How to recognize old Christmas ornaments ...

Clawing, hissing, growling ... or go straight for the throat.

It takes quite a lot of knowledge to recognize really old baubles and other Christmas ornaments, but it's so much fun to do and, to me, quite an addiction. A really big and out of control addiction. I love thrifting the recycle stores, gently pushing aside all the modern ornaments and finding the items you hope to find, hearing "Haaaaaaaallelujaaaaa, halleluja, halleluja" pop up in your head when you actually do find what you hoped for.

Thrifting in recycle stores or at fleamarkets around Christmas time is comparable to the gates of hell, I tell ya. People around that time permit themselves to become anti-social and psychothic creatures; everything to get their paws on that one special Christmas item. Sometimes I think some people are about to growl at me, hiss, claw or go straight for the throat. All to get that special and unique Christmas ornament. That doesn't necessarily have to be antique; they easily push aside the antique ones that might fall to smithereens due to the fragility of the ornaments and the people's lack of care. Or some go 'apeshit' thinking they have antique ornaments in their hands which are actually modern ones re-created with vintage molds or Brocante ones (which were so popular last year) and which have 'old looking caps' in the eyes of a novice.

How to recognize old ornaments ...

... Speaking of caps; these can be very good indicators to date ornaments but don't pinpoint a decade to it as caps have, most likely, been changed throughout the years. Generally, old caps are smaller and stiffer than newer ones, say, from the 1950s. Many ornaments don't come in their original boxes either or don't have their original tags anymore, so the collector needs to be able to recognize them through general attributes. Many collectors focus on themes, periods and materials or even shapes. Suffice to say probably, but antique ornaments are made from glass; mouth blown. I always check the baubles for the pontil. If the ornament is blown in free-form you can check this by observing if the ornament contains a lack of symmetry, which it usually has. Most of the glass-blown ornaments come from Germany. Most of my 1930s Christmas ornaments have written 'Germany' on their caps. Ornaments from the 1930s are usually silver, light in weight and have thin glass. I know for sure that most of my ornaments are from the 1930s as they have been inherited. Luckily most of them still have their original caps. A popular shape in the 1930s was the pinecone; this mold has been around since 1867. Most German glassblowers used molds to create a variety of glass ornaments called figurals. These figurals include pinecones, animals, flowers, fruits, vegetables, musical instruments, angels, Santa's, and sometimes even household items such as an umbrella. If you are not sure if the ornament is glass; you can lift the cap very gently. You can also check if it's glass when you drop it to see if it bounces or shatters but I would not recommend it ....

WWII ...

Most of the glass ornaments made during WWII had - instead of the traditional metal caps - paper caps because metal was needed for the war effort. Metal being needed in wartime instead of being used to decorate, made it that the Christmas baubles in wartime were mostly transparent. Usually the ornaments were silvered with their interiors coated with a silver solution to make them all shiny and reflective. Some people were complaining that the ornaments weren't shiny enough and thus some of the ornaments have tucked a bit of tinsel inside of them.

One more thing about the ornaments caps; I have seen many happy faces go sad when I tell them that the Christmas ornament with "stille nacht" written on them are not thát old. You can identify that by looking at the cap (these, believe me, usually have their original caps) and read: GDR. This means German Democratic Republic. And that means that these ornaments are 1970s or newer. Those ornaments I usually leave behind for someone else to grab. I am only interested for the ornaments from the 1920s/1930s up intil mid-war (1945).

Where to find it? 

Many people ask me the question where I get my antique ornaments. Well the answer is simple; recycle stores and fleamarkets and sometimes the internet. Let me give you a little hint on where to find the best ornaments! Go to recycle stores in little villages around Christmas time; you have your biggest chance to find something there because the villagers are farmers and they usually keep inheriting from family. The farm goes from father to son for decades and decades, including all of it's stuff. Or you are just lucky with a mother in law that keeps all the stuff from her parents; Ben and I inherited a large box of Christmas ornaments from 1938 that Ben's grandparents bought around their wedding time! And my mother in law has more! Yay!

