An early 19th-century English “Witch Ball,” the predecessor of Victorian Christmas kugels.

Kugels are the earliest form of glass Christmas decorations. The predecessors of these beloved Victorian Christmas ornaments began in an unsilvered form that were hung in windows to ward off evil spirits or witches, a tradition dating back to the 17th century in England and spreading to the colonies in America in the 18th century. These early “witch balls” were unsilvered and sometimes served a dual purpose as fishing floats in maritime areas. Eventually, in the 1850s when silvered glass came into vogue, these same witch balls were manufactured with a silver lining making them reflective. These glass globes were first used as reflection balls that were hung in windows, from ceilings or placed in gardens on stakes. The French called these silvered balls Boules Panoramic. The silvered ceiling and garden decorations soon found a new purpose as Christmas ornaments, hung both from the ceiling and, in smaller versions, on the tree. The kugel, German for ball or sphere, was born. Fancy brass embossed caps with a multitude of designs were added to keep the silvering from oxidizing and to provide a classy hanging device for each piece. These heavy, durable ornaments have survived well over one hundred years and are today still enjoyed as one of the most beautiful and longest lived Christmas decorations.

redandgreengrapesFrom a collector’s standpoint, it’s all about color and shape combinations. With kugels the color is in the glass, rarely painted on. A silver kugel which is clear glass with only the silver lining showing through is the most common. From here to rarest, the colors would be: gold, yellow-green, cobalt, blue and pinkish red being fairly plentiful followed by the less common colors which would be the darker greens like moss and olive, copper/bronze, light blue, then getting into the rare spectrum of colors of deep red, burgundy, orange and the coveted amethyst. Amethyst kugels are found in about 1/100 pieces.

Most kugels originated in France and Germany. As mentioned above, with kugels it’s all about knowing the shape/color combinations. Balls are the most common, but an amethyst colored ball would make it one of the rarest pieces. Grapes are the next most common shape. They were blown in many different molded patterns with the rarest being red and amethyst grapes. Free blown shapes like eggs, pears and tear drops are more desirable, especially in rarer colors like red and amethyst. Some eggs and balls were blow in a ribbed design which are highly sought-after. Rare and hard to find shapes would be artichokes, berry clusters, pinecones and other fruit shapes that were mold blown.

Amethyst Black Comparison
Amethyst (PICTURED LEFT) is considered the rarest of all early kugel colors (orange would be rarest for 20th century kugels). In the super-rare category of color, dark amethyst or “black” kugels (PICTURED RIGHT) are seldom seen. Only a handful of these early, deep-colored kugels are know to have survived from the mid-1800s until today. For a kugel collector, amethyst-colored kugels are the most sought after pieces to collect.

The silvered interiors (linings) are starting to break down on many kugels due to their age. When collecting kugels, try to avoid pieces where the lining has disintegrated. On rarer pieces collectors will often look the other way if the lining is in bad shape, but the reality is that if you try to sell the piece, you may not be able to get a good price with a bad lining.

Kugels have a luster, weight and aged patina that many old Christmas ornaments just can’t match. They add sparkle and magic to any collection and will bring joy to you and generations of your family to come!

Caveat emptor: When collecting kugels it is important to realize that many reproductions are now on the market. These were manufactured in India within the last 40 years. While the brass embossed caps are different on the newer pieces, unscrupulous dealers have been known to switch caps between old and new pieces. Learn from other collectors before you invest in an expensive kugel. Many collectors have been stuck with new pieces over the years. Don’t be afraid to collect kugels. You should learn as much as you can about kugels before you begin investing in them.