My green 19th century "witches ball" photographed alongside a German silver kugel ornament, and two miniature Japanese green baubles dating from around World War II
Photo: Chronica Domus
I've been busy excitedly rummaging through boxes of ornaments selecting those that will grace our Christmas tree, which will be decorated within the next week. I try to be organized about such matters as the storage of my hundreds of vintage and antique glass ornaments which I've amassed over the period I've been living in the United States. I endeavor to sort them by color, wrap the larger ones in tissue paper (acid free if possible), and then place them all in large plastic storage boxes until they are needed the following year. You will be hard pressed to find another plastic item in our household but these boxes are the best solution I've come across for safe storage.
Over the past two decades, I've been agog at the sheer volume of vintage glass ornaments that I've been fortunate enough to unearth from places like local flea markets, antiques shops and shows, as well as from thrift stores. I've concluded that such ornaments were probably destroyed by the thousands during the German bombing campaigns of World War II in England, hence their rarity there. Why else have I had such a difficult time locating them? One can find newer reproductions, of course, but the more fragile older examples are as rare as hen's teeth.
The majority of my collection dates from the 1920's to 1940's, with a few later examples and even several earlier ones. Most were produced in Germany at the famous glass factories of Lauschen by mouth blowing glass into molds. I've also collected many Japanese examples dating from America's occupation of Japan after World War II, and some later ones (1950's) from the other famous European centers of glass production, Poland and Czechoslovakia.
I remember my mother adorning our family tree with similar ornaments when I was a young girl so perhaps that is why I'm drawn to decorating my own tree with these beguiling ornaments which have mellowed to a wonderful dull sheen over the years.
Several summer's ago, when ambling through the covered antiques market in Covent Garden, London, I came across a monumental green glass ornament that reminded me of a much smaller silver example in my collection. I'd never seen anything approaching the scale of this heavy glass orb. I asked the stall-holder about it and he explained to me that it was a "witches ball". The huge bauble, which is six inches in diameter, came complete with the original decorative brass hanging chain, embossed with baskets of flowers, and twisted little connecting rings, crowned with a brass cap and a large round hanging loop. I was further informed that according to British folklore, these witches balls, typically made in green, silver and gold, were hung in windows or in front of looking glasses during the 18th and 19th centuries to ward off evil spirits and ill fortune. I was fascinated by the history of this glass treasure and could not pass it up, even if it meant that I had to carefully hand-carry it across the pond on my journey home.
I am delighted I did so, as each year when unwrapping my ornaments to decorate the house at Christmastime, the enchanting witches ball always takes my breath away. Although its folkloric origin is far removed from Christmas traditions, which also happens to be the case with many other symbols of a modern Christmas, this witches ball fits in seamlessly holding court over my large collection of more diminutive ornaments. I've since learned that the balls are rather rare, and the chain even more so.
Have you a favorite or meaningful ornament that you enjoy displaying during the Christmas holiday season? Do please tell me about it.