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Reproductions of Antique Ornaments - Spotting the Fakes

Antique and vintage Christmas ornaments are beautiful and fun to collect. The bad news is: reproductions of just about all these ornaments have flooded the marketplace. While many of these reproductions are quite beautiful themselves (some made from the same materials or molds as the originals) and great for "filling out" a display or vintage Christmas tree until you can acquire or afford the originals, you don't want to pay the same premium prices for them! Not all reproductions are intended to deceive, in fact many are manufactured as a tribute to the originals. Still, it pays to be able to tell the difference.

General buying tips:

  • Buy from a dealer who knows Christmas ornaments - generalists who are just reselling a few items may themselves be unable to tell originals from the reproductions.
  • Buy from a dealer with a good reputation.
  • Keep in mind that most antique ornaments were very likely stored, for at least part of their lifetime, in cardboard boxes in attics and basements of houses without the climate-control technologies of the modern world. In addition to wear from years of use and the risk of damage from elbows, children and pets during the holidays, they were subject to fluctuations in temperature and humidity, insects, rodents and the like. If an ornament looks pristine and brand-new, there's a good chance that it is!
  • Be suspicious of dealers with dozens of similar or identical "rare vintage" ornaments in perfect condition. Of course, occasionally reputable dealers will come across a great find - check out reputations and credentials before buying.

Here are some common antique Christmas ornament reproductions we've seen recently in shops and online auctions:

Victorian Dresden Ornaments: Frequently figural Russian cardboard ornaments are seen at auction. These are usually colored foil in shapes like squirrels, fish and the like. They are much less detailed than the German Dresden ornaments and not scarce. While some are very attractive, you shouldn't pay premium prices for them.

Figural Glass Ornaments: Reproductions of the old figural glass Lascha ornaments have been produced since the late 20th century - some have been made in the very same molds as the originals! Look for patina and a smaller end (hook) cap on the vintage examples.

Victorian Scrap Ornaments: These can be really tricky! Not only can you buy die-cut Victorian type paper images and authentic-looking materials to make your own reproductions, but some people are manufacturing new scrap ornaments from original Victorian materials, harvested from a variety of sources. Look for signs of wear in likely places on the paper, wire and tinsel and don't spend a small fortune on one of these unless you are buying from a knowledgeable and reputable dealer.

Victorian Tinsel Wrapped Ornaments: These are also being "remade". Reproductions are often made from newer (mid-20th century) ornaments with die-cut paper decorations which may or may not date to the Victorian era. Wire and tinsel are usually new materials. The old tinsel and the crinkly wire didn't usually hold up very well - expect to see some damage to this on originals, even if it is minor. The reproductions, especially the ones made from vintage materials such as those made by Dresden Star, can be very attractive.

Bubble Lights: New bubble lights are being made, most in the form of the more popular styles to be used as replacements for fixing a broken set.

Kugels: Although recent reproductions exist, we have seen a lot of misuse of this term, especially in online auctions. Some sellers call any round glass ornament a Kugel, especially the larger ones. Look for a heavy ornament with a dull sheen, patina, and a flat decorative cap. Antique kugels are clear, heavy, hand-blown glass (with small air bubbles and other associated imperfections) in solid colors, which were silvered on the inside. Most genuine kugels, will have at least a few small flecks of the silvering missing, in some specimans nearly all of it will be gone (resulting in a clear glass ornament which is still very pretty). The cap and hanger will show patina and possibly some spots of corrosion.

Kugels have been lovingly reproduced in various types of art glass. I recently saw Cobalt blue reproductions made in India (with shiny, new looking metal caps) on eBay.

Shiny Brite Ornaments: The Shiny Brite line recently began production again under Christopher Radko, including reproductions of some of the fancier vintage ornaments. Look for patina and wear on the originals. Plain Shiny Brite ornaments are likely to be vintage.



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