Shiny Brite ornaments and other vintage glass Christmas ornaments have skyrocketed in popularity. No matter the size of your collection, you’ll find lots of inspiration for showcasing these beautiful and collectible ornaments. In this collector’s guide to vintage Christmas ornaments, you’ll also learn the history of Shiny Brites, the best places to find them and how to care for the ornaments so they last for generations to come.
I didn’t plan to start collecting Shiny Brites and other vintage Christmas ornaments.
But as with so many collections, the few soon became many. And now my colorful, vintage ornament collection is my favorite part of our Christmas decor.
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When I first started decorating with Shiny Brites, I only had a handful of ornaments, including some passed down from my grandmother. There weren’t even enough to fill up my tinsel tree.
Now, I have hundreds of Shiny Brite ornaments (and other brands, too!), dating as far back as the 1930s and 1940s. The collection has outgrown my tinsel tree, but I’ve come up with other ways beautiful and creative ways to display them.
Keep reading for vintage ornament decorating ideas, the history of Shiny Brites, where to shop for vintage ornaments, how to date Shiny Brite ornaments, and tips for cleaning and storing them.
You can also use the Table of Contents below to jump ahead to any section.
- History of Shiny Brite Ornaments
- Different Types of Shiny Brite Ornaments
- How To Display Vintage Ornaments
- How to Tell the Age of Shiny Brite Ornaments
- Where to Buy Shiny Brite Christmas Ornaments
- How to Clean Vintage Christmas Ornaments
- How to Store Shiny Brite Ornaments
- More Christmas Decorating Ideas
Please note: The photos in this post include a variety of different vintage ornaments from Shiny Brite and other American makers, as well as imported ornaments from Poland, Germany and elsewhere in Europe. There are also some reproduction Shiny Brite ornaments and newer vintage-style ornaments. I’m a firm believer in mixing old and new and decorating with what you love.
History of Shiny Brite Ornaments
German immigrant Max Eckardt established the Shiny Brite Company in New York in 1937 and partnered with the Corning Glass Works to mass produce glass ornaments lined with silver nitrate.
The company’s descriptive name, Shiny Brite, references their unique apperance and the silvering process. Unline other glass ornaments, Shiny Brites were designed to remain shiny and bright.
More than a half-century later, the ornaments live up to this promise.
The first Shiny Brites were sold in 1939 at F.W. Woolworth Stores for 2 cents to 10 cents apiece. Prior to that time, most glass ornaments were hand blown and imported from Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and elsewhere in Europe.
Shiny Brites were mass produced — millions were made and sold every year — but the thin glass ornaments are also very fragile. It’s always a treat to find a full box of them intact.
Different Types of Shiny Brite Ornaments
Shiny Brite ornaments come in a variety of different styles, sizes, colors and types, including simple balls, tear drops, indents, lanterns, UFOs, tops, bells, tear drops, icicles and pine cones.
Some have been silvered inside and lacquered in bright colors, while others are decorated with sparkling mica that looks like snow.
For a period during World War II, shortages impacted the design and production of Shiny Brites. Beginning in 1942, after the United States entered the war, the ornaments did not have the shiny silver nitrate coating.
You’ll often see colorful clear glass ornaments from this period with sprigs of tinsel in them to mimic the silvery sparkle. Later, when tinsel became unavailable, the translucent balls were decorated on the outside with painted stripes and simple designs.
Because all metal was earmarked for the war effort, ornament companies could not use metal caps or hooks on their ornaments.
If you find a Shiny Brite ornament with a cardboard or paper cap and a yarn hanger, it was likely made during the WWII era, after 1943. These ornaments are particularly collectible and prized.
I don’t have any ornaments with cardboard caps, but I’m always on the hunt for them. I love having ornaments from every era of the company’s history.
The original Shiny Brite company ceased production in the 1960s.
In the 1970s, Poloron Products, a company that manufactured Christmas blow molds and coolers, purchased the Shiny Brite name. They continued to sell Shiny Brite ornaments into the 1980s, although these aren’t generally deemed very collectible. Some Poloron era ornaments featured shrink-wrapped designs and neon glitter.
In the late 1990s, Christopher Radko acquired the Shiny Brite name. His company has been making reproduction ornaments and designs inspired by the originals.
How To Display Vintage Ornaments
Vintage Shiny Brite ornaments were designed to decorate a Christmas tree. I haven’t ever filled a traditional, full-sized Christmas tree with vintage ornaments. But you can find some beautiful examples from bloggers Kelly Elko and Sylvia Cook and from Instagrammers Parker Kennedy Living and Jeremy Lambertson.
On Tinsel Trees
I usually display my collection, en masse, on a silver tinsel tree.
The trees below are similar to the ones I have.
You can fit a lot of ornaments on a 2-foot or 3-foot tinsel tree.
If you’re using a decorative urn, silver bowl, planter or another vessel to hold your Christmas tree, you can nestle additional ornaments around the base.
💭 Top tip: To keep your tinsel trees secure and your ornaments safe, weigh the base of the tree down with rice bags, sand bags or food cans.
On A Flocked Christmas Tree
I also have a 4.5 foot flocked pink Christmas (from Big Lots) that I use to display vintage ornaments and some of the repro Shiny Brites. The flocked branches are pretty thick, so you have to make sure the ornament hooks are secure.
🎄💓 Find your perfect Pink Christmas Tree here. 🎄💓
If you have more ornaments than will fit on a tree, put them under glass or behind glass.
Cloches, apothecary jars and clear vases are good options.
I also like showcasing ornaments in display cases and shadowboxes, especially if they are particularly fragile. This is also a great way to display ornaments that are missing their hangers or that have broken necks.
