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Hark! The herald Christmas angels

NEW YORK – “Fear not” are usually the first words of an angel, described as a messenger with direct access to God and Heaven. It’s one of the reasons why they are so omnipresent during the winter holidays like Christmas, Hanukkah and other religious observances.

Originally from the Late Greek ángelos, angels may even have an earlier possibly Persian reference that is documented before the Christian era. In most religions, an angel is interpreted in art as having a human-like form complete with wings of feathers and, sometimes, a halo. While they are described as being a guide or messenger from God, it’s also suggested that an angel is a metaphor for the struggle of morality and spirituality of the conscience.

Over time, the angel has played a direct role in a religious context, mostly to tell stories of the season, particularly Christmas. The Archangel Gabriel, for example, is the one who informs Mary that she is to become the mother of the Son of God and to name him Jesus, meaning Yahweh or salvation in the Annunciation, a full nine months before his birth. It was an angel that appeared in the dreams of Joseph to spirit the baby Jesus away from King Herod’s murderous search for him.

One of the early commercially available holiday angels beginning in the late 19th century was this lovely embossed, hand-gilded tree topper made in the German state of Thuringia from 1880 to 1914 and are the most coveted of early tree toppers and ornaments. This almost perfectly preserved Dresden angel sold for $650 + the buyer’s premium in 2014. Image courtesy Bertoia Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

As a Christmas Tree Topper

So it’s no surprise that an angel figures greatly during the Christmas season. Except for the figure of Santa Claus or St. Nicholas, an angel is the most collected of all Christmas ornaments.

Its popularity began in a castle. An indoor lighted and decorated Christmas tree was featured in the Illustrated London News in 1848 at the royal residence of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of England. Both born of German heritage, it wasn’t unusual for them to feature an indoor evergreen during the Christmas season. It’s been done since at least the early 16th century.

What was particularly inspiring for the newspaper reader, though, was that the top of the tree featured an angel evoking the Archangel Gabriel and the Annunciation. Today an angel, along with the star of Bethlehem, continues to be the most popular Christmas tree toppers.

As a Christmas Tree Ornament

With an indoor evergreen tree more common by the late 19th century in America, early decoration consisted mainly of handmade colored paper, fruit and candles. More fanciful hand-blown glass ornaments from the German state of Thuringia were imported by the 1870s beginning the introduction of more commercial varieties that families added to each year.

From 1880 to about 1914, highly detailed fitted paper ornaments handmade in Dresden, Germany were being imported into Great Britain. Because these Dresdens, as they’re known by collectors, were not expected to survive from year to year, they are considered some of the most collectible ornaments today.

An unusual example of a wax covered angel that was popular in the late 19th century that features inset glass eyes, colorful fabric and doll’s hair. Containing a music box that plays two tunes, it sold for about $928 + the buyer’s premium in 2018. Image courtesy Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion GBMH and LiveAuctioneers

Guarding the Christmas Creche

At the birth of Jesus, celebrated on Dec. 25, angels appeared to shepherds to announce that, “Today your Savior, Christ the Lord, was born in [Bethlehem where you] will find an infant wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger,” according to the Bible’s Book of Luke, chapter 2.

The stories of the season tell of the Roman need for a census of its citizens and so Joseph and Mary traveled back to Nazareth for the final count. However, because so many were traveling, space for the birth was found only in a sheep stable where a manger was the only bed available. Even in this humble place, angels appeared to herald the coming of Jesus and to direct others like the Three Kings with light and celebration.

To help tell the story, nativity scenes are set up in a prominent place in homes, complete with angels that guard the manger or creche (French for crib). Look for figures of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, animals and Three Wise Men to complete a set. Most were made from painted ceramic from Germany in the late 19th century, but chalkware from Fonanini in Italy and detailed papier-mache ones from the 1940s to 1950s are also collectible in very good condition, but usually available for under $100. Ceramic or crystal angels from Mikasa and Lenox continue to remain popular with collectors and usually available at auction for under $30.

Painted chalkware was most commonly used for the seasonal creche and usually included an angel that was sometimes identified as the Archangel Gabriel similar to this mid-20th century version recently auctioned for only $5 + the buyer’s premium. While popular, chalkware chipped easily and the colors often faded. An example in very good condition is difficult to find at auction.
Image courtesy Vidi Vici Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

And Throughout the Season

By the early 20th century, America was importing ceramic angel figurines by the Japanese company Yona. They became one of the most collectible of the 1940s and 1950s because of the detailed hand-painted facial expressions and that they were incorporated into candle holders, wall hangings and table decoration. Each angel easily matched the holiday spirit and are routinely available for under $30.

Other more realistic angels were made of spun glass, delicate fabrics, and even wax figures were also very popular, but difficult to find excellent condition. By the 1950s, though, the molded, plastic angel became the more commercially successful version.

Three German spun cotton Christmas ornaments including two angels, late 19th or early 20th century, all with some paper elements and printed applied face, about 4½in high. Sold for $425 + the buyer’s premium in December 2019. Image courtesy Locati LLC and LiveAuctioneers.

