Since it ‘tis the season, let’s take a brief look at the history of Christmas ornaments, as well as some ornaments within the Museum’s collection.
For centuries, the small German village of Lauscha, located in the Thuringian Mountains, was the center of glass ornament production. Creating handmade glass ornaments was a craft that involved the entire community: various groups of individuals were needed in order to complete different aspects of production.
Skilled glassblowers made delicate ornaments by heating glass tubes over a flame and then introducing a small ‘puff’ of air in order to expand the tube into a small bubble. The glass ornament was then left as it was or was manipulated into various shapes, such as stars or reindeer.
With the blowing and shaping of the ornament complete, it was sent to be decorated, a task often undertaken by women or children. This was accomplished either with a brush, by pouring liquids into the ornament’s interior, or simply by dipping the glass into a liquid color. After careful packing, the ornaments made in Lauscha were shipped and sold all over the world, including to the United States.
The Museum’s collection includes a number of traditional handcrafted and machine-made ornaments such as this set of eleven Shiny Brite ornaments made in Corning. The manufacture of Shiny Brite ornaments can be linked to the history of the Lauscha ornament industry through Shiny Brite’s entrepreneur Max Eckhart.
In 1926, Eckhart and his brother opened a toy and ornament factory in their birthplace of Oberlind, just twenty miles from Lauscha. After opening a branch in New York, Eckhart immigrated to the United States in the late 1920s. With the onset of World War II, Eckhart became apprehensive of how much longer Germany’s export production of glass ornaments would continue.
In 1937, he founded The Shiny Brite Company. During certain months of the year, a Corning Glass Works ribbon machine, originally used to make lightbulbs, produced these delicate ornaments. They were then sent to New Jersey for decorating before being packaged and sold. This proved to be a wise decision for Eckart: the outbreak of war, and later the location of Lauscha and Oberlind in what became East Germany, would end the exportation of ornaments from the Lauscha area to America until the mid 1950s.