These festive baubles are mid-20th century Christmas tree ornaments from our historic artifact collection. This collection features two very popular types of ornaments, the iconic Shiny Brites and imported mercury glass.
The bulk of the collection are well-known Shiny Brites, which were proudly made in the USA during the 1940s-1960s. Shiny Brites dominated the market during those years, with hundreds of thousands being produced and hand-decorated each year. This makes them an easy and affordable item to collect today. Much of our collection came to Living History Farms in our early years, no doubt to decorate a Christmas tree for a holiday event. Fifty years later, the collection is now a cheery and nostalgic reminder of holidays past.
Shiny Brites are sought out by avid collectors and casual enthusiasts alike. If you’re curious to know how old your ornaments are, there are many ways to date a Shiny Brite. For example, if it has a paper cap and the glass is clear, not silvered and opaque, it dates from World War II years, when every scrap of metal went to the war effort. The metal caps, used before and after the War, underwent design changes over the years that can further help to date the piece.
German and Italian mercury glass ornaments round out this fun ornament collection and feature unique hand painted details and mixed media dioramas. Despite its name, mercury glass does not, in fact, contain mercury. Instead, it is glass that has been coated on the inside with a silvering formula that gives it its mirrored effect. The silvering formula, however, does not include silver either.
These Italian dioramas are definite showstoppers. Their indented designs are perfect for Santa to take a wintery stroll, or for he and his reindeer to ride through a sleepy, snow-filled town delivering presents to lucky girls and boys. Hung from an aluminum branch decked with lights, these twinkling scenes are ready for their mid-century, Christmas Eve debut.
Brand new Shiny Brites and mercury glass ornaments are still available today. A perennial favorite, adding a vintage – or vintage-looking – ornament to your tree may add just the sparkle you need to top off this very long year.
To keep fragile ornaments safe, keep them separated in boxes lined with tissue. Because our ornaments are museum artifacts, they are stored in specially made, acid-free boxes and are padded with artifact-safe foam. This will not only keep them in one piece, but also provide them with the right physical environment to keep them stable and safe for years to come.
Does your ornament have a unique family story that you would like to document? Simply write on a tag and tie it to the ornament’s cap. Use a blank tag made of acid-free paper or find a festive Christmas gift tag to add something a little special to your holiday display.