I like things that have a lot of character. Given the choice between a new BMW car and a restored 1946 Chevy truck - I'd take the Chevy Truck any day of the week! It is a true work of art made during a time people took pride in what they built. Other than peace on earth, this is one thing I wish for!
When it comes to Christmas, I feel just as passionate about the ornaments I put on my tree as I do about the Chevy truck. I love the old ones. The shapes and colors are endless. Many were hand painted, some hand blown, but all were unique works of art with their own story. Out of all the ornaments, my absolute favorites are those made during the 1940s and 1950s by the Shiny Brite Company.
When I first started buying these ornaments, I checked to see if they were still being made. Unfortunately, the company closed its doors in the 1960s, but the story is quite interesting. In the 1880s, American businessman F.W. Woolworth and German immigrant, Max Eckhardt, began importing German glass ornaments to America. Americans fell in love with the hand painted creations so Eckhardt decided to produce his own line of ornaments. And, so, Shiny Brite was born!
In the 1930s, as the possibility of war drew closer, Eckhardt realized his ability to import ornaments from Germany would end. In 1937, Eckhardt and a representative from F.W. Woolworth joined forces to see if they could persuade the Corning Company of New York to find a way to make American ornaments. Corning had a machine that made light bulbs, but if modified, it would be the first ornament machine in the USA. With a guaranteed order from Woolworth and Eckhardt, Corning's engineers spent 6 months making the ingenious machine that took a pound of glass and turned it into 30 ornaments.
By the 1940s, Corning was producing 300,000 plain ornaments a day and sending them to other companies for decoration. Their largest customer was Max Eckhardt's Shiny Brite - one of the first all American made ornament companies. Initially Shiny Brite ornaments were machine lacquered and silvered on the outside and then painted by hand. The following year, Eckhardt began silvering the ornaments on the inside as well so thy would remain "shiny brite" for longer periods. WWII material shortages caused the company to decorate the glass balls with thin pastel stripes, which didn't require as much metallic oxide pigment.
As the war persisted, so did the changes being made to the ornaments. Early Shiny Brites had metal caps and hangers, but the war classified them as non-essential. Soon the metal caps were replaced with cardboard tabs and homeowners used string to hang the ornament. To make them appear brighter a small piece of tinsel was put inside the ornaments. But, even this small use of metal was eventually prohibited.
After the war, restrictions on metal receded and the metal caps returned proudly stamped with the words "Made In the USA". Shiny Brite became the largest ornament company in the world. So, what happened to this once flourishing company? In the late 1950s, plastic ornaments came on the scene, and soon durability was preferred over beauty. Shiny Brite sadly closed its doors in 1962.
As I write, I sit looking at my Christmas tree decorated with Shiny Brites. I realize they are much more than ornaments - they are fragile pieces of history, keepers of memories we have shared with our family and friends. They take us back in our minds and hearts to a more uncomplicated time. Shiny Brites - small works of art that remind us how fragile life is, but with a little love and care can be enjoyed for years to come.
This year, may your Christmas be Merry and "Shiny Brite"!