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.
Thanks for the history lesson. I didn’t know any of that, just that I love those Shiny Brite ornaments and now I’ll be on the lookout for some Premier ornaments as well. Your tree is adorable. BTW, I have saved a pic of your Shiny Brite wreath that I am using for inspiration. Merry Christmas to the both of you.
Aww thanks Nikki, Now don’t panic, but I’m not making that big wreath this year. Instead I did an entirely Shiny Brite tree (pics to come) and I found something else to put it it’s place. Merry Christmas to you as well.
I just love this article! So fun to ready and think of you!
Loved the story and pictures! So glad I found out about your blog!
Glad you found us too Terrie!
i miss you guys. please post more often!
Thank Sharon. Working on it….. it’s been a busy year. 😀
So lovely! Merry Christmas from our house to yours!!
I am a Corning, NY native and recently read this article regarding Shiny Brites. Being the great sleuth you are, you have probably already seen it, but I want to be sure!
Merry Christmas! I enjoy your blog!
Thanks Lynette! Yes, I’ve seen this. I moderate a Shiny Brite Facebook group. And someone posts this every week. I keep waiting for someone to post my article……. 😐
Great article with accurate information. Love the pictures!
I really enjoyed reading about the history of these fabulous ornaments that I casually collect. I had no idea that Corning made these. My friend has worked at our local Corning factory in Wilmington NC for decades, and she’s never connected the dots for me. I always enjoy seeing your Christmas decor! Merry Christmas!
Merry Christmas Sara! Wilmington is/was the biggest producer of ornaments. Corning even made their own brand…. the wartime ones are pretty rare…… and I have 1. Just appeared one day. Maybe I’ll start hoarding those next.
I learn so many interesting things from your posts. Your collection is beautiful.
Awww thanks Tracie! More is more!
I loved your mention of ribbon candy, great analogy. All of this was my childhood and the memories linger as happy ones. Ribbon candy looked better than it tasted.
My grandmother always brought out a glass dish of ribbon candy every year….. the EXACT SAME dish of ribbon candy. I didn’t even know it was edible until I was about 20…..
Very interesting. Always enjoy this type of history.
Thanks James! I like learning something new too!!!
Like others I miss you too/two. I had some very old ornaments from my childhood, and alas I misplaced them. Would be wonderful if you came across them someday. So if you find a bulb with Bambi on it and not in good condition. Love it. Thanks for the info had no idea, very interesting.
Hi Susan. I don’t know your age, but there was a set of Disney ornaments in the early 40. Bambi was on one, Thumper another. I just learned about them recently…. they are usually pretty haggard, and NOT cheap. If I ever have one in my hand I’ll let you know.
Oh, my heavens! I just linked to your 2012 blog post about Shiny Brites, on my blog about Sears kit houses — I didn’t realize that you just put one up this year, too! I’ve just discovered that these ornaments we’ve always had, and treasured, were Shiny Brites 🙂 Thanks for your info 🙂 Merry Christmas! (Here’s my Christmas-themed blog post, if you’re interested… I used a couple of your photos, with credit and a link… hope that’s okay!?)
Post away Judith! Glad we could spread a little knowledge about a brand that means a lot to us as well! Happy Holidays!
I was perusing Pinterest and found your pic on the the tool shed “reno” some years back…I’d love to find out where you purchased this particular shed and if it’s still available? It’s a perfect size and you did a great job tweaking it.
Hi Kassie,,Jamie bought that shed out of an American Airlines Skyway magazine. They have been out of stock for the past 8 years. Wish I’d bought a dozen of them….. we get a lot of questions about where to buy them. Sorry😞
Oh, shoot! Thanks for replying so quickly. Make another post if you ever find another! I’m enjoying reading your blog!
Loved the info on nonsilvered ornaments. Had read similar items before. This one very detailed. Was just trying to save the site. My mom had some striped non silvered but they are gone now. Also liked the info about premier ornaments. Just heard that title this year. Hooked up with the Glow 2018.
Thanks Diana, glad you enjoyed it. I love the Glow! Pretty sure it’s their fault I find a new vintage Christmas obsession every other month.