Today’s Sustainable Sunday is going to look at one of the ways you can minimize waste this holiday season; by sourcing and reusing vintage.
Those stockings you’ve hung by the chimney, with care, likely spend at least 11 months of the year tucked away safe – as do the ornaments, table decorations, lights etc. etc. And this is nothing new: families have carefully stored their delicate, often expensive ornaments away for generations. Because of this, finding vintage Christmas decorations is usually pretty easy. So if your tree is looking a little bare, and you haven’t inherited any or built up a collection of your own, I suggest starting with some classic pieces that will bring that nostalgic holiday feeling along with them – here’s some of the most popular styles of vintage Christmas decor, along with the approximate dates of their peak of popularity.
Cardboard Dresden Ornaments (1880-1910)
These precious little embossed ornaments originate in the Dresden-Leipzig area, which is how they got their name. These small, delicate pieces were made by dampening cardboard to make it flexible, and then pressing it into a stamping die to emboss it. Some were painted, many were gilded, and they came in shapes that ranged from exotic animals like peacocks and polar bears to sailboats, sleighs and stars. While they were mass-produced (by hand) in their day, their delicate nature means that there are relatively few that remain today. True antique Dresden ornaments can cost you a pretty penny, so if you find one at an estate sale or swap meet, be sure to snatch it up!
Putz Houses (1920-1950)
According to this article about the history of these cute little houses, putz is German for putting or placing things together to create a scene: more specifically, it comes from the German word putzen which means to decorate or adorn. While there have been many iterations of small Christmas villages through the years, the ones referred to as Putz Houses are generally no more than 5″ tall, made of cardboard and covered in fake snow (mica) and glitter. Originally coming to North America from Eastern Europe, after WWI the mass-production of these little gems shifted to Japan. The Japanese didn’t share the same Christmas traditions, but they perfected the process of manufacturing them and based them off of American home design, so until WWII the majority of our little homes were shipped from overseas. You will find similar cardboard houses made post-war – some again coming from Japan, many made in the USA – but there is significantly less detail to the designs, and most diehard collectors are only really interested in the Japanese originals (see above – far left is a mid-century collection vs the more detailed originals from the 1920s).
spun cotton ornaments (1880-1940)
Referred to as “spun cotton”, these are basically felted ornaments that come in a wide array of shapes and sizes. As with many of the ornaments we still love today, these originated in Germany, first appearing in the late 19th century. Early examples are often of fruits or even vegetables, and later iterations include little people or fairies. They were initially made by winding cotton around a basic wire frame, but later examples would consist of tightly wound cotton pressed in a mold. If you wanted to try doing your own sometime, I’d recommend using a felt hook.
Kugel Ornaments (1850-1910)
Another type that originated in Germany, these heavy, glass pieces are quite valuable, if they are a true Kugel. While the word kugel means “ball” these hand-blown ornaments come in a variety of shapes, often fruit. First made in the mid 1800s, the originals were so heavy they couldn’t hang on trees, and instead were suspended from the ceiling. By the 1880s, lighter versions were hitting shelves and making their way to North America. Apparently the way to distinguish an original from a reproduction is to examine its cap.
Shiny Brite Ornaments (1930-1960)
Vintage Shiny Brites are what you are most likely to encounter while thrifting for old Christmas ornaments. Originally made in – you guessed it! – Germany in the 1930s, these beautiful, sparkly balls and bobbles were created by ornament maker Max Eckardt, who had the genius idea to coat glass with silver nitrate, making them shine longer than any others on the market. The originals came only in silver, but as their popularity grew in the 1940s and 50s the company expanded into everything from red and green to bright pink. Mass-produced and popular for decades it’s not difficult to find some, although their resurgence in popularity means you may be paying a fair bit for each. A word of warning – these are very, very delicate. Their thin glass can be crushed in your hand if you’re used to dealing with glass balls from the past 20 or so years, so keep these away from little, or slippery hands. And if you’re a stickler for the real thing, be sure to check the top cap – these have been reproduced and imitated for decades, but nothing beats the real thing.