Saturday, January 24, 2009

Turtle Ornament from Lauscha

My husband and I have been collecting Christmas tree ornaments for many years. This past Christmas our new ornament was a glittery, gold hand blown glass sea turtle purchased in a Greenwich Village gift shop. The store clerk thought it was made shortly after World War II in a German town called Lauscha.

Lauscha has long been famous for glass production. By 1597 glass blowers from Swabia who settled there were making drinking glasses and bulls eye panes. Legend has it that around 1860 a glass blower, too poor to afford real apples and nuts to decorate his Christmas tree, made painted glass replicas. While we can never know if poverty was the motivating factor, surely the invention of the glass mold was the enabling factor, and from 1860 onwards glass ornaments became increasingly popular. In the years that followed, toy wholesalers from Sonnenberg began exporting Lauschan ornaments all over the world. Around 1880, F. W. Woolworth, founder of the first chain of discount department stores, brought Lauchan ornaments to his store in Lancaster, Pennslyvania, and by 1900 Woolworth's business was such that he could order 200,000 ornaments for sale in America.

World War II and the split of Germany created difficult circumstances for the continuation of hand blown glass, where molds and methods were passed down from generation to generation. Some of the glass blowing families remained in Russian occupied East German Lauscha, while others moved to the American occupied region of Neustadt. East Germany's need for commerce dictated that hand blown glass ornaments made by artisans be replaced by mass produced glass ornaments made in state owned factories. By the time German unification arrived, times were hard in Lauscha, and the glass factory with its 1300 employees was languishing. In the early 1990's Krebs Glas, a leading West German manufacturing company, gained control of the business from the state. Krebs returned to the historic hand blown methods, opting for quality over quantity. That decision returned Lauscha to its rightful place as the "world's capital" of hand blown glass ornaments. Prosperity has returned, and most of the people in this small village make their living from the glass businesses.

I didn't know anything about Lauscha or the history of blown glass ornaments, so I found all this information fascinating. Also, I'm intrigued by the idea that someone in a landlocked, mountainous region thought it would be cool to hang a sea turtle on a Christmas tree.

I'm not sure how to confirm the age of my ornament. Given the history above, it's more likely that the ornament was made in the 1990's than in the late 40's or early 50's, so maybe it's not really an antique. However, googling around the internet has convinced me that my glittery, gold hand blown glass sea turtle is definitely unique. I found other turtle ornaments, but nothing quite like my little guy. I'm sure I'll look forward to his appearance on our tree for many years to come.

Photo by Michael B Hood, used with permission

Facts for this post were drawn from the following websites:
  1. German Christmas Ornaments History by Chrysta Baker
  2. The History of Krebs Glas Lauscha GmbH
  3. For a Special Christmas, Glass Ornaments from Lauscha (great pictures)
  4. German Christmas Ornaments
  5. The History of Glass Christmas Ornaments from Lauscha
  6. How a Christmas Ornament is Created!
  7. Lauscha Glas Creation (ornaments for sale)

© 2009, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

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