As a designer, I am always fascinated by what people choose to collect; so often, rooms I work on are designed to showcase collections that mean a great deal to the owner.I have designed rooms around WWII gun cases, Majolica, African currency, antique Swedish baking tools, and even a 175-piece collection of “Garfield” the cat.
I’m not much of a collector, myself, at least I never thought so.But I must confess to one insatiable passion: Christmas tree ornaments.I am not usually interested in the “collectible” status of my ornaments.What might be deemed a worthless little whimsy by the “cognoscenti”, is as important to me as an extravagant scene-stealer.It’s the nostalgia, the personal memories, and the charm from which my passion springs.
I believe that all collecting should emanate from a true passion for a subject.While there is nothing wrong with collecting with an eye toward re-sale, most ardent collectors I know love their hard-won collections too dearly to ever dream of parting with them, regardless of their value.
And I do indeed have a passion for Christmas.
People like to complain of “commercialism” during the holidays,and I suppose there is some truth to that rap.But there is an unmistakable magic that pervades this season: thoughts of peace, love, and joy.The impulse to give, whether the gift is a simple but thoughtful gesture, or a costly techo-gizmo, is to be encouraged any time of the year.Christmas is a time to reach out and reach up, to savor the beauty and warmth of the best of human nature.The Christmas tree, in all of its glittering splendor, is the centerpiece and symbol for the art of giving.
We have collected ornaments dating back to childhood, which can, along with myself, now be considered “Vintage”.Each one has a story and an emotion attached.Not all are beautiful, however, each one is cherished and tagged with the date and the giver.Unpacking them each year is like reuniting with old friends, introducing new ones, and celebrating another year gone by.
In childhood it was considered a great stroke of good fortune to find and hang our ages-old “sugar-ed” lemon ornament.That lemon spent at least 40 Christmases on our family tree before it migrated to my sister’s tree, and now, to her daughter’s.Nowadays, the lucky “find” in our box of ornaments is one of Joan’s finest (and craziest) creations, which I fondly refer to as the “Chicken Ball”, an orb on which she affixed little chickens sitting on straw nests, against a blue and white bandanna print.Somehow, every year that ornament finds me.It’s an annual thrill to hang it on the tree.
Rightfully there should be three trees in my house to hold all of this memorabilia.Our one tree ends up barely visible beneath the traffic jam of the elegant, the adorable, and the downright silly.
Arguably the silliest ornament on our tree was made by my brother.One evening, years ago, we were all gathered around the table with friends, making gorgeous, “elegant” ornaments using expensive crystals, sequins and trims.Fascinated, he sat down with us to try his hand at the art of ornament-making.He created a very funny lady with big boobs, a tarty costume with feathers and sequins, a silly face with a red pipe-cleaner mouth and frazzled hair.He worked diligently on this “oeuvre”; upon completion he declared, “OK,I’m finished now”, rose, and left her on the table.This little “spoof” has been a treasured guest on our tree every Christmas for about 10 years now.
Our national fixation with ornaments as we know them, really didn’t take hold until the late 19th Century.
Until the early 1800’s, Christmas trees were garnished with candies, sugared fruits, cookies, ribbons, and small gifts.In the mid -1870’s the USA imported strings of glass beads from a glassblowing center in Lausche, Germany.Thus, the tradition of hanging glass ornaments on the tree began.During the 1920’s the Czechs began exporting quality glass ornaments, undercutting the Germans in price.Soon after, the Japanese came along and made their decorations even cheaper than the Czechs, which appealed to the Americans, who were then enduring the Depression, and unable to spend much for their ornaments.
Apparently we are not the only tree ornament sentimentalists out there, not to mention the huge market for collectibles and heirlooms.
Serious collectors seek out vintage 19th and 20th Century ornaments, many of which sell at surprisingly high prices.
Bookstores have plenty of good books on the subject of collecting ornaments.There are also several magazines devoted to the subject.
The following is a list of excellent books for collectors:
Christmas Ornaments, Lights and Decorations
By George Johnson
By Lissa Bryan Smith and Richard Smith
Christmas Through the Decades
By David Bremer
By Ralph Del Pozzo and David High
Be sure to check out the wonderful collection of blown-glass collectible limited edition ornaments at SHOPSICLE (www.shopsicle.com).They are the heirlooms of tomorrow, to be enjoyed by generations to come!