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Baubles to you…


This last month or so I have been experimenting with decorating baubles. I love Christmas and wanted to add something new to my product range, but this year I didn’t want to create a whole new collection just for the festive season. Every year I buy a new decoration for my tree. Generally this involves a trip to York, UK where I used to buy from a magical shop called Christmas Angels. Sadly this has now gone, but imagine my delight when I found  a Christmas experience so complete they have baubles, smoking men, nutcrackers the list goes on and on. Now I know you may be thinking why would I share a link to another Christmas shop with many more Christmas products than mine. Well that is probably an excellent question, but such is my passion for the sparkly season that I feel selfish not sharing what is undoubtably the find of the century!

In a bid to bring a little bit of Christmassy overload across the Pennines, I decided baubles were a natural fit for me and my shop. As I was playing around with samples I got to thinking that I didn’t actually know much about the history of baubles and so I started to do a little bit of digging…

My first ever Christmas bauble

People have been decorating their homes with evergreen and natural materials for years. Pagans used evergreen branches decorated with things such as apples, candy canes and baked pastries as a reminder that spring would return after the long winter months. The first ‘Christmas’ tree decorations were a nod to Christianity with candles often used to signify the light of Christ.

Christmas baubles (the spherical version) were invented in the late 1840s by a gentleman called Hans Greiner. He owned a glass factory in the the small mountain town of Lauscha in Germany. It was the perfect location for glass production as the valley bottom where the factory nestled provided plentiful raw materials including all important water, timber and sand. His factory’s designs evolved over time from strings of glass beads to glass ornaments in the shape of fruits and nuts (the food inspired shapes were a little nod to the craft tradition of baking in Freiburg) that used lead or mercury to make the inside look silvery. This was later swapped for a special compound of silver nitrate and sugar water which was slightly less lethal! The round bauble, recorded as being introduced in 1847, was a definite break from the norm. They used pioneering technology where liquid glass was ‘blown’ into a spherical mould, pretty similar to the process used to create my bone china decorations which are made with clay ‘slip’ being poured into a plaster mould.

Engraving from the Illustrated London News showing Queen Victoria and Prince Albert around the Christmas tree, 1848, England © British Library Board. P.P.7611.

There are various stories about how the bauble was introduced to Britain, but the most popular seems to surround Prince Albert. In 1848 a published illustration of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert celebrating Christmas with their family (shown above) featured an evergreen fir decorated with glass baubles. The upper classes went wild for this look and soon baubles were flying off the shelves in the UK and in America where businessman Frank Woolworth had cottoned on to the commercial value of the product. As the success of the bauble grew, and political climates changed, the tradition of making them in places like Lauscha weakened and new manufacturers in Japan and Eastern-Europe started to compete (successfully) for a share of the products success. The commercial bauble was born!

But, before you panic and mourn the loss of a thriving craft industry, there’s another little twist in the tail. After the Berlin wall came down, glass factories in Germany began to re-open and revisit their amazing bauble heritage. In Lauscha there are now around 20 small glass blowing companies and every year there is a bauble market or Kugelmarkt   Guess what has just gone on my travel bucket list!

So now we know a little bit about baubles and you can rest assured that by putting them on your tree you are part of a long and illustrious worldwide history that is keeping tradition alive…



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