When I was a kid, my parents (being antique dealers) always had a hodge podge of different antique decorations for the holidays. Tiny plastic choir boys, a somewhat weary looking elf, a flapper styled angel, and an abundance of colourful metallic glass bulbs adorned our tree. To this day, when I think Christmas I think of those cheerful glass ornaments. They were from the 1940s and 1950s. Although ours were from a variety of companies, the most popular of these vintage glass ornaments was made by a company called “Shiny Brite”.
Shiny Brite ornaments were created by American businessman Max Eckardt in 1937. Shiny Brites were proudly made in the USA (a selling point during WWII as previous to this many glass ornaments were imported from Germany). They were mass-produced in a process that started with unadorned glass bulbs supplied by the Corning company that were then hand decorated and machine lacquered in Eckardt’s factories. The inside of the bulb was coated in silver nitrate giving the decorations a, well, bright and shiny look. They eventually came in a large variety of colours including classic red and green, purples, pinks and icy blues. The colours could be solid or patterned. They also came in a large variety of shapes including balls, tear drops, icicles, finials and pinecones. They proved extremely popular and at their peak came out of four separate factories in New Jersey.
Interestingly, the history of the Shiny Brite ornament was directly impacted by wartime America. Early pre war ornaments often had large sections of opaque silver and metallic colour. After WWII was declared, decorative silver nitrate became a “nonessential” use of metal, so many of the ornaments were stripped of any silvering, and were mainly transparent with only hand painted colour on the outside of the bulb. These transparent bulbs are some of the most sought after and prized for collectors.
The hooks are also a good indicator of age. Early Shiny Brites had metal hooks and tops. During the war, these hooks were replaced with cardboard tabs from which the owner would use string to hang the ornament. Some bulbs from the wartime era also included a sprig of tinsel inside the bulb for added sparkle, but even this small use of metal was eventually prohibited.
This image from I Adore Style
When the war finally ended in 1945, restrictions on metal receded, and the iconic “Shiny Brite” ornament was reborn. Using sharp metallic colours, glittery mica flakes, and metal hooks and distinctive crinkled tops (stamped with the words “Shiny Brite” and “Made in U.S.A.”) these ornaments became even more popular. They remained affordable for families and flourished until plastic ornaments came on the scene in the late 1950s. For reasons I guess had to do with durability and cost, plastic was preferred over glass, and the Shiny Brite company closed their doors in 1962.
Although this is an antiques blog, I must point out that there are some really nice reproduction Shiny Brites made by the Christopher Radko company. Since 2001 Christopher Radko has reproduced some of the most popular Shiny Brite lines and you can find them in lots of stores (I found some at our local Homesense). They are quality decorations and a great way to get the vintage look in new, pristine condition.
As nice as the reproductions are, however, real Shiny Brites are a great piece of history and well worth the search. They are still quite easy to find online and in vintage stores. If you want to collect real Shiny Brites, there are a few words of warning: Some sellers mistakenly use the manufacture’s name “Shiny Brite” to refer to any ornaments of this type. In some dastardly cases, the tops and hooks may also be replaced to “create” a Shiny Brite from just another vintage bulb. Also, people recommend buying only in original boxes, but it can be tricky to determine if a box for sure contained the ornaments for sale.
As is the case with anything, there is an element of “buyer beware” to collecting Shiny Brite ornaments, but this warning should not dissuade you from these charming items. Most dealers are honest and will answer your questions truthfully. Shiny Brites used to be an easy flea market find, but now depending on the style and age of the ornament the price will vary. Even in you find damaged ornaments, you can still use these to create wonderful decorative wreaths or as filler in vases and bowls. With a little searching and a keen eye you can still find affordable vintage Shiny Brite ornaments that will bring sparkle, cheer and history to your Christmas season.
Very interesting article, and fun to see the original box with Santa and Uncle Sam. Something else to keep an eye out for while cruising antique shows and malls. Thanks, New Collector and Merry Christmas.
I love that box! I remember seeing Shiny Brites at shows and auctions years ago, probably selling for very little money. There’s always the chance to find them at church sales, consignment shops and yard sales too. Merry Christmas shadflyguy!
hello from Indianapolis, Indiana and Happy Holidays coming upon us! I was born in late 40’s and growing up in the 50’s and 60’s. My mother adorned our Christmas Tree every year with Merry Brite ornaments. I still have a collection of them and they are on my tree every year after all these years. They are my favorites by far! I still kick myself for not buying an original aluminum tree with the color wheel at a garage sale 20 years ago for $10.00!!!!! My sister had one in the 60’s and I loved it! Now you see them in antique stores for $350/400.00. (sigh)…..
