I’ve had several friends interested in Shiny Brite Christmas Ornaments this past week, and since I’m a collector, I thought I’d give you some tips on buying these beauties! I always get excited when I see an ornament with a scalloped, crimped metal top on it. It’s Shiny Brite’s trademark, and easy to recognize before you even look for the company name stamped on the top.
Shiny Brite ornaments have a relatively short history in the US. A German immigrant named Max Eckardt wanted to move Americans from buying German imported glass ornaments to American made decorations. He worked with Corning Glass (the same place that made your mom’s bakeware) to start the Shiny Brite company. Eckhardt was reportedly so happy that these were American made products that he had them labeled MADE IN USA.
The company started in 1937, at the onset of World War II, a perfect time to cut ties with German glass makers. The first Shiny Brites were much like today’s reproductions (which we’ll get to in a bit), shiny, metallic, round and colorful. As the war effort heated up, and rationing began, the metals needed to make shiny paint were taken from civilian manufacturing. The ornaments from the war period can be dated by their lack of shiny paint:
Once the war was over and metallic paints were back, things got shiny again, and new shapes started to emerge.
Once of the most popular of these vintage shapes is the indent. These ornaments are sometimes round, or oval, but they are marked by a start-shaped indent that is painted in different, contrasting colors. This is my biggest indent, at 6′ diameter.
Collectors also look for decals that are in good shape. Decals aren’t hand-painted, but they were hand-applied, as were the stripes you’ll see on ornaments. the better the work, the better the ornament. Here are a couple of examples:
My favorite decal ornament is the Christmas Eve silver ball on the left. It’s HUGE, and the decal is really detailed. There’s a whole town, a skating rink, and a family walking with their dog!
One of the innovative things that the Shiny Brite company did was to make their metal tops adjustable in later years. You can pull (GENTLY) on the top ring and make the hanger a little longer should you need to adjust ornaments on the tree.
As times changed, so did the Shiny Brite company. Shapes were added that matched fashions, and colors were also adjusted. I love these late 1950s- early 1960s pink lovelies…
However, some shapes have been classic. These “berries” which are sold as grapes, raspberries, or just berries, have been around since the beginning.
I just saw a set on Ebay without shiny paint, marking them as World War II ornaments, with green tops and hot pink berries.
I have over 100 Shiny Brites in my collection, and I’ve helped my mom out with hers over the years as well. Here’s what I’ve learned in my years of buying these beauties:
- Tops can be moved from one ornament brand to another. Does the top fit well on the ornament? Does the top’s patina match what seems to be the patina on the ornament?
- Familiarize yourself with the shapes, sizes, colors and decals Shiny Brite used. Sometimes you can tell just from a decal that an ornament isn’t a Shiny Brite. I have a cute ornament that’s a matte silver color with a green decal of stockings. Not a Shiny Brite, but cute.
- Christopher Radko bought the Shiny Brite name and designs and started remaking the old ornaments, sometimes down to reproducing the boxes the ornaments came in. These are super-shiny — very glittery — and have no patina. They are pretty, but don’t buy new thinking it’s vintage.
- Cost comes down to several things, one being how much you love something and are willing to pay for it. When I first started buying, I could get ornaments for $1, even huge ones with gorgeous decals. I think I paid about $3 for that Christmas Eve with the scene on it. Now I see that kind of ornament going for $10. My collection is pretty full, so I won’t pay that much. If I see a set of unusual shapes in an original box, I’ll pay as much as $40 for a set. You tend to get better deals on sets. Estate sales have better prices than antique stores, but if you see a dingy, moldy Shiny Brite and it’s priced at more than a buck, walk away. Do not try washing these ornaments as the paint will just come off. And mold will keep spreading.
- Also, look for after Christmas sales at antique places. They want to clear out stock as much as any other stores do. Ask for a discount if one isn’t given. Start at 50% and negotiate down to %30 if you must.
Shiny Brite spread into more than just glass ornaments. They made table-top decorations, plastic figurines, artificial trees, lights, just about anything for making your house pretty at the holidays. I have some of those other pieces in my collection too, but I’ll save those for next year.
Happy Christmas decorating and collecting!
Kristin LaTour’s life is like a small Victorian boarding house of familiar guests. Some may only visit occasionally; some never leave, and all are welcome. Find out more at her website.