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Sterling Silver Ornaments: A Brief History

September 7, 2011

The traditions of Christmastime are what make the season so special and loved. Everyone has those decorations, meal menus, and practices which warm their heart and make them smile. Ornaments, as one of the most repeatable features from year to year mark them as a valuable inclusion that need to last for years to come.

Sterling silver ornaments do just that!

Silver manufacturers have consistently produced lines of ornaments in series that make for easy, tasteful, and beautiful tree-trimming, with a shine and sparkle that will become a highlight in your home. The various motifs—snowflakes, crosses, characters, or carol references—reprise the earliest ornaments.

2011 Snowflake, 42nd Edition, Gorham

Evergreen boughs or other fresh foliage were brought into the home during winter time to remind families of the promise of life after the cold winter. The tradition of employing an entire tree became common in Germany in the nineteenth century. Over time, fruit or nuts would be included in the display. Bread and cookies were also used; they were shaped and baked in various forms many of which we find today. Stars, hearts, angels, and bells were common! Germans are said to be the first to design reusable ornaments during the 19thcentury specifically for use on greens in winter, and F. W. Woolworth in the 1890s may have been the first American retailer to offer ornaments in various materials.

The creation of ornaments in sterling silver was a practice that took off in the United States in the 1970s. The reflectivity, durability, and adaptability of silver made it a perfect choice for traditional ornaments. Some single issue ornaments were made by various manufacturers in the 1960s, but with only a mild reception. Gorham, however, introduced its Snowflake in 1970 to overwhelming success. As a result, 1971 marks the year that a number of silver companies began series of various silver ornaments. The Reed & Barton Cross dates to this year, Towle it’s first “Twelve Days of Christmas” series, and Wallace’s “Peace Doves”. The Metropolitan Museum of Art even introduced its own line of Snowflakes.

2011 Christmas Cross, 41st Edition, Reed & Barton

2011 Christmas Cross, 41st Edition, Reed & Barton

Forms of sterling ornaments vary, but most common are winter or Christian symbols like snowflakes, bells, angels, crosses, stars and nativity scenes. Stylized references to Christmas carols are popular.

Completing a series of ornaments is most collector’s goal in time. Reed & Barton’s sterling Christmas Cross collection is the most complete with a new edition offered each year up to the present. The Gorham Snowflake was made in 1980 in silverplate, but that remains the only deviation to the otherwise sterling designs.

2011 St. Peter Ornament, 1st Edition, Wallace

2011 St. Peter Ornament, 1st Edition, Wallace

Beverly Bremer Silver Shop already has in stock this year’s editions of many series of ornaments (we even the first edition of a new series!) as well as a number of editions from years past in some of the most popular lines. Check your collection to see what you need!

Written with input from various sources, most notably Hart, Peggy and Arthur. “Sterling Ornaments, 2002” 2002.

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