Collectors treasure ornaments from years gone by

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Real Estate,Susan Wittman

On a balmy December day, Vincent Gibbs was meticulously hanging twinkling blue and white snowflakes on a tree in his yard with a long pole. "It takes a lot of maneuvering," he said.

Every December, the longtime collector of all things Christmas decks his Germantown home with 13 trees to display his glimmering collection of antique and vintage glass ornaments. Gibbs has been collecting them since childhood, inspired by warm family memories of the holiday.

"My family passed their love of Christmas on to me," he said. "Every year, I bring home more ornaments. Now I need to live in a shed so my ornaments can fit in the house."

RESOURCES
» Curzon Hill Antiques: linenconnection.com
» German Favorite Antiques: germanfavoriteantiques.com
» The Golden Glow of Christmas Past: goldenglow.org

But antique ornaments are harder to find and pricier these days, because collectors are snapping them up, Gibbs said. He shops at the annual convention of the Golden Glow of Christmas Past, a collectors group. He buys from dealers listed on Golden Glow's website and, occasionally, from eBay or antique shows. Except for an occasional World War II treasure, it's rare to find them anymore at local antique stores, he said.

But there are exceptions. German Favorite Antiques in Leesburg, drawing from historic German and Central European sources, offers glass-beaded Biedermeier ornaments, silvered-glass tree toppers from the 1920s, early-1900s glass balls and early-19th-century kugels.

Kugels, the ancestors of glass ball ornaments, vary in size and shape from tiny grapes or raspberries to hefty, 3-foot spheres. Due to their thickness and weight, they are good choices for a large garden fir or set in a silvery bowl as a centerpiece.

Curzon Hill Antiques in Alexandria offers tree toppers, bells, teardrops, indents with hollowed-out sections, wire candy baskets, tiny music stands and charming German "putz" village houses to set beneath the tree, said owner Sarah Hill.

Antique ornaments were crafted from hand-blown glass, paper or papier-mache, tinted cardboard, wax or glass beads strung on wires, Hill said.

"When Christmas was not as commercial, people decorated their trees by putting small oranges and candies in wire or paper baskets," Hill said.

Though Hill has a few baskets, some types of ornaments are scarce. Tinted wax angels have melted and are difficult to find.

Additionally, many old molds were destroyed during World War II. "People even used them as bricks to keep warm," Gibbs said. Reproductions, some cast from old molds, abound, so buyers should be cautious, he added.

"I only collect glass ornaments," Gibbs said. "After originals go out of style, everything turns plastic and fake."

Gibbs said desirable collectibles today include World War II ornaments with paper caps, which conserved metal during the war effort, and Dresden tinted paper or cardboard ornaments resembling animals, people or flowers.

Some of the most collectible ornaments have annealed arms and legs, hand-blown and added to figures. Certain 1920s-to-1930s comic book characters or celebrities like Mary Pickford, Al Jolson or the Keystone Kops are "hot right now" he said.

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