Barbara Canady gets a twinkle in her eye as she unwraps the tissue paper from the antique Christmas ornament and places it gingerly on the purple terry cloth next to a bevy of others in her collection.
Most of them are mouth-blown glass ornaments made in Germany from the early 1900s to 1930s, said the retired Glendale High School librarian.
Perhaps the most breathtaking is the quartet of mercury glass reindeer ranging from 3 to 6 inches tall. After the figure was completed, a mercury solution was swirled around inside the body cavity and the excess spilled out, leaving a silvery shine. The thin, graceful antlers and legs, applied separately, are clear glass.
The stags have stands blown into the design and are made to be table-top decorations, she said. In the early 1900s, packages were fastened onto the holiday tree while the space under it was reserved for tiny villages. The reindeer could be placed in the scene.
"Germany was the chief producer of Christmas ornaments from the 1500s," Canady said. "Their glassworks have been long established. They first made the heavy glass balls and then created thin-walled ornaments."
By 1940, Corning Glass in America had a glassblowing machine that could produce light bulbs quickly and the company started to use it for ball-shaped ornaments as well, Canady said.
American businessman Max Eckart had been importing Christmas ornaments from Europe and purchased the glass balls from Corning for his Shiny Brite line. With the rationing of metal paint during World War II, Eckart came up with alternatives for decorating them including slipping a piece of tinsel inside the ball to add some glitz, she said. Metal caps for the hangers were replaced with plastic ones.
Most of Canady's holiday decorations are "figurals." One is modeled after an old fashioned table lamp with a slender base and large bulb on top.
She has a few beaded ornaments from her mother that were made in Czechoslovakia.
"They could be from as early as 1905," she said. "My mother was married in the early 1900s, just after World War I. She had these ornaments in her hope chest."
Canady admits collecting holiday decorations is only a little hobby and she hasn't done a lot of research, but compares them with those she finds in a couple reference books.
"I wasn't a collector," she said. "I wanted to have a good-looking Christmas tree."
She gives talks on the ornaments to local organizations and recently made a presentation for Glendale Beautiful.
Community volunteer Lynda A. Burns was at the luncheon meeting and said she was impressed.
"This wonderful collection that Barbara has, all you have to do is look at it and it makes you smile," Burns said. "It takes you back to Victorian times when there were candles on the trees. All the ornaments were hand-blown and hand-painted and most everything she's got is one-of-a-kind. Every one is unique, different and wonderful."