The Cool Stories Behind Vintage Christmas Ornaments

Take a stroll down memory lane.

vintage christmas ornaments
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Are you ready for a bunch of beautiful Christmas-y eye candy? How about some history to go along with it? The practice of holiday tree trimming isn't just fun; the designs of the ornaments themselves provide a surprising chronicle of the times in which they were produced. You'll have to hit up a flea market, your grandma's basement, or, you know, Etsy, to find these decorations now—or you can just keep scrolling.

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Unsilvered Paper Hanger Bulbs
Etsy
$48.00
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When the manufacturing demands of World War II led to metal rationing, ornament makers used paper hangers and cardboard caps to top unsilvered bulbs. The unusual restrictions now make the charming decorations especially coveted by collectors.

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German Kugels
Etsy
$50.00
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Originally sold as window decor, kugels (which means "spheres" in German), appeared on the scene in the early 1800s. They were the first iteration of glass ornaments (a style that has now persisted for decades), and it's rare to find originals with the color still vibrant — many pieces have worn over time.

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Glass Figurals
Etsy
$175.00
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Lauscha, Germany, was known as the glass capital of the world from the turn of the century through World War II, and turned out impressive sculptural pieces.

4 of 17
Indented Baubles
Etsy
$37.50
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Originally meant to reflect the candlelight on Christmas trees in Victorian times, they felt delightfully retro even decades ago. The indented ball also had a resurgence in the middle of the 20th century.

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Glass Baubles
Etsy
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Here's another version that proves these ornaments don't just have to be classic spheres. 

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Diorama Style
Etsy
$14.95
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We can thank Europe and Japan for starting this nifty trend in the 1950s. A hollowed-out ornament (like this vintage-inspired piece) will showcase a festive scene, snowy landscape or other seasonal element.

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Wooden Rocking Horse
Etsy etsy.com
$7.99
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Wooden ornaments also became popular during this time and beyond, including creations such as this rocking horse.

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Cotton Fruit
Etsy
$15.00
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Soft, hard-to-break ornaments made from cotton batting filled Christmas trees from the 1890s to the 1920s. Children even continued to play with them after the tree was taken down — something you definitely can't do with glass. You may remember these from a much later decade too. Collectors clamored for them again in the 1980s.

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Cotton and Wood Figures
Etsy
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Many of the cotton ornaments were made to resemble people (often Santa Claus), had faces made of porcelain or wood and were first made in the 1920s.

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Goose Egg Ornaments
Etsy
$35.00
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Another take on the diorama-style design was the goose egg ornament. This one appears to have been given for a baby boy's first Christmas.

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Finial Topper
Etsy
$215.00
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This shiny, alternative Christmas tree topper made a big splash in the 1960s. Do you remember owning one?

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Shiny Brites
Etsy
$14.99
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Taking a cue from the Victorian age, people in the 1950s loved hanging glass balls like Shiny Brites. The baubles often came in saturated colors to match aluminum Christmas trees.

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Glass Santas
Betty Bell
$220.00
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Santa came in a variety of iterations, and provided a very festive take on the glass ornament explosion in the 1920s.

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Dresden Animal
Betty Bell
$1,650.00
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From the 1880s to the 1910s, Dresdens—ornaments named after the German city in which they were created—appeared. Delicately handcrafted out of paper, they're now the most expensive vintage ornaments on the market today. Even this not-so-festive (but beautifully made) owl will set you back big time.

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Glass Garland
Etsy
$54.95
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The Victorian era (early 1900s) provided another look at the very first iterations of the trends we love today. Here, glass ornaments hang together to make a colorful garland.

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image
Courtesy of Made In a Day
Bottle Brush Tree

Patented in the 1930s, bottle brush Christmas trees became popular. Here, a modern take puts a tree in the middle of an embroidery hoop.

Get the tutorial at Made In a Day »

What you'll need: embroidery hoop ($10.58 for 6, Amazon), bottle brush tree ($15.89 for 24, Amazon), ribbon ($5, Amazon)

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Bottle Brush Comeback
Etsy
$12.00
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This little trio was a part of a 1980s Kurt Adler set of bottle brush ornaments. He also incorporated small, wooden figurines: a clown, Santa Claus and a snowman.

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