In Vintage China, Glassware, Silver & Brass
Silver Revere bowls, footed compotes, brass bowls and cachepots and trays are perfect for displaying ornaments that won’t fit on the tree.
Mixed with Other Decor
I will often mix vintage ornaments in with other decorations, as I did with this centerpiece .
I added a festitve touch by nestling some green and red vintage glass ornaments into a pair of handpainted wooden shoes.
In Their Original Boxes
If you’re lucky enough to find Shiny Brite ornaments in their original boxes, show them off!
These boxes of mini ornaments create such a pretty display. Sandra from Chica & Jo has an entire cabinet filled with Shiny Brite boxes and vintage Christmas toys and decor. It reminds me of a store display from a bygone era!
How to Tell the Age of Shiny Brite Ornaments
If you find a complete set of Shiny Brite ornaments, the box may provide a clue to their age. But over the years, sets may have gotten mixed up as they were taken off the tree and packed away. (Also be mindful that you may encounter reproduction boxes in the marketplace.)
The earliest Shiny Brite boxes were made of cardboard and had very simple graphics. (Jennifer at The Acred Place has some examples of different box designs in her Instagram stories on vintage ornaments. You can also find examples here.)
If you find a box with a drawing of Uncle Sam shaking Santa’s hand, it likely dates to wartime. Boxes with cellophane were produced after 1955.
Old catalog pages and even magazine ads from the period can also provide clues to their age. If you’re serious about collecting vintage ornaments, a buyer’s guide like this one can be helpful in dating pieces.
The ornaments themselves also provide clues to when they were manufactured. The earliest Shiny Brites were more basic in design, and many were just plain glass balls with that signature shine.
Shiny Brite Ornaments from the Late 1930s
- Look for shiny glass balls, Santas and shapes with silvered interiors.
- Ornaments may have metal tops stamped with “Made in U.S. of A.”
- Ornaments might feature handpainted stripes and other designs on silver and colored glass.
Shiny Brite Ornaments from the Early 1940s
- These colorful, silvered ornaments came in a variety of shapes and designs, including round balls, bells, pyramids, reflectors, pine cones, acorns, oblongs and diamonds.
- The ornaments had silvertone metal caps.
- The outside of the ornaments were often hand-decorated or handpainted.
Shiny Brite Ornaments from the WWII Era
- Ornaments may have cardboard or paper toppers instead of metal ones. Instead of hooks, they may have string or yarn hangers.
- Because of wartime restrictions, ornaments will not have the shiny, reflective silver nitrate coating inside. (Shiny Brite continued to produce unsilvered ornaments until the 1950s, so not all non-shiny ornaments date to the war years.)
- Some of the non-silvered, transparent ornaments may have small pieces of tinsel inside them.
- Other non-silvered, translucent balls, bells and shaped ornaments may feature simple stripes and other handpainting on the exterior.
- Ornaments from this period would have been packaged in cardboard boxes without cellophane. Some boxes may depict Santa Claus shaking hands with Uncle Sam.
Midcentury Shiny Brites
- Colorful, shiny ornaments with silver nitrate interiors in a variety of shapes
- Ornaments feature machine-decorated designs.
- Most ornaments have crimped, scalloped metal toppers marked “Made in U.S.A.” and “Shiny Brite.”
- Ornaments manufacturered after 1955 may be packaged in boxes with cellophane.
Where to Buy Shiny Brite Christmas Ornaments
Collecting vintage ornaments is a year-round affair. Search for them in the off season at yard sales, thrift stores, auctions, estate sales, vintage markets and online sites, including etsy, eBay, Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist.
Be sure to check attics, garages and storage sheds at estate sales. That’s where people often stored their ornaments. You never known when you may find an overlooked box full of old ornaments.
Shop for Vintage Shiny Brite Ornaments
You’ll probably pay a premium for Shiny Brites and vintage glass ornaments during the holiday season. But it’s also a good time to find them for sale at antique shops and markets.
Shop for Reproduction Shiny Brites
🎄Tip: You can often snag the reproduction ornaments at clearance prices during after-Christmas sales.
How to Clean Vintage Christmas Ornaments
Treat vintage ornaments with care. The glass used to make them is fragile and can easily be broken.
Avoid using water or chemicals to clean Shiny Brite ornaments, as that may damage any designs or paint on the exterior.
I learned this lesson the hard way with one of my grandmother’s old ornaments. When I washed it with soap and water, the pretty pink paint just flaked away.
Instead use a soft cloth or feather duster to gently remove any dirt, debris or dust from the ornament’s surface.
How to Store Shiny Brite Ornaments
I do store some of my vintage ornaments in their original boxes. But I usually wrap them individually in tissue paper to provide additional protection.
The ones that are not in their original packaging are wrapped in tissue and placed in heavy-duty decorative Christmas gift boxes (like the ones you find at HomeGoods). I add bubble wrap padding to the boxes and place the ornaments inside.
I store the original ornament boxes and the decorative ones inside a plastic ornament bin in a climate-controlled closet. You could also use a padded, divided ornament storage box.
Fragile Shiny Brite should not be stored in an attic, garage or in an unfinished basement. The extreme temperature fluctuations could damage the fragile ornaments. Keep ornaments out of harsh sunlight so their paint and decorations don’t fade.
More Christmas Decorating Ideas
Looking for more vintage Christmas decorating inspiration? Check out our virtual Christmas home tours:
2021 Christmas Home Tour
2020 Christmas Home Tour
2019 Christmas Home Tour
2018 Christmas Home Tour
2017 Christmas Home Tour