Shiny Brite ornaments were created by American businessman Max Eckardt in 1937.
They were proudly made in the U.S.A. (a selling point during WWII as previous to this many glass ornaments were imported from Germany).
They were mass-produced in a process that started with unadorned glass bulbs supplied by the Corning Glass Company that were then hand decorated and machine lacquered in Eckardt’s New Jersey factories. The inside of the glass ornament was coated in silver nitrate giving the ornaments a, you might say, bright and shiny look. Starting with simple silver they were eventually produced in a large variety of colours; classic red and green, gold, pink and even icy blue. The colours could be solid or striped. They also came in a large variety of shapes including balls, bells, tear drops, icicles, finials, pinecones, and Japanese looking lanterns.
or they could be decorated with mica “Snow” stripes, icicles or stenciled holiday images….
Interestingly, the history of the Shiny Brite ornament was directly impacted by wartime America. Early pre-war ornaments often had large sections of opaque silver and metallic colour. After WWII was declared, decorative silver nitrate became a “nonessential” use of metal, so many of the ornaments were stripped of any silvering, and were mainly transparent with only hand painted colour on the outside of the bulb. These transparent bulbs are some of the most sought after and prized for collectors.
The hooks are also a good indicator of age. Early Shiny Brites had metal hooks and tops. During the war, these hooks were replaced with cardboard tabs for a string to hang the ornament.
When the war finally ended in 1945, restrictions on metal receded, and the iconic “Shiny Brite” ornament was reborn. they used bright metallic colours, glittery mica flakes, and a distinctive crinkled tops (stamped with the words “Shiny Brite Made in U.S.A.”).
Because they remained affordable for 1950’s families, these ornaments flourished and at their peak came out of four separate factories in New Jersey.
Here’s a page from a 1950’s Sears catalogue with Shiny Brites and a few of their plastic rivals.
For some reason, possibly durability and cost, plastic ornaments eventually became the preference over glass, and the Shiny Brite company closed their doors in 1962.
It’s still VERY likely to find complete boxes of these gems at garage/yard sales but eBay and Etsy are both excellent sources for finding them year round…….like I do.
Luckily for any collector, Shiny Brites were sold in divided cardboard boxes that held up pretty well over the years.
One of my favorite things about the box is the image of Santa shaking hands with Uncle Sam. Just brilliant. I’ll bet the German-made ornaments didn’t have that on their box.
I’m not really sure when my vintage glass ornament obsession started.
I think it was the bag of old ornaments that I found at a thrift store about 20 years ago. They looked like aged pastel metals to me. One of them was adorned with a hand-painted log cabin with mica smoke rising from the tiny chimney.
I have hundreds now,
seriously hundreds, See?
but I can still pick out that first one I found every year.