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.