Christmas is upon us! This season is a time for all vintage and antique lovers to rejoice. Vintage Christmas is a holiday all its own. The Christmas ornaments and decorations from bygone eras can lend a nostalgic, cozy feel to any home.

Image courtesy of LoveVintageChristmas.

If you’ve ever been to an estate sale, it’s likely you’ve seen a spread of antique Christmas ornaments and decorations. Holiday items tend to be something that people accumulate over time and, whatever the reason for the estate sale, these items are likely to be a part of the inventory-sometimes for a great bargain.

A 1950s Czech mercury glass bird ornament. The bird has a spun-glass tail and sits on a beaded nest with a chenille basket handle. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.

Whether you are shopping for gifts for other nostalgic Christmas-lovers or decorations for your own home, vintage Christmas ornaments and decorations make beautiful, high-quality heirlooms.

Vintage Christmas Ornaments

A 1920s large German wire-wrapped balloon Christmas ornament with a paper scrap angel. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.

“What I love about vintage Christmas ornaments is their nostalgic look and their rustic beauty,” says Penny Stark, owner of Love Vintage Christmas. “I think vintage is better because there is nothing like the charm, patina, and craftsmanship they have, and the treasure hunt is part of the fun.” 

A rare 1940s German double clip ornament. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.

Nostalgia is also a motivator for Dee Martin, owner of Just Vintage Christmas. “The Christmas season always held magic and wonder for me as it was a big deal in our home,” says Martin, who attributes this fervent Christmas spirit in part to her German heritage.

Shiny Brite was a popular Christmas decoration company in the 1940s and 1950s. Image courtesy of LoveVintageChristmas.

Martin says that quality and character make vintage ornaments far superior to modern ones. “The earlier ornaments were each hand crafted and hand finished, reflecting their one-of-a-kind human touch,” she says. “Each era and generation of vintage ornaments reflects the current history of that time, which adds authenticity to any display. For example, during the Art Deco period, ornaments often contained linear and geometric elements. During the 1950s and early 1960s, plastic and aluminum were all the rage, reflecting the new materials emerging at that time.”

Hand-crafted European vintage Christmas ornaments in the original box. Image courtesy of VintagePrairieHome.

How to Identify Vintage Christmas Ornaments

There are many clues for authenticating vintage Christmas ornaments, even if you aren’t an experienced collector.

An original 1950s box of Poland striped glitter teardrop icicle ornaments. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.

1. The Feel of a Vintage Ornament

“I can tell a vintage ornament by its patina and how it feels,” says Stark. 

“Modern ornaments are also often made of a composition material or even hard plastic which tries to mimic the older mercury glass,” says Martin. “You can tell by tapping on it if it is glass or not.”

A 1940s Polish-made mercury glass parachute balloon ornament. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.

2. The Look of a Vintage Ornament

“Old ornaments are usually not as perfectly shiny,” says Stark. The shapes can be a telling factor, too. “If they are mouth blown, they aren’t always perfectly shaped,” she says. “They should also have a pontil mark (usually on the bottom) where the glass was broken off the blow pipe.”

You can clearly see where this glass ornament was broken off its blow pipe. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.

3. The Cap on a Vintage Ornament

The cap on antique Christmas ornaments can be a great indicator of age and vintage.

Silver Metal Caps 

With some exceptions, vintage Christmas ornaments will have a simple, silver metal cap. “Older ones are usually dull and not super shiny,” says Stark. “Most nicer ones are stamped with West Germany, or Czechoslovakia.” 

An original 1950s box of German mini mercury glass feather tree ball ornaments – all caps are stamped with West Germany. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.

These caps are easy to differentiate from modern ornament caps. “Modern ornament caps are often very fancy, frilly, and ornate, some with additional tags attached,” says Martin. “They are often gold but if they are silver, the metal is thinner than the older metal, or perhaps made of aluminum, or even plastic. A vintage metal cap will show oxidation, a darkening of the color, even a bit of rust. All of that is good and adds character.” 

A German-made open umbrella ornament from the 1930s. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.

Some vintage Christmas ornaments are an exception to the silver metal cap rule.

Plaster Ornament Caps 

Pre-1900 Glass Christmas Ornaments from Germany “were finished with a plastered metal cap, before the invention of the popular spring cap,” says Martin. The spring cap, a common style still today, was invented in the very early 1900s. “Prior to the spring cap, metal ornament caps and the hanging ring were adhered by hand with plaster, a very time-consuming and tedious process,” says Martin.

A rare German triple-indent mercury glass ornament with a plastered metal cap, circa 1890. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.

Paper Ornament Caps

American ornaments from 1942-1945 had paper caps. WWII wartime shortages restricted the use of certain materials, including metal and also the nitrate used for silvering glass ornaments,” says Martin. “American ornaments produced during this time frame were produced without silvering or metal caps, and instead were fitted with paper or cardboard caps. These types of ornaments were produced only from 1942 to 1945 and are quite rare and thus very collectible today.”

