Wednesday, December 9, 2015

How Baubles are Blown

Next up we're going to take a look at quite a small exhibit, but one whose inspiration had a tremendous impact on Christmas past and present (and helped the decoration industry become second to gifts at Christmas time). 

Glass blowing. A technique that has been modernized and so sees glass ornaments spit out of mold-blowing machinery at quite a fast rate, has its origins in cozy cottages and workrooms with regular artisans plying their trade by hand. Invented in the small east-German town of Lauscha in the mid-nineteenth century, the popular Christmas bauble has become one of the most enduring symbols of the holiday.

It's actually spelled Lauscha.

In the nineteenth century, cottage artisans (usually the men) would heat a glass tube over a flame, then insert that tube into a clay mold, blowing the heated glass until it expanded to fit the shape of the mold. 

The mold was removed, and the ornament left to set overnight (you can see they were propped up by the remainder of the glass tube). 

After they were set up, the next steps (usually performed by the women and children) was to swirl a silver nitrate solution around inside. After that dried, the ornaments were then hand-painted in bright colors, some with quite intricate designs, others quite simple. The remainder of the tube was carefully removed, and the ornament completed with a cap and loop for hanging.

These bits of glass were popular throughout Germany, but when Victoria wrote of her delight about her Christmas tree, their popularity exploded (remember, Albert was German and brought many traditions with him to England). They made their first appearance in the States around 1880 at Woolworth's. His shop was located in an area of Pennsylvania that was heavily German. He didn't think they would sell well as they served no functional purpose, so he ordered a limited amount that sold in a few days. He ordered more the next year, and they flew off the shelves again. It's estimated that he made twenty-five MILLION dollars from these ornaments. At a nickel or a dime each, that's a tremendous number of sales.

One of the more popular symbols from this time is the Christmas pickle.

I had always thought that this was a truly German creation. Tradition tells us that every year, a pickle is hidden in the decorated Christmas tree. The first child in the family to find it might receive an extra gift or a year of good fortune. Unfortunately, it appears to be bunk. It was most likely a marketing scheme to coincide with the booming popularity of these ornaments here in the States.

Germany had the market on these items until the World Wars occurred, at which time other countries began manufacturing their own and of course, automated the process. I do love imagining, though, a cozy cottage amidst a snowy landscape, with a family inside all involved in the creative process of Christmassing. And then a family far away, nickel in hand, buying one of those same lovely pieces to adorn their tree.

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