What Collectors Look For

According to goldenglow.org, an online Christmas-themed website, “… angels have been crafted using a variety of techniques including hand-carved from wood, poured wax … papier-mache, clay, pressed cardboard, paper, fabric, bisque, porcelain, glass … tin, lead and almost any other readily available material.

“Interestingly,” they continue,” angels made from celluloid are virtually unknown.” So the variety of angel collectibles is rather large and varied with most available only from the early 19th century.

Mynativity.com recommends Italian papier mache angels from Fontanini beginning in 1908 until production switched to plastic by the 1960s. Early ceramic Hummel figurines from the World War II era still command auction interest rather than the later more commercial production period. Just note that each Hummel figurine with a copyright date embossed at the bottom only suggests when it was introduced, not when it was manufactured.

These German-made glass angel ornaments are an example of the fine hand-painted detail collectors of early 20th century ornaments look for at auction. They sold for about $920 + the buyer’s premium in 2016. Image courtesy Ladenburger Spielzeugauktion GBMH and LiveAuctioneers

Any Victorian-era angel (1840s to the early 1900s) will always have an enormous collector interest from the because production was more limited. The brighter the colors and the more intact, the higher the auction value is overall.

Without exception, the colorfully embossed, hand-painted Dresden angels are the most sought after with auction values easily beginning at several hundred dollars for good to very good examples. Products of a cottage industry and made of cardboard, they weren’t especially intended to last generations, so they are also difficult to find in exceptional condition.

As a Guardian

The presence of an angel during the Christmas season does seem to trumpet joy and celebration. Still, whether angels were messengers or guides from God in human form or are only metaphorical manifestations of our collective conscience, perhaps in the end, angels are just ordinary people that are intended as guardian angels for each other, not just for a holiday season, but all year-round.

Kugels: biggest and best Christmas ornaments

NEW YORK – Christmas is a time of vibrant color in a season of cold and snow. Revelers can invite the warmth of the holiday to filter through the sparkle of glass ornaments, especially antique ones known as kugels.

Every family has holiday traditions and stories that are passed down through generations. Most are oral tales of family lore, but fanciful kugels tell stories, too. It’s also been suggested that before they became a Christmas tradition, kugels may have held a more ethereal secret.

A large group of vintage German, French and Indian kugels from the late 19th to early 20th century with various sizes and colors sold as a group for nearly $5,200 on Nov. 12, 2019. Freeman’s and LiveAuctioneers image

In 17th century England, inhabitants thought the countryside was rife with witches. Unseen and always up to mischief, these witches needed to be kept far away from hearth and home. And since witches were known to be wary of circular shapes, legend says, a round, sometimes silvered, glass “witch ball” was hung in windows, along ceilings and even as large silvered gazing balls in the garden to keep these evil troublemakers at bay.

Large, clear hand-blown glass balls similar to these were used in the 17th century as a talisman to ward off witches. They may have influenced more radiant, mirror-like figural Christmas ornaments by the mid-19th century. William Bunch Auction & Appraisals and LiveAuctioneers image

At the same time an early winter holiday tradition meant the hanging of the greens in homes and churches. Since the Egyptians, evergreen branches have been a symbol of everlasting life. They were brought inside and decorated for the holidays with oranges, apples, candles and sweets as early as the 15th century. When the fir tree was brought indoors for the Christmas holiday beginning in the early 19th century, it may just be an old folk tale, but the colorful witch ball easily transitioned from a personal guardian into a smaller, more festive holiday decoration to bring color and life to the evergreens and the fir tree.

Folk tale or not, glassblowers in Lauscha, Germany, in the early 19th century were making fashionable glass beads, bottles, scientific glass instruments and, of course, the round glass witch balls. Once the indoor trees and evergreens became a holiday tradition by 1847, they transitioned into creating colorful glass balls for decoration. Not long after, the glass balls were lined inside with silver nitrate, tin or even lead to give them a rather distinctive mirror-like finish where they positively glowed near the ubiquitous candlelight of the period. And a delightful holiday tradition was born.

Antique German silver glass squash-form kugel with Baroque cap, 4in high. Sold for $3,000 + buyer’s premium Nov. 3, 2018. Conestoga Auction Co. and LiveAuctioneers

Once the glass ornaments were widely accepted, the glass blowers became more creative and pressed glowing hot glass into molds such as a bunch of grapes, eggs, pears, berries, vegetables and even pinecone shapes. Each was hand blown with various vibrant colors from either colored glass, hand-painted on the outside or later sprayed on with a colored lacquer. These kugels (German for round ball), as they became known, were heavy and durable and remained a holiday tradition until about 1890. By then kugel production moved to Nancy, France, where their own lighter, more colorful versions, known as Boules Panoramic, predominated until the 1920s.

