Shiny Brite ornaments were created by American businessman Max Eckardt in 1937.
Before World War II, almost all of the glass ornaments on American Christmas trees were imported from Germany.
It was a German immigrant, Max Eckardt, who realized that the war could interrupt his Christmas ornament import business. So in 1937, Eckardt and Bill Thompson, a store manager for F. W. Woolworth – who promised to place a huge order, convinced the Corning Glass Company to produce machine-blown glass balls. It was a simple step for Corning to convert a glass ribbon machine, previously used to make light bulbs, to one that now made clear glass ornaments.
Thompson was true to his word, and in the December of 1939, nearly 250,000 American-made ornaments filled Woolworth’s stores across the country.
With a price point of just a few cents each, they were an immediate success with American holiday shoppers.
The Corning company didn’t decorate the balls in the beginning, when a majority of their factory production was still light bulbs.
The clear globes were shipped in large quantities to Eckardt’s decorating plant in New Jersey. There they were silvered, sprayed inside with silver nitrate, and lacquered to give them a shiny and brite appearance. Starting with simple silver, the ornaments were eventually produced in a large variety of colors; classic red (the most popular ornament color in the 1940s), green, gold, and even pink and icy blue.
Any exterior stripes, or sometimes flowers, were painted on by hand.
The colours could be solid or striped. They also came in a large variety of shapes including balls, bells, tear drops, icicles, finials, pinecones, Japanese lanterns and reflectors.
Or they could be decorated with mica “Snow”,
Stripes or stenciled holiday designs.
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 caps are also a good indicator of age. Early Shiny Brites had metal caps withe the stamp “Made in U.S. of A.”.
Metal caps and rings were standard with early Shiny Brites, but during the war, these caps were replaced with a cardboard cap or hanger. Transparent bulbs with cardboard caps are considered the Holy Grail for vintage Shiny Brite ornament collectors.
All un-silvered ornaments aren’t necessarily war-time. The company continued to produce them well into the 1950s. So look for that paper cap to be sure of the age.
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, a boxed set of a dozen sold for about 60 cents, these American-made ornaments flourished. At their peak, they were produced out of four separate New Jersey factories.
Here’s a few 1950’s catalog pages with Shiny Brites…….. and a few of their plastic rivals.
In the early 60s, the increased popularity of artificial trees seemed to coincide with the need for cheap, unbreakable plastic ornaments to decorate them with.
American Christmas company Poloron bought the Shiny Brite name in the 1970s, and Corning continued to produce blanks for them, well into the 1980s. But quality changed. Designs were shrink wrapped onto the balls, neon glitters used, and some ornaments were made of glow in the dark plastic. Many collectors consider this to be the low point of the Shiny Brite name.
Enter Christopher Radko.
Mr Radko took over the Shiny Brite name in 1998 and brought the beauty back to the brand.
It’s still VERY likely to find complete boxes of the vintage glass gems at garage/yard sales, but eBay and Etsy are both excellent sources for sourcing 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 1940’s box is the image of Santa shaking hands with Uncle Sam, emphasizing the fact that they were indeed American Made.
Just brilliant. I’m pretty certain 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 glass ornaments that I found at a thrift store about 25 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 thousands now,
Seriously thousands, See?
…….but I can still pick out that first one I found every year.