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Antique Collectible

Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Ornaments: Acrobat: $44, Duck: $38.50, Rabbit: $27.50, Frog: $44, Eskimo: $38.50. Photo courtesy of William Jenack Auctioneers
You have to wonder if the nostalgia for an “old-fashioned” Christmas is based in memory or myth? I’m talking about the simple celebrations of years ago. You know the heart-tugging scenes from the Currier and Ives prints.

Frozen smiles. Mouth-watering eats. Sleigh rides.

Newspapers from the 1800s show an alarming lack of commercialism. The few Christmas ads listed show toys and holiday notions. Gifts back then were simple like pipe tobacco, homemade baked goods, and hand-embroidered handkerchiefs. Prior to 1860 there were no store-bought tree ornaments and decorations were usually edible.

All that would change.

The era of mass-production gave birth to a consumer economy in the United States and Christmas like a lot of other things bulged from the feeding frenzy. Can’t buy enough. Can’t get enough. Can’t have enough.

Maybe people aren’t tired of Christmas. They’re tired of what Christmas has become.

Perhaps the longing for how it used to be makes Christmas memorabilia collectors forage antique shops and scour household sales for that scent of yesterday, that keepsake of youth gone undercover.

Nostalgia and the unmistakable artistry in turn-of-the-century decorations is what lures collectors back in time.

Blown-glass ornaments garnished the Christmas trees in the good old days. This unpretentious craft began with a group of Protestant glass blowers in the 16th century, in the Thuringian Mountains in Germany.

To entertain themselves they would blow glass balls to see how large they could make them. By the 1820s, they were silvering the insides with lead and zinc and using them as household decorations. By 1848 the ornaments were hanging on Christmas trees and the first order for Weihnachtsbaum Kugeln, Christmas balls appeared in a glass blower’s order book.

No one anticipated the boom. Before long the entire German village of Lauscha was involved in the Christmas ornament industry. The men blew the glass for the ornaments. The women did the silvering and the children applied the lacquer, paint and added the caps.

The Kugeln are identified by their thick glass and dull sheen. First seen in America in the 1860s, durable construction is their hallmark. Many of these 19th century Christmas balls are still tucked away in attics and basements.

Their mellowed patina gives them away. In the oldest examples both the lacquered surface and the silvered lining have a weathered look, a gracefulness of age. Any glass ball that is decorated with cotton batting, wire tinsel or silk tassels probably came from the 1890-1910 era.

Another popular trimming for collectors is the sculpted light bulbs that layered Christmas trees from the 1920s and 1930s. First produced in Vienna in the early-20th century, these lights capitalized on the invention of electricity. American and Japanese manufacturers later crudely copied their designs. Birds, animals, flowers, fruits, Santas, comic-strip characters like Andy Gump and Little Orphan Annie all embellished the Christmas tree.

Christmas ornaments, candy containers, dolls, trains and toys highlighted the Nov. 12, 1995, auction of William Jenack in Chester, N.Y.

Just in time for Christmas the varied collectibles attracted a full-house. An 8˝-inch felt Santa, circa 1930, carrying a basket with fur trim candy container sold for $522.50

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