A 1940s unsilvered American glass ornament with paper cap. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.

4. The Condition of a Vintage Ornament

Peaking underneath the cap can also reveal some telling marks. “The edges of a mouth blown ornament will not be perfectly even and smooth,” says Stark. “The stem or neck is often little darker in color or has a little loss of silvering or paint. The ornament will probably have some degree of discoloration in the form of spots or fading. I do not require that my ornaments are perfect. That is all part of their charm.”

Early 1900s German mercury glass clip-on bird ornament with annealed beak. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.

Substantial or even minor wear and tear are indicative that an item is vintage, as most modern ornaments are made to be nearly indestructible. “Vintage glass ornaments will often show some degree of light wear and some oxidation, especially at the pike or cap area,” says Martin. “Hand painted decoration indicates an older ornament, and this will often show scratches or light wear. Bits of paint loss often occurs with older ornaments.”

A 1920s German assembled triangle ornament with a mercury glass garland and two bells . A crystal peeler hangs from red bell. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.

5. The Use of Mica in Christmas Ornaments

Mica was, and still is, a popular decoration material on ornaments to mimic snow. The texture of the mica on an ornament, or any Christmas decoration, can help identify the item’s age. “The earliest mica used a larger grain which created a more bumpy, textured surface,” says Martin. “Sometimes bits of mica flake off or goes missing.” Modern mica is more uniform and less granular, with the appearance of thick glitter. 

A frosted mercury glass snowman, German-made from the early 1930s. Notice the large granules of mica that create a bumpy texture. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.
An American Shiny Brite unsilvered UFO ornament from the 1940s, also featuring the large-size white mica. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.

Rare Vintage Christmas Ornaments

You might get lucky and find a rare vintage Christmas ornament for sale, but you need to be able to identify which ornaments and decorations are actually valuable so you don’t pay too much. Just because an ornament is old with peeling paint or even made with blown glass doesn’t mean it’s rare or valuable. Here are some qualities of the more sought-after vintage Christmas ornaments.

A set of 1960s hand-decorated mercury glass ornaments made in Colombia in the Italian style. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.

Free-Blown Vintage Glass Ornaments 

Martin calls free-blown glass ornaments a “holy grail” item for vintage Christmas collectors. Free blown decorations are quite rare because it takes a long time to make them. Most figural glass decorations and ornaments were blown into a mold. 

A Goldilocks mermaid Christmas ornament made in West Germany pre-1940. The body was mouth blown into a mold, while the the tail was free-blown. Image courtesy of LoveVintageChristmas.
A rare, elaborate 1920s German mercury glass peacock clip-on ornament. The tail is made of balsa wood and hand-painted, while the head and crown are free-blown, and the body is mold-blown.  Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.
A 1940s German mercury glass cat ornament. Each part was free-blown and then annealed together. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.

“The Germans made some free-blown ornaments in the 1930s to 1940s, but it was the Italians who mastered this process and made it their own,” says Martin. “De Carlini is one of the most recognizable of the Italian free blown ornament makers.” 

A very rare 1950s De Carlini free-blown mercury glass ornament featuring a double sphere clown under a mushroom. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.
A 1960s De Carlini free-blown and hand-decorated glass ornament, featuring a horse with a multi-colored ribbon tail. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.

Two-Sided or Double-Embossed Glass Ornaments

Vintage glass Christmas ornaments featuring two sides or faces are quite special and hard to find. 

A 1920s German double-embossed two-sided cross country skier mercury glass ornament. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.
An early 1990s German blown mercury glass Christmas ornament featuring a double-sided face. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.

German Figural Glass Ornaments

Early 1900s “Happy Hooligan” comic character German glass ornament with extended legs. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.

German character ornaments made in the Lauscha region north of Nuremberg became popular during Victorian times. “They were each hand-crafted and hand-finished with the extended legs, and sometimes arms, annealed to the mold-blown glass body,” says Martin. “These antique extended leg German ornaments are becoming quite rare and desirable. ” 

Vintage Christmas Decorations

There is an entire world of festive decorations beyond the tree. Ornaments are just one facet of the vintage Christmas decorating world. Here are some other ideas for completing your vintage Christmas interiors. 

Vintage Antique Tree Garlands

Mercury glass bead garlands. Image courtesy of LoveVintageChristmas.

Early tree garlands were hand-crafted and hand-strung, just like the nostalgic tradition of popcorn garlands. Garlands made of German mercury glass are some of the finest and most high-quality tree garlands of the past.

German blown mercury glass garland from the 1920s. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.
This garland features six bright lacquer colors and six bead shapes, including ribbed, faceted, tear drop and barrel. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.

