To many holiday collectors, Northern Italy’s Christmas ornament industry has produced the most imaginative and distinctively attractive glass tree decorations since the end of WWII. Free-blown and expertly hand-painted in small workshops, the most popular designs are whimsical figural representations of the animal kingdom or personages drawn from fairy tales, comics strips, the sports world and the professions. In addition to refined and artistically painted details, their unique characteristics often include annealed limbs or, in the case of DeCarlini examples, the addition of materials that dress the ornament, such as faux hair on clowns, manes on lions, or the feathery attire of the showgirl. Laved, another of the early Italian ornament makers, produced a line of highly attractive and collectible figures similar to DeCarlini’s, but are differentiated from the latter by painting style, frequent use of a matte finish, and absence of trim materials. For both factories, the rounded metal caps on the earlier examples will read “Italy” while contemporary examples may be sold with a small card noting the producer. These identifiers take on greater importance as Chinese factories have begun to copy the signature design features of the Italian ornaments.
First produced in the late 1940s, Italian glass Christmas ornaments entered the American market in the early 1950s. Illustrations identifying some of the now coveted early examples may be found in Christmas ornament collecting books or in manufacturer’s catalogues. The range of subject matter of Italian ornaments includes, but is not limited to, a seemingly inexhaustible selection of whimsical characters, fantasy animals, nativity scenes, urns, vases, chandeliers, indents, finials, painted spheres, balls and indents. Space themes were common as are sets of related figures such as Peter Pan and Captain Hook. Never abundant, the early Italianate ornaments can still be found inexpensively by the lucky collector who frequents garage and estate sales.