It was the invention of the blowpipe by some unknown artisan that brought about the craft of glass blowing, eventually evolving into the fine art of Christmas glass ornaments we know today. Christoph Muller and Hans Greiner set up Germany’s first glassworks in 1597 in Lauscha which was located in a river valley, and had several elements needed for glass making: timber (for firing the glass ovens) and sand. Soon other glassworks were established in the town, producing drinking glasses, flasks, glass bowls, glass beads and even glass eyes.
In 1847 Hans Greiner (who was a descendent of the Hans Greiner who had established Lauscha’s first glassworks) began producing glass ornaments in the shape of fruits and nuts. These were made in a very unique hand-blown process combined with molds. The inside of the ornament was made to look silvery, at first using mercury or lead, then later using a special compound of silver nitrate and sugar water. Greiner’s sons and grandsons, Ernst, Otto, Willi, and Kurt, carried on the Christmas ornament tradition. They were also responsible for another ingenious product: glass marbles.
Glass ornaments became popular in 1846 when an illustration of Queen Victoria’s Christmas tree was printed in a London paper. The royal tree was lavishly decorated with glass ornaments from Prince Albert’s native land of Germany. Soon these unique glass Christmas ornaments were being exported to other parts of Europe as the demand grew and grew.
In the 1880s it was the American dime-store magnate F. W. Woolworth who discovered Lauscha’s glassworks during a visit to Germany. Despite his initial reluctance to stock the glass ornaments, he later made a fortune by importing the German glass ornaments to the U.S. Ironically, he was selling $25 million worth of ornaments by 1890 at nickel and dime prices.
Germany continued manufacturing ornaments facing virtually no competition until 1925. Then Japan and Czechoslovakia began producing ornaments in large quantities for export to this country. By 1935, more then 250 million Christmas tree ornaments were being imported to the United States.
The work of the German glass blowers and the distribution of the German ornaments remained virtually unchanged from the middle of the 19th century through World War ll. With the Russian occupation of Germany in 1953, many of the old world family molds that had been passed down for generations among all the families in Lauscha were destroyed. Families were splintered when craftsmen fled their homeland to settle in Neustadt, a territory that was then occupied by Americans. Yet even with all this the Muller-Blech family was able to stay behind and smuggle the molds out covertly.
The Muller-Blech family continued to practice the craft of ornament blowing in the same workshops in Lauscha Germany for thirteen generations. In the 1960s Klaus Muller-Blech, a 14th generation descendant, and Birgit Eichhorn Jeremias-Sohn, descendant of the Eichhorn family, joined forces by marriage and combined their familys’ tradition. Today their collection includes more than 6000 antique blown glass ornament molds that date from the 1850s. In addition, many new ornaments are created each year to represent the traditions of today.
To find out if you own any original Inge-glass ornaments, look for the authentic star crown ornament holder. The Inge-glass ornaments are recognizable as one of the oldest generational German Christmas ornament makers and in 2000 Inge-glass established their own distribution site in the United States. It was not until 1939 and the outbreak of World War II did an American company significantly enter the ornament business. Using a machine that was designed to make light bulbs, Corning engineers produced more than 2,000 ornament balls a minute.In 1973 a new tradition of Christmas decorating was started when Hallmark introduced six glass ball ornaments and twelve yarn figures as the first collection of Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments. Since this humble beginning Hallmark has introduced more than 3,000 different Keepsakes Ornaments and more than one hundred ornament series.