Are you interested in collecting vintage mercury glass Christmas ornaments and learning more information about their history?
Vintage and antique mercury glass ornaments come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, including delicate balls, tear drops, bells and whimsical characters. Each hand painted ornament is a testament to the artistry of its maker, featuring intricate details that bring each piece to life. Here is information about collecting these vintage ornaments including; how to identify them, the different styles, the estimated age and where to find them.
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Every year, during the holiday season, when we decorate the Christmas tree, I bring out a treasured box of vintage and antique mercury glass ornaments. While many people create themed Christmas trees, that change every year, we prefer to decorate our tree with vintage mercury glass ornaments that we have collected over the years. It’s a family tradition to carefully unwrap the ornaments and to hang them on the Christmas tree in our living room. Today, I will share the different types of vintage mercury glass ornaments you can collect and identify their unique characteristics.
Mercury Glass Christmas Ornaments
Vintage or Antique
The first question most people ask is how to define a vintage ornament. The definition of “vintage” means anything that is at least 50 years old but younger than 100 years old. So for the purposes of this discussion, vintage ornaments are those that were made between the 1920s and the 1970s. In comparison, antique ornaments are those that were made before 1920.
Also at the risk of stating the obvious, mercury glass ornaments are made out of glass and not plastic. These are not “shatterproof” ornaments.
“Mercury” silvered glass was produced originally around 1840 in the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland and England. The first mercury glass Christmas ornaments were produced around 1850 in Europe. By the late 1800s, these Christmas ornaments were routinely used as part of European Christmas decorations. Mercury glass ornaments are made by coating the inside of a glass ornament with silver nitrate, which is the same process used for make mirrors.
In America, these ornaments were produced by the Corning Glass Company starting in the late 1930s. Corning Glass modified their equipment which, at the time, produced light bulbs to instead produce glass ornaments.
European Mercury Glass Ornaments
Because mercury glass ornaments were first made in Europe, the oldest ornaments are from European countries. Notably, and most often, from Poland and Germany. These are easy to distinguish because they have a very narrow or skinny neck at the opening of the ornament and a very small cap on top of the ornament. If you look closely, sometimes you can see the word “Poland” or “Germany” stamped on the metal ornament topper. Similarly, you can sometimes see the words “West Germany” stamped on the topper.
If you are lucky, you can find a set of these ornaments in their original box. Normally the word “Poland” is stamped on the outside of the box.
Antique mercury glass ornaments from Germany are very collectible and are therefore priced accordingly.
It’s also worth noting that many of the ornaments from these countries were hand painted with whimsical designs. Paintings could include someone skiing, a Santa Claus, a house, a star or any type of graphic design. It’s also worth noting that many of these ornaments can be found in pastel colors or in a silver color.
Figural Glass Ornaments
Figural mercury glass ornaments are some of my favorite to find and collect. Just as the name implies, these ornaments come in a variety of shapes. Some commonly seen shapes include a bunches of grapes, houses, acorns, pine cones, Santas, horns, and bells. Again, for those ornaments that are vintage or antique, the colors are usually softer with an emphasis on blues and bright pinks. There are many modern reproductions on figural ornaments. So look for ornaments that have a bit of fading in the their color. That’s usually a good sign that it is an older ornament.
Some antique figural glass ornaments are very collectible and can be fairly expensive. Specific examples include glass birds or fish with spun glass tails. These ornaments were made to clip onto tree branches. It’s not uncommon for these types of ornaments to cost $25 or more apiece.
In general, antique mercury glass ornaments in good condition are more expensive than vintage mercury glass ornaments.
Mid-Century Glass Ornaments
Mid-century glass ornaments have become increasingly popular over the years. These ornaments were generally made between the 1940s-1960s and include the well known brand Shiny Brite which was established by Max Eckhardt a German-American immigrant. He knew that these ornaments were popular in Germany and believed he could make is own mercury glass ornaments for Americans. The Antique Trader has an indepth article on the creation of Shiny Brite ornaments and Max Eckhardt.
Shiny Brite ornaments are easy to distinguish because they have the stamp “Shiny Brite Made in the USA” on the metal cap of each ornament. Secondly, if you look at the metal cap on these ornaments, they will have vertical ribs around the side and scalloped edges. These details on metal toppers are a tell tale mark of Shiny Brite. When I am out and about looking for vintage Christmas ornaments, I keep my eye out for these crimped, scalloped edged metal toppers.
Shiny Brite ornaments were mass produced by the Corning Glass company and then hand painted or decorated by Max Exhardt’s employees. They were then put into the common cardboard boxes we know and love today. The ornaments were given stripes and sometimes coated with mica for a frosty snow appearance. In addition to Shiny Brite ornaments being increasingly collectible, many people are starting to collect the boxes ornaments were sold in. Even if the boxes are empty.
In addition to Shiny Brite, there were a number of other companies that produced mercury glass ornaments. Some of these companies include:
- George Franke Sons
- Paragon Glass Works
In addition to looking for Shiny Brite ornaments, I always like to keep an eye out for any of these other brands.
The shape of ornaments factors into their value. In addition to figural ornaments, many ornaments were produced in a wide array of shapes. Some of the more common shapes include:
- Single side indent
- Double side indent
- Tear drops
- Tear drop ornament with an indent
In addition to interesting shapes, it’s worth noting that larger ornaments are generally more collectible and sought after. Some of the larger 4 inch ball ornaments that are hand painted can be $20 and up.
Finding Old Mercury Glass Ornaments
Where to find old mercury glass ornaments? Well, the answer depends. If you are looking for very specific ornaments to add to your collection – for example figural bird ornaments with spun glass tails – then Ebay and Etsy will be your best option. Having said that, when you buy old ornaments from online sources, you will likely pay more.
In terms of finding old ornaments for a good price, I have had the best luck at flea markets, estate sales, and yard sales. Also, shopping for old ornaments during the spring and summer yields some better prices.
For a wide selection of old ornaments that are reasonably priced, you will have the best luck visiting antique stores. Many dealers collect Christmas ornaments over the course of years and will set them out en mass during the holiday season. While you may not find old ornaments at a price comparable to a yard sale, you will find a wide selection and they will be fairly priced. Chances are, they will also be less expensive than online sources.
New Mercury Glass Ornaments
In recent years, many companies have started reproducing mercury glass ornaments. I love mixing newer ornaments with older ornaments. Some of my favorite sources for reasonably priced new mercury glass ornaments include Target, Hobby Lobby, Michaels and TJ Maxx. Plus, it’s worth remembering that today’s ornaments will be collectible in the future. West Elm has recently issued a new line of Shiny Brite ornaments that I think are lovely. Below are some images and links to these ornaments.
DIY Mercury Glass Ornaments
Of course, you can also “DIY mercury glass” Christmas ornaments. This post on Faux Mercury Glass ornaments shows you how to create an old world look using new materials. This particular post shows you how to DIY mercury glass ornament using gold spray paint. While she uses glass ball ornaments, the technique can be used on a variety of shapes. All you need to create these handmade ornaments are:
- clear glass ornaments,
- metallic spray paint, (such as Krylon Looking Glass spray paint)
- a spray bottle,
- vinegar (for a vinegar water solution)
- paper towel and
- a blow dryer.
I am tempted to try this Christmas craft for fun. It seems like an affordable way to create your own Christmas decorations.
Thank you for stopping by the blog today. Below I have linked some of my favorite reproduction/new mercury glass ornaments. You can read my post on mixing vintage and new holiday decor here. I am wishing you success on finding vintage and antique mercury glass ornaments this holiday season.
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