Because of their long-lasting durability, radiant color and simple designs, kugels are a collector’s favorite, and auction values in recent years reflect that interest. Collectors, like goldenglow.org and kugelhouse.com, express agreement that color is the first criteria for collectors when determining value. The more easily obtainable are clear glass with only the silver lining along with gold, green, cobalt, most shades of blue and most red colors, although pink is rarer. Darker reds and greens, copper colors, orange and amethyst are hardest to find.

This ribbed pear-shaped early 19th century German-made kugel sold for nearly $22,000 on Aug. 14, 2015. Conestoga Auction Co. and LiveAuctioneers

Shapes are the next criteria after color. Balls and grapes are the most common. Egg, pear and teardrop shapes and ones with ribbed forms are particularly desirable. Any other shapes, such as vegetables, fruits or pinecones, are the really rare ones.

Condition matters, too. “When collecting kugels, try to avoid pieces where the lining has disintegrated. On rarer pieces collectors will often look the other way if the lining is in bad shape, but the reality is that if you try to sell the piece, you may not be able to get a good price with a bad lining,” according to goldenglow.com, a specialist website dedicated to all things Christmas.

German-made glass berry-form kugel, copper color, beehive cap, 3½in diameter. Sold for $1,600 + buyer’s premium Jan. 13, 2018. Conestoga Auction Co. and LiveAuctioneers

And beware of reproductions. Vintage kugels made in Germany or France from 1840s to about 1900 were made with a smooth, cut finished hole at the top flush with the ornament. A smooth or embossed brass cap fit easily over the hole with a brass, pronged wire holding the cap against the ornament. A round brass wire fit through the top of the pronged one to hang from the tree that will have aged naturally. Recent reproductions from India were made with a rougher, protruding neck over the hole with the brass cap obviously aged artificially. Vintage kugels are made with thicker glass while thinner ones were made after 1918.

Whether rare or not, vintage kugels are a decorator choice for the Christmas holidays. Featured as a table centerpiece with candlelight, hung from light fixtures, catching light from open windows, formed into wreaths or simply hung on the tree with care, kugels bring a magic of color, brightness and good spirits inside while the weather outside is frightful. There just might be something to the folk tale after all.

6 Christmas Ornaments to Delight Your Christmas Tree

Your Christmas tree is the center of your home for a few weeks out of the year. Whether decorated with simple lights, popcorn strings, or family heirloom ornaments, the tree sparkles with tradition. German-American families enjoy the tradition of the Christmas pickle. On Christmas Eve, after the children have gone to bed, parents hide a pickle ornament deep in the branches of their decorated tree. On Christmas morning, the first child to locate the pickle receives an extra gift from Santa.

This season is an opportunity to add some extra charm and delight to your tree. Below are 6 Americana ornaments to dazzle your trimmings:

Man in the Moon

When this moon hits your eye, there will definitely be amoré. Enjoy this hand-blown sparkler from the 1940s.

Man in the Moon Hand Blown Christmas Ornament, 1940, 3.5 x 2 inches. Estimate: $75-$120

Man in the Moon Hand Blown Christmas Ornament, 1940, 3.5 x 2 inches. Estimate: $75-$120

 

Christmas Tea Pot

So adorable you almost want to drink tea out of it.

An adorable tea pot Christmas ornament, circa 1940, 3 x 2 inches. Sold: $20

An adorable tea pot Christmas ornament, circa 1940, 3 x 2 inches. Sold: $20

 

Two Fish Ornaments

One fish, two fish. Yellow Fish, gold fish.

2 Fish Hand Blown Christmas Ornament, 1940s, 3.5 x 2 inches each. Estimate: $75-$95

2 Fish Hand Blown Christmas Ornament, 1940s, 3.5 x 2 inches each. Estimate: $75-$95

 

Green Pickle

This is probably the ornament you’ve always wished you had.

Hand Blown Pickle Christmas Ornament, circa 1940, 3.75 x 1.5 inches. Sold: $25

Hand Blown Pickle Christmas Ornament, circa 1940, 3.75 x 1.5 inches. Sold: $25

 

Three Clown Ornaments

These vintage buddies add sparkle and a certain unique charm to your tree.

3 Clowns Hand Blown Christmas Ornaments, circa 1940s, 4.75 x 2 inches. Estimate: $85-$150

3 Clowns Hand Blown Christmas Ornaments, circa 1940s, 4.75 x 2 inches. Estimate: $85-$150

 

Cast Iron Santa Claus 

Ok, this is a doorstop and not an ornament. While you cannot hang it on your tree, adding this to your home holiday decor adds extra flair. Ho ho ho!

Santa Claus Door Stop, Cast iron with original paint, circa 1920, 6.75 x 4.5 x 2.75 inches. Estimate: $100-$150

Santa Claus Door Stop, Cast iron with original paint, circa 1920, 6.75 x 4.5 x 2.75 inches. Estimate: $100-$150

 

Find unique Americana treasures in Jasper52’s weekly auctions. There’s always a delightful find.