The German Kugel: A Christmas Tradition
The kugel is the earliest form of German glass Christmas decoration, its predecessor being the “witch ball”, an unsilvered glass sphere hung from windows to ward off evil spirits (supposedly repulsed by round shapes). In the 1850’s, when a glass silvering formula was developed by Laushan glass blower, Louis Greiner-Schlotfeder, these witch balls found new purpose as reflective Christmas ornaments. Capped in brass to keep the silver interiors from oxidizing and to provide an attractive hanging apparatus, the Kugel was born. Soon after, this same glass blower was credited with making the first molded glass ornament-- creating a pine cone shaped kugel by blowing a thin glass bubble into a cookie mold.
Thus, the German town of Lauscha, nestled deep in the Thuringian forest, became the center of the blown-glass ornament trade in Germany. Ornament making began as a cottage industry there, with whole families involved in production year round. Grandfathers, fathers, and sons blew glass in home-based foundries; while grandmothers, mothers, and daughters focused their efforts on silvering-- perhaps around the same table the family ate their meals. Larger glass-blowing workshops, and eventually dedicated factories, grew out of increasing consumer demand for these festive baubles. New and inventive shapes were created with an expanded colour pallet and improved lustre and technique.
Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, whose birthplace was located within 50 miles of Thuringia, helped to spread the popularity of tree decorating when he and his wife, Queen Victoria, were depicted trimming the royal family Christmas tree (most likely with German-made ornaments) in an engraving published by the Illustrated London News. Queen Victoria’s popularity with her subjects made the custom fashionable-- not only in Britain, but throughout her empire worldwide.
Today hand-blown German Kugels have maintained their collectible appeal. Their magical lustre, weight, and patina being distinct amongst most other ephemeral antique Christmas decorations.
Here are some points of consideration for the prospective collector:
Pennsylvania is a great place to hunt for estate kugels because of the state’s high German-American population. Lucky you! Our auction house regularly offers kugels for sale. Regions known for a pervasive German heritage are smart places to look for new pieces to add to your growing collection as many ornaments were either brought over, or purchased by, German emigrants and passed down from generation to generation.
With kugels, collectibility varies with colour, form, and the combination thereof. The silver kugel, which is made of clear glass with a tin or silver-nitrate lining is the most common example found on the market today. Other common hues include gold, yellow, green, cobalt, and pink. Rarer colours include darker, mossier shades of green, copper and bronze metallics, and light blues. The rarest of the kugel spectrum range from a 20th century French-made tangerine, to deep crimson, to burgundy, and finally the most sought after colour specimen-- black amethyst. Seldom seen on the market, the amethyst or “black” kugel is thought to only be found in 1 out of 100 pieces. The colour being produced for only a short amount of time as it was rejected by Victorians who thought it muddied the tree.
As with colour, shape also contributes to a piece’s value. The classic sphere is the most commonly shaped kugel, followed by a seemingly endless variety of grape bunches. Kugels in free blown shapes such as eggs, pears and tear drops are more desirable; but the hardest to find, and most expensive, are the mold-blown artichokes, berry clusters, and pinecones.
The condition of a Kugel’s silver lining is also important to collectors as many have begun to disintegrate with time. The better condition of this silver lining, the higher the market value.
Kugels can be found with prices ranging from $40 to over $1,000.
The following are a few examples from our upcoming December 17th Variety Auction:
This Kugel grape bunch in cobalt blue with beehive cap will be up for auction as lot 28811. With an obtainable estimate of only $120-$240, it could be yours!
Lot 28812: green grape cluster with leaf cap. $120-240.
Lot 28813: gold grape cluster with leaf cap. $120-240.