularly helpful:
Vintage Christmas Ornaments - Facts and Fiction - Link to guide
Risky Business - Cleaning Vintage Ornaments - Link to guide
Guide to the Eras of Collectible Christmas - Link to review - General timeline to ornament types, by grandmastree.
An Interview with Antique Christmas Ornament Collector Jerry Arnold - Link to article - Lots of great info from a knowledgeable collector.
Shiny Brite Christmas Ornaments - Link to website - By embitca, a short history of the now vintage glass-ornament company.
Update from the Editor: A reader wrote in to tell us about The Golden Glow of Christmas Past, an organization for collectors of antique Christmas memorabilia - thanks for sharing this resource.
About the author:
Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more! Email her at makalice @ adelphia.net eBay ID: Malice9
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