When you collect vintage Christmas ornaments the way I do…… let’s just say that I cast a rather large net. I search out large, inexpensive, lots…. there are always some surprises; Usually there are a few decent ones, even fewer great ones, and mostly ones I would classify as “ok”.
And sometimes, but not very often, there are some clear ones with paper caps.
American Christmas wasn’t always the way we celebrate it now.
German immigrants at the turn of the last century brought with them their Germanic holiday traditions of Santa Claus, Christmas cookies, and my personal favorite, the Christmas tree.
Christmas trees were already the rage in Victorian England, after Prince Albert presented one to Queen Victoria.
Max Eckardt is considered by many to be the father of American Christmas ornaments. Max was a German immigrant importing German mouth-blown glass Christmas ornaments for the American market. Because he knew that a war would interrupt his imports, it was Max’s idea to convince the Corning Glass Company to slightly alter machines that were currently making light bulbs to produce glass Christmas balls. He then had them silvered and hand-painted by K&L Glassworks in New Jersey.
Because of the anti-German sentiment at the time, Max withdrew the name Max Eckardt & Co and renamed his brand, distributing the new Corning provided ornaments, Shiny Brite.
When World War 2 did hit, Max was right and he captured the American Christmas ornament market, especially since his glass baubles were produced in the United States and sold for just a few pennies each across the country at Woolworth’s Five & Dime stores.
Early American ornament caps sometimes read, “Made in U.S. of A.”.
But the war also had other consequences. Certain items became rationed; meat, gasoline, sugar, butter, rubber and even silver; like the silver nitrate Shiny Brite used to line the inside of their glass ornaments. Max’s solution was to tint the clear glass in bright colors.
Or embellish them with graphic stencils,
Or even to add a piece of tinsel for sparkle.
Shiny Brite wasn’t the only ornament company affected by these rations. Corning was selling the same clear glass ornaments, or blanks, to other companies like, Rauch, Coby, and Franke. Premier Glass, who had developed their own glass ornament shapes, countered the lack of silver nitrate with some pretty bright, vibrant paint colors.
Premier is one of my favorite companies. It’s probably because they had a relatively short run, from about 1940 thru 1955 – when Shiny Brite bought them out to limit the competition, that they are highly sought after by collectors.
When the metal used for caps also became scarce, they were replaced with paper. Sometimes, the entire cap and loop were replicated with brown craft paper.
Or just a hanger was fashioned from thin cardboard in an upside down T-ish shape with a hole punched for a hook or piece of string.
I even have a few with home-crafted twisted wire hangers like this guy.
Unsilvered ornaments and paper caps were only produced for a couple of years, and by 1946 war-time restrictions had lifted and companies were able to use silver nitrate and metal caps again making this brief interlude just a blip in the history of American produced Christmas ornaments.
Making them that much more desirable……
I never intended to collect war-time unsilvered ornaments, they just appeared. I wasn’t interested in clear ornaments, but when I noticed that I had a few paper caps in my hoard. It was on.
When I really focus on something, I burn a hole right through it…
….and it didn’t take long to collect enough to do a small tree.
They remind me of ribbon candy.
The tinsel tree was an At Home find and the colored lights are C6 bulbs – also from the 1940’s. I thought it was only fitting to use punched tin reflectors with them.
Who knows what will tickle me to collect next.
But have no fear that I’ll dive right in,
like Scrooge McDuck.