Keep contacts at bay

Sunday next week there's a fleamarket in my former hometown Apeldoorn and I look very forward to visit it, usually it has Christmas stuff galore. It's one of the biggest fleamarkets in the Netherlands. Ben and I have our contacts there, people that we also meet at other fleamarkets around the country (well ... usually in Vaassen, Apeldoorn and Zutphen). It's important to keep contacts at bay; make a little chat everytime you see them and tell them what you are looking for. These people keep the best stuff behind for us and we pay them with gratitute and advertisement. With our looks as nostalgists we are easily approachable for a chat and it makes people remember you. We are well known in Apeldoorn and Zutphen at the fleamarkets or recycle stores. Most of the people say they have 'this and that at home, come visit us sometime'. So yes, it's important to make contact. This is Ben's part of the job usually (I just flutter my eyelashes to see if I can lower the prices; it works) ... he's very skilled in making contact and visits recycle stores in Zutphen and Warnsveld every week when they have a new load (it's just around the corner of our house) and makes a chat.

Most of the time I visit Christmas fleamarkets that are being held on the second day of Christmas (there's one in Zutphen the 26th) because most ornaments are reduced in prices that day. Cause after all, almost nobody buys ornaments then because their tree is already full. Well ... mine isn't! Not full enough!

I have many more identification and dating tips for you in store!

To be continued

Oh by the way, if you love love love vintage Christmases, I think you should have a look here! *Wish book*


  1. Yay! Christmas ornaments - my favorite subject/hobby/collector thing during winter...and the rest of the year, but the secondhand stores mostly only have christmas stuff during november-december. That was a very interesting read - and thank you for the tip to the catalogue site (didn't know that one). I don't know if you know this guy on flickr, but he has a lot of american christmas catalogues:

    I'm looking forward to your next christmas'y post :)

    best Regards, Anne

    1. Oh thank you so much for the tip aswell, I didn't knew that one yet! More to gaze upon!

  2. Dankzij je vorige post met foto's ben ik er achter gekomen dat mijn moeder ook allemaal oude kerstversiering heeft! Ik dacht altijd dat ze die had gekocht toen ze ging trouwen maar het blijkt dat ze ze ooit van de buurman heeft gekregen en ze wist al dat ze ongeveer uit de jaren 50 moesten zijn (maar waarschijnlijk dus nog ouder?). (Ze heeft die vogeltjes op een knijper, paddenstoeltjes, muziekinstrument, kerstmannetje, kerstklokjes en een aantal ballen met zo'n inham). Ik vind je kerst obsessie leuk!

    1. Hoi Renée,

      Het kan inderdaad best zijn dat ze al ouder zijn; dat is vaak te zien aan het dopje. Feit is wel dat die er vaak niet origineel meer op zitten en verwisseld zijn, maar als je wilt kunt je er misschien foto's van maken en het naar mijn email sturen en wellicht dat ik ze voor je kan dateren. De ballen met zo'n inham waren ook in de jaren 50 heel erg populair.

      Mijn email is lindsay.lane@hotmail :-)
      Gelukkig vind je mijn kerstverslaving leuk want er komt nog veel meer.

    2. Oh ja leuk! Als ik eens bij mijn moeder ben zal ik wel even foto's maken :)

  3. Dear Lindsay you're an expert! :-)
    Thank you for this wonderful post, so valuable. And the link for the "Wish Book" is marvellous. I will definitely spend some time looking at all those prettiness.

    Oh it made me laugh, that people turning into creatures just for the sake of possession of something that sometimes it doesn't really means that much to them. Haha! People is funny when is about getting things for a good price. Here that happens in the fish market, which is a bit more smelly and totally unglamorous.

    Miss Beta x

  4. I have several ornaments that have tags on them. I am wonder how I can find out what the tags mean. They are attached to the top of the ornament. One is gold with a tree design (I think it's a tree) stamped into it. There was s one that has a Christmas tree stamped into the tag, the final one has a starin glass on the top of the ornament. Also, the hanger this one shaped like a star.

  5. Great blog post. I found you by looking for information about old German kugel ornaments and caps.

    I was confused by your paragraph heading for keeping contacts "at bay," however, because it means the opposite of what you really intend, which is to encourage them to help you out. Here's a page with antonyms of "keep at bay" from which you can choose what sounds best.

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