An early Happy Holidays to you too! I would *adore* one of those aluminum Christmas tress. Every collector has a few “could have kicked myself” moments so I know your pain. At least you have a collection of gorgeous Shiny Brite ornaments for consolation 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!
I have an original aluminum tree and I have collected several boxes of the reproduction Shiny Brite ornaments. I am very excited about putting my tree up this year as it will contain nothing but my Shiny Brites. I am anticipating that it will be breath taking.
Sooo jealous of your tree Brian! I’m sure it will look amazing. Enjoy the decorating and have a very Merry Christmas!
I worked in the building where they made Shiny Brite ornaments (Emigsville, PA) .. the company I worked for owned the building and the 1962 date is a bit early since I didn’t graduate from HS til 67. They moved out of “our” bldg in 72.. and moved south to get cheaper labor. I’m just wondering why the lapse of time unless someone else bought the business. We used to be able to go and buy seconds while they were still in our building. Fun fun !
Thank you for filling in some of the history, Rebecca. I don’t know what happened with the factories, but it’s great that you were able to buy Shiny Brites from the source for a time. Thanks for stopping by!
The Shiny Brite company was bought by the Eckmar conglomerate in the 60’s. The Poloron corporation purchased the Shiny Brite division from Eckmar about 1974. Authentic 70’s vintage Shiny Brite boxes from that time display the “Poloron” trademark, a red circle with a large white “P” and the name “Poloron” on all four sides of the box. Due to pressure from cheap imports, they went out of business in the early 1980’s. This info is from the Manchester, PA Township Historical Society.
Thank you so much for your input Kate! I really appreciate you filling in some of the details. Merry Christmas!
I was born in 1962, and I remember our Christmas tree being adorned with all types of beautiful ornaments….I just came from a thrift store..(went on a whim just to browse) and they had all their Christmas decorations at 50% off… I love the vintage/retro look, so I was looking around for vintage glass ornaments, and I found 3 boxes/a dozen each of silver Shiny Brite ornaments……and I paid…wait for it…a total of $4.38!!! The box even has the price handwritten on it..$1.25. The box is toally intact, and the ornaments are beautiful! I will treasure them dearly. I am so super excited!! Merry Christmas! 🙂
Wow! That’s a great find Mary Anne. Can’t go wrong with a price like that 🙂 Merry Christmas!
I have decorated our tree with a couple WWII era Shiny Brite ornaments my dad passed down to me for the last 25 years while serving in the Navy all over the world. Glad to see there is still interest in the simple beautiful baubles of Christmas’ gone by.
How nice to have a bit of your Christmas past with you no matter where you are situated. The simple things are sometimes the most meaningful. Merry Christmas Tod!
I’m so excited I stumbled across your blog while researching some Shiny Brites I just picked up at Goodwill. Yay!
Nice! Finding Shiny Brites at Goodwill is always a nice surprise. Thanks for following my blog!
Real glass and made in the U.S.A.!
I just stumbled upon your post while looking for information about Shiny Brite’s and I have to say that your information is the most well written and complete overview that I’ve read! Thank you so much for taking the time to write it. I have just found one of the ornaments with a sprig of tinsel or garland inside!
Thank you for the very kind words & congratulations on finding that rare Shiny Brite! I have some new (old) ornaments to write about this year, but none with the tinsel inside. Enjoy!
I have an original box in excellent condition with the original price of .59 marked on it. I see so many on ebay with the exact same box but their ornaments are all round while the box shows different shapes. The ornaments in my box are of all shapes; pine cone, bell, round, round with 3 raised lines and teardrop (?) shaped. They were used by family so I know they are old as I was born in 1960. I have no idea when they were bought as they were handed down to them so I don’t know their age. They’re not opaque but have that old silver look even though they’re colored. I’m holding onto them for which ever adult child wants them and who I know will use and take care of them. It was great reading your blog! Thanks for writing it!
I love how Shiny Brites came in all those fun shapes. Thanks for sharing your Shiny Brite story and Happy New Year!
Reblogged this on A Really Retro Christmas! and commented:
Well written Cassandra. I learned things even though I thought I knew all about shiny brites! Thanks for allowing me to share this with my blog on RetroChristmasCardCompany.com Cheers!