Dresden Ornaments

- Definition

Nowadays, the term "Dresden ornament" has become synonymous in collectors' circles with all kinds of Christmas tree decorations made of cardboard, paperboard, or papier-mâché. But some of the things that are called Dresden ornament have, strictly speaking, nothing whatsoever to do with the historical Dresden ornament Christmas tree decorations. What most collectors are not aware of is the fact that the collecting field is not homogeneous. What we collect as Dresden ornament is made up of Attrappen, bonbonnieres, Christmas tree decorations, items for cotillon-Tours, christmas crackers and coffin decorations. Yes, you read that right - coffin decorations.

The confusion caused by this hodgepodge is understandable because there is no generally accepted definition of what Dresden ornaments actually are. So, the question arises: if there is no definition, how can Dresden cardboard still be recognised? To compensate for this deficiency, I would like to give a few references.

The confusion starts with the German name Dresden “paperboard”. Because of its light material, one should use the term 'Dresdner Carton', but since the term Dresdner “paperboard” has become established, I will use it. If we now take the manufacturing material as a starting point, we have a first clue for the description of Dresden ornament. All pieces should have one thing in common, they must be made of very thin cardboard. Anything made from solid cardboard or other paper material (for example papier-mâché or thicker cardboard) should therefore not be included.

Another reference lies in the manufacturing technique. Dresden ornaments are usually very neatly embossed, punched out and assembled. In this context, assembled means that the pieces consist of at least a front and a back. Often, further components such as feet, wings, people, wheels etc. were added. In this way, artistic three-dimensional animals and objects were created in miniature. This was already evident with the first Dresden ornaments manufacturers, who always gave this new form of Christmas tree decoration a three-dimensional appearance. However, there are also objects, such as those made by the Dresden company H. Gottschald & Co., which were more 'semi-plastic', that is, they were somewhat flatter, but still had a curved and embossed front and back.

Three-dimensional, semi-plastic and flat embossed.

This reference is important, because in collectors' circles, Dresden ornaments also includes very flat objects that are embossed or punched out on one side. Such pieces have only a designed front, the back is flat and usually consists only of blank cardboard or is painted in one colour. These variants were produced by embossing firms in Annaberg-Buchholz, among other places. They were used to decorate objects and toys or were used in scrapbooks. For me, therefore, such flat objects (this is my entirely subjective opinion) do not belong in the category of Dresden ornaments. Especially as they were produced by completely different manufacturers.

[i] The difference between cardboard and paperboard lies in the weight, which is determined per sqm. If the weight is between 150 and 600 grams per sqm, it is called cardboard. Everything over 600 grams per sqm is called cardboard.