In the 1930s, Japan began to compete with the Germans in the Christmas decorations market, so there are some beautiful antique tree garlands from Japan.

1950s tree garland from Japan. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.
Another Japanese-made mercury glass tree garland from the 1950s. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.

Of course, Americans made tree garlands in the early 1900s too. Cellophane was a popular material in these early American decorations. As it ages, silver tinsel oxidizes and takes on a golden sheen, which can be a sought-after decorating item.

This American Christmas garland features thin cellophane tassels woven into the strand. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.
Silver tinsel and red cellophane American-made Christmas tree garland from the 1920s. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.

Vintage Christmas Stockings

Christmas stockings are an age-old tradition and can be used for decoration as well as filling with gifts. Stockings printed with Santa are often popular collectibles. “My personal favorites are the printed flannel and felt stockings from the 1940s and 50s,” says Martin.

Printed Christmas stocking on flannel from the 1940s. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.
Large cotton stocking from the 1960s with print on both sides, a rarity in antique stockings. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.
A handcrafted felt stocking from the 1970s with deer cutouts, sequins and applique embellishments, including a jingle bell toe! Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.
Hand-crocheted “Granny Squares” Christmas stocking from the 1970s, featuring the iconic mid-century “avocado green.” Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.
A Japanese-made Shiny Brite stocking from the 1960s or 70s. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.
A printed Christmas stocking made in Berlin, Germany, in the 1970s or 80s. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.

Vintage Pixies and Elves 

Small Christmas pixies and elves are a huge collectible genre. These little figurines come in countless styles and designs. 

Vintage elf figurines. Image courtesy of LoveVintageChristmas.
Pine cone and spun cotton gnomes from Japan, Italy, Germany, and France. Image courtesy of LoveVintageChristmas.
Pixies. Image courtesy of VintagePrairieHome.

Vintage Angels

Spun satin angels. Image courtesy of VintagePrairieHome.
Mid-century spun cotton, chenille, and tulle angels. Image courtesy of VintagePrairieHome.

Vintage Christmas Tree Toppers

1930s-1940s German mercury glass tree topper with red lametta spire brush, silver tinsel trees, wire wrap and hand-painted decoration. Image courtesy of JustVintageChristmas.
Vintage tree toppers. Image courtesy of LoveVintageChristmas.

Vintage Deer and Reindeer

Christmas-themed deer and reindeer figurines are another highly sought-after collectible item.

Vintage plastic deer and reindeer. Image courtesy of LoveVintageChristmas
A vintage 1950s silver santa sleigh with reindeer in the original box, made by Bradford Plastic. Image courtesy of VintagePrairieHome.

Putz House Christmas Decorations

Cardboard Putz houses and figurines can be arranged into little villages. Loosely related to the Nativity scenes that are still popular, “Putz” comes from the German word for “to put.” Christmas decorators love to play around with how to “put” their Putz houses! 

Putz houses. Image courtesy of LoveVintageChristmas

Vintage Santa Figurines

The big guy comes in all shapes, sizes and materials from all eras. People always love to see Santa in their homes during Christmas!

A mid-century rubber Santa with sleigh and reindeer, Japanese-made. Image courtesy of VintagePrairieHome.
A vintage spun-cotton Santa band, made in Japan in the 1940s. Image courtesy of VintagePrairieHome.

Bottle Brush and Ceramic Christmas Trees 

Bottle brush trees. Image courtesy of LoveVintageChristmas
Holland Mold ceramic Christmas tree. Image courtesy of StorytellersVintage.

Vintage and Antique Christmas Paper 

Christmas cards, postcards and advertisements can make beautiful decorations, framed and hung on a wall or used as wrapping paper!

White Owl Cigars retro Christmas ad. Image courtesy of Radvertisements.
Vintage Kodak Christmas advertisement. Image courtesy of Radvertisements
Retro NY Life Insurance Christmas advertisement. Image courtesy of Radvertisements
Milky Way Christmas advertisement. Image courtesy of Radvertisements.

Where to Find Vintage Christmas Decorations For Sale

“The best place to find vintage ornaments is at estate sales, flea markets, and some times rummages,” says Stark. 

As with many older, antique or rare items, the internet can be a great place to shop. In addition to Ebay and Etsy, Martin suggests perusing and Facebook Marketplace for vintage christmas decorations for sale. “Some of my best finds have been at church rummage or school fundraising sales, she says. “And of course, auctions and estate sales can be a great source for nice vintage collections and fun or rare surprises.”

And the following Etsy shops (who were very helpful with this article) are also a great place to find your vintage Christmas decorations:

Just Vintage Christmas

Love Vintage Christmas

Vintage Prairie Home


Storytellers Vintage

Happy holidays, and happy vintage hunting!