Dwight’s painting of “MERRY CHRISTMAS” depicts a lovely variety of Christmas ornaments as seem very familiar now, but Christmas ornaments have a long history dating back to the 16th century in Germany where apples and nuts were used to decorate the evergreens. It was more of a community practice at that time, but Christmas trees moved inside around the 18th century and pears were also added. In 1605 paper roses and candles were added to the indoor setting with the high point coming from the added tinsel, or “icicles” in 1610, which was originally made with pure silver. Their German creators called them “angel hair”. In the 1800’s the tradition of Christmas trees began to penetrate American homes. Americans used long strands of popcorn or cranberries to encircle their trees.
Tree with popcorn and cranberries & tree with tinsel
In the mid 1800’s, Germans mass-produced ornaments that were strictly for Christmas. The area surrounding Lauscha was the center of the glass making and Germany soon captured the world market in glass Christmas ornaments. The earliest ones were natural shapes, but it was not long that the round glass ball took over as more popular. In 1840 in the UK, Queen Victoria put up a decorated tree in the royal palace as a gift to Prince Albert, her German-born husband. This caused great excitement in England and America.
The founder of Woolworth’s Five and Dime stores, F.W. Woolworth, imported German glass ornaments into the States in the 1880’s and in ten years, it is said, he was selling $25 million worth of them! It should be noted that up until WWI almost all glass Christmas ornaments were made in Germany. But with anti-German sentiment in the States, the German monopoly over this market was broken. Japan and the Czech Republic entered the competition. In the late 30’s and with WWII looming, F.W. Woolworth, together with businessman Max Eckhardt, persuaded the Corning Company of New York to make American glass ornaments and by 1940 Corning was making 300,000 a day!
For baby boomers like me, the main sources for ornaments were still F.W. Woolworth and its competitors Kresge and Neisner’s. There were other places, like Macy’s and Gimbel’s, but they didn’t have the purchasing power of Woolworth’s who could sell them for 10 or 20 cents. After WWII, production of baubles in Lauscha stopped. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall only 20 glass-blowing firms are still active today there.
Injection molding allowed formerly round ornaments to have indentations, allowing shapes of movie stars to be greatly sold. Hallmark began its Keepsake Collection in 1973 and soon after came the flood of ornaments from national chains, like McDonald’s.
I personally love the type of round glass ornament that THASC artist Dwight Hamsley has painted. Among my “thousand” souvenirs resurrected from my basement is my favorite ornament passed down from my Mom and Dad’s trees from the 50’s and 60’s and used for decades after that. It’s a bright fuchsia color, which simply says “Merry Christmas “ on it. It already has taken its prime position right up front on my tree. They don’t make them like that anymore!
Hope you are all busy with Holiday shopping and decorating this weekend as we draw closer and closer to our special celebrations.
I want to thank the THASC family and my editor for allowing me to share my blogs about these precious artists with you every week. I’m wishing you all Happy Holidays and a peaceful 2016