The holidays weren’t just merry and bright in the ’50s. They were shiny and bright, too.
Shiny Brite, more specifically.
The manufacturer was one of the biggest ornament producers during the ’40s and ’50s. The trees of the era were bathed in color, thanks to the brand’s candy-hued glass ornaments.
Its teardrop baubles hung from branches, swathed in swirls, stripes and stars. Bulbs designed in the spirit of UFOs rocked funky curves. In some ornaments, silvery, alien-looking indents reflected the season’s glittering lights and warm fireplaces. Pointy, Space Age-style finial toppers crowned the trees.
The ornaments were often hand-blown or hand-painted—or both. A set of six went for a couple bucks. Adjusted for inflation, a box would sell for $20 or $30 today. And that’s about the starting price now at estate sales, antique shops or eBay—if you get lucky.
In early November, local antique shops were sorting through their collections. Up the creaking wood staircase at Polished Peacock Antiques, the team is taking inventory of tables of treasures. A sputnik-style gold tinsel tree topper glows like a giant sparkling spider. Tucked inside beaded, egg-shaped ornaments are fingernail-sized nativity scenes. Glass figurals are shaped like
Mr. and Mrs. Claus.
At The Pink Elephant Antiques, there’s a similar scene, plus boxes of glittering beads. At first glance, they look like Mardi Gras beads on spikes. Upon closer inspection, though, these are much more special and rare. Mercury glass beads are strung on strands of tinsel like iridescent icicles. Hanging from tree branches, they shine like shooting stars.
Of course, both stores have boxes of glass ornaments from brands like Shiny Brite and Santa Land. The labels on the boxes are faded, but those original $2.99 price tags are still intact.
The ornaments inside are rarely perfect. But that’s kind of the point.
The glass is thin and fragile, likely to shatter if dropped. The paint is delicate, prone to fading or cracking if exposed to direct sunlight or a humid attic.
Little spots or chips are small battle scars, considering these ornaments have lived through 50 or 60 holiday seasons. They’ve adorned dozens of trees—from the age of retro silver aluminum trees to the fragrant, fresh pine and millennial pink artificial styles of today.
And if you’re lucky enough to find ornaments like these, you’ll want to keep them around 50 or 60 seasons more.
GET THE ORNAMENTS
Polished Peacock Antiques
1857 Government St.
The Pink Elephant Antiques
2648 Government St.
This article was originally published in the December 2019 issue of 225 Magazine.