Paula Collects: Vintage Christmas Ornaments

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Paula Collects: Vintage Christmas Ornaments

By Andrea Goto

Paula has collected so many ornaments over the years that she considers precious. Some have been passed down through her family or gifted to her by fans. Others were handmade by Jamie and Bobby when they were very young. And a few were picked up second-hand at thrift stores and garage sales.

Only the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center could sustain all of Paula’s ornaments, so each year she puts up a few trees around her house; each a shrine to a different collection.

While Paula is sentimental about the boys’ ornaments—all faded and frayed with age—she adores vintage Christmas balls for much the same reason: they remind her of a special time in her life. These American-made ornaments date back to the 50s and 60s and were originally sold at Sears or five-and-dime stores. They were manufactured cheap and affordable so nearly every home had them, but many met their fate when they fell from the tree and shattered into a million little pieces of glass confetti.

Shiny Brite and Premier are two well-known manufacturers of collectable ornaments from Paula’s youth. Both came in a number of colors, shapes and sizes, though some Premier ornaments have an elongated, thin neck and a brighter silvery finish. However, it’s almost impossible for the untrained eye to distinguish these ornaments.

Some collectors look to the design of an ornament’s cap to determine its manufacturer or age, but it’s an imperfect science since many people replace broken caps with new ones. Vintage caps are generally smaller and stiffer than contemporary ones. During WWII when metal was at a premium, caps were manufactured from paper.

Paula found the Holy Grail of Christmas ornaments—a set of mercury glass balls—at a yard sale, scattered amongst rusty hand weights and half-used candles. But not every silvered glass ornament is made from mercury glass. Mercury glass ornaments actually contain two walls of glass, with silvering appearing in the middle layer. Most have some amount of oxidization due to aging, but the material is very difficult to identify by sight alone.

If you don’t have a large collection of vintage ornaments, but love the look of a funky, old-timey tree, don’t fret. You can supplement what you have with new designs by Christopher Radko that channel the designs from the 50s and 60s. Throw a little silver tinsel and some flocking, and you’ll have a tree worthy of Doris Day.

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Reader Comments:


Love your recipes and you. Can't wait to see you back on TV.

By carol deluca on September 05, 2013


Paula, first you look great but you alway did in my book. I love your vintage ornaments, I have seen your show when you go into that Christmas shop would love to have been their for that tour. I have a few of my grandmother and mother, an angel which in its day they were plastic but look real old fashion, I love it was my mothers who I will say is 97 years old gives you and idea of how old the ornaments are and I have the old velvet santan with the plastic white boots and rosie cheeks he is so cute and several of the ornaments that are in shape of tea pots I take real good care of them but they are showing there age.

By Mary Ann Piper on February 01, 2013


Love all your recipes. Question for you. Have many sets of china.Bought from friends etc. I'd buy them. Noticed hair lined cracks (not through) what caused them? Only on serving bowls to my knowledged.

By Ruth Queen on March 24, 2012


Every year since my children were small, I have one eggshell ornament that my mother made for each of them. Each ornament is beautifully decorated and it has a picture of one of my children in it. She decorated it as though you were looking through a window - these are my very favorite ornaments. Mom died 11 years ago, and each year I put these on my Christmas tree, I remember how hard she worked on these ornaments. That's the first thing my children look for when they come over.

By Phyllis Vinson on December 21, 2011


Paula, like you I have two boys that are grown men now. My most precious ornaments are the paper stars they made in nursery school with their pictures on them. I didn't put them on a couple of years ago and they pitched a fit. They check now to see where their dad and I placed them. On our tree we also have strands of glass beads from my husband's grandmother and glass grapes from my mother-in law's tree. We've been married 32 years and have a dated ball from each year. So many memories of times spent together. We hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas and a great 2012. Karen

By Karen on December 16, 2011


Hey Paula!! I agree with you about ornaments that our kids made years ago. When my son was about 5, he made a star out of popcicle sticks, tin foil and glitter. He's now 39, and won't be home for Christmas but his star will proudly adorn our tree! Merry Christmas! Sheila

By Sheila Bladsacker on December 08, 2011


I love those vintage ornaments. I can remember them being on our tree and my grandparents when my 2 sisters and I were little girls.Brings back fond memories.

