making glass christmas ornaments

Glass ornament were first crafted in the village of Lauscha, located in the Thuringian mountains about 60 miles north of Nuremberg, Germany. Beginning in the 1840s through World War II, Lauscha was the primary ornament producer for the United States.

The Origin of Glassmaking

The first glass factory was built in 1597 in Lauscha. The first residents to the Thuringian mountains had come because of religious persecution. They discovered a rich abundance of sand, limestone and wood, which are the key raw materials for glassmaking.

Lauscha became a thriving glassmaking center with the construction of glass factories throughout the area. Glassmaking production drew upon the area’s natural resources, particularly the forests as a source of fuel. To slow down the consumption of wood, a limit was placed on the erection of any new factories as a result of the restrictions. Many glassblowers transferred their craft making to their own homes, setting up little businesses in their home workshops (Werkstatt).

The First Christmas Glass Ornament

The first documented glass Christmas tree ball was produced in 1848. "Six dozen Christmas tree ornaments in three sizes" were created by a Lauscha glassblower. In 1867, a gasworks (similar to a gas company resource of today) was built in Lauscha. Glassblowers could now work with an adjustable, steady flame. This allowed the craftsman to take a step forward in the craft of glassmaking. Craftsmen were now able to create thin-walled bubbles of glass. The application for Christmas tree ornamentation with the use of molds resulted in the creation of apples, pears, crystal icicles and pine cones.

A Glassmaker’s Workshop (Werkstatt)

The craft of glass ornament making became a family business with a workshop attached to the house. Within the walls of their home, the family maintained their own personal formula for their glass ornaments. Raw materials used included a gas burner, lacquer, silvering solution, and a concoction of silver nitrate, milk sugar, and quicklime.

Each family member participated in the creation of ornaments. Typically, the wife silvered the inside of the ornaments, hanging them up to dry from the ceiling. When the ornaments were dry, usually the following morning, they were dipped in colored lacquer. The children assisted in painting various trimmings to the nearly completely ornaments. Once the paint was dry, the ornament would be scored at the top and a small metal cap attached.

A family could produce up to 600 ornaments in an 8 to 15 hour day.