03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Decorating With Antiques This Holiday Season

With Christmas upon us, you might find yourself searching for that special something to use with your contemporary holiday decorations.

Ornaments sold on by Lorenz Studio

Many families have a tradition of decorating the tree together, while drinking hot apple cider and listening to Christmas carols.

As you hang your ornaments one-by-one, you might think about where they came from. Some, you remember from childhood hanging on the tree in your parents' home. A few, your children made in school. Perhaps others you purchased on your own for your very first place.

There is actually more to the history of Christmas ornaments than how you acquired them; that is, how they came to hang on a tree and where they originated.

The history of the Christmas ornament dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries in Germany. The first evergreens that were decorated did not feature blown glass balls; instead, they were hung with real fruit. Eventually, trees would make their way into homes, where fruit or cut pastries were hung from their limbs. This explains why many ornament makers over the years have created designs in the likeness of grapes, oranges, bananas, etc.

Christmas became commonly celebrated in the United States around 150 years ago; however, it did not become a legal holiday until 1891.

Before World War II, 80-90% of Christmas decorations in the U.S. were German-made. Germany had virtually no competition in the ornament business until around 1925, when Japan and Czechoslovakia began producing ornaments for export to the United States.

After the war, American firms began producing Christmas lights and blown glass balls. Using a machine originally designed to produce light bulbs, New York-based Corning began producing 2,000 ornaments a minute.

The original cost of an ornament was 1-3 cents apiece. More elaborate figurals would command a nickel.

Today, ornaments are more than a nickel, and a bit more ornate than their predecessors. Most ornaments are still from Germany. And while ornaments are being produced in paper, wood, metal and porcelain, glass is the most desirable medium of all.

If you're thinking of collecting ornaments, your options are endless; there is no wrong way to collect! Some collectors select ornaments by color; others by shape. You could collect by design (e.g., Santas, flowers, trees, candy canes), or by your favorite designer.

One of the first things to determine is your budget; how much can you afford to spend on each piece? Fortunately, with the broad array produced today, there are ornaments out there for every budget. They can be purchased for a few dollars, or you can spend a few hundred. One of the leading makers of contemporary glass ornaments is Christopher Radko. A more famous design of this company is "A Partridge in a Pear Tree." This ornament originally sold for $38.00. Since this Radko ornament is no longer in production, it has now sold for as much as $1,000 on the secondary market.

When buying, it may work to your advantage to search for after-Christmas sales at stores and antique shops. Gift shops, department stores and even jewelry stores are known to carry top-of-the-line ornaments. You can often find them selling in stores as early as the day after Halloween. When shopping online, you can buy all-year-round.

Ornaments are not just for Christmas, anymore. Some collectors buy ornaments made to celebrate other holidays, such as Valentine's Day, Easter, Halloween and the 4th of July. Serious collectors keep a tree decorated year-round, displaying their prized possessions for each holiday.

Whether you're a serious collector or just interested in adding a new ornament or two to your tree each year, they represent both a rich history of holiday celebration--and the personal memories that you've collected over the years.