By Susan Bowman on December 07, 2011


I loved my ornaments that my children made for me, and I hung them on our tree for many many years. But I have given all of them to my children to enjoy, now that they have families of their own. I have a skinny tree now, that I bought from Hobby Lobby, and I just love it!!! My favorite ornaments are my snowman ornaments. I try to buy one new one every year!!!!

By Diane Avans on December 07, 2011


I'm like you. I have have two boys also. The ornaments they made are my first love. I also have several vintage ornaments that where my mom's and always hung on the tree at home. I see from the picture above that I have several of the same ones that you do. They hold a very special memories for me as I am sure yours do also. Have a very Merry Christmas to you and your family.

By Annette Hornbostel on December 07, 2011


Dear Paula, it was such a treat to read about you favorite ornaments. Brings bacj memories of when I was a child and my mom and dad collected these treasures. They passed some down to us and let us pick out our favorite ones. Since I have paseed them down to my son and he and his family enjoy them every year. Thanks for the memories and I just adore you. Merry Christmas to you and your family, Judy

By Judy on December 07, 2011


We have just a tree (6 1/2 ft.) dedicated to just Vintage Ornaments and another 3 1/2 ft. tree with just Vintage Ornaments. Another tree with only ornaments from Bronner's Christmas Store in Frankenmuth, MI

By Sharon V. on December 07, 2011


Paula, I saw pics of some of your vintage Christmas ornaments and it brought back memories. Some of the ornaments shown above my family had and used to put on the tree every year. I did not get any of them when my mom died but I do have the memories. "Keep collecting" and doing that thing you do well...cookin'...Merry Christmas to you and your family! Johanna

By Johanna Yates on December 06, 2011


I have always collected Christmas Onaments. Whether they were bought or handmade. Unfortunatly about 20 yrs ago my locker in my apartment was broken into and all my ornaments were stolen. My mom felt bad and she handed me down all our Christmas Ornaments from when I was born...(1949)...that was the best gift anyone could have given me...I treasure them with my life. Now I put up several trees in he house...and one dedicated completely for those ornaments. One tree is all handmade ornaments and the 3rd tree is usually ornaments that were given to me from clients and friends. When someone goes on vacation and asks me what do I want them to bring back for me...I usually tell them either a Christmas Ornament of a Cookbook from where they were traveling to. It has made so many memories that I cherish and hopefully can hand down to family.

By Jim Anselmo on December 06, 2011


I just watched Paula's Christmas show with the boys dressed up as elves. Soooo funny!!! What a great show. I did notice that Brooke and Jack were not on the show and no one mentioned them. Where is that little cutie? Hope all is well with Jamie and his clan, they are so special. We loved Bobby's girlfriend. Hurray for Bobby!! She is a real "Grits" girl. Hang on tight Bobby, this could be a bumpy ride that will lead you stright to southern girl heaven. We here in Virginia wish yall a great Holiday!!! Tracie Langley

By Tracie Langley on December 06, 2011


I love your website, and all the special tips for holidays and everyday cooking. I would like to take this time to wish you and your family a wonderful holiday season. All the best for 2012.

By Donna W on December 06, 2011


Paula, I share your love of vintage Christmas ornaments. I am sure I don't have as many as you, because I actually use mine on my tree. But I also collect Santas. I just love Santa Claus. I have over 200 of them. One of the most special parts of Christmas is unpacking each special Santa and remembering him from the years before and remember who gave each one to me. It takes awhile, but I love it! Merry Christmas to you and your family!

By Deb Huggins on December 06, 2011

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