Dresden Ornaments

- History

To better understand what led to the creation of Dresden ornaments we must first take a brief look at the history of the German paper industry in the 19th century. Paper products experienced an unprecedented boom at that time, which is why even contemporaries spoke of living in a 'paper age'.[i] From today's point of view, such a statement may seem a little surprising. Paper had been around for a long time, so why should one speak of a 'paper age'? What only a few people know today: During the 19th century paper was a huge hit.

The paper industry

One of the triggers for this was the invention of a paper machine around 1800. This machine could produce endless rolls of paper. In Germany, it took a few more years until a small paper-processing industry was established around 1820. It was to take several more years before paper could be processed on a large scale. In 1840, there were just twelve paper-making machines in Germany, but by 1870 the number had risen to around 300. The biggest boom in paper processing came after the founding of the German Empire (1871), when the German economy flourished. Paper processing grew again, especially in the 1880s and 1890s.[ii] Paper, cardboard and paperboard were no longer just used to write or print on but were used in places that seem strange to us today. In the field of hard paper goods, for example, railway wheels, entire railway carriages, gas pipes, shoe soles, secretaries, clock cases[iii], curtains, rollers in satinising factories or cylinders were made of hardened paper. Even things for everyday life were produced from specially processed paper. Anyone who wanted could buy bed linen, bread baskets, buckets, shirt collars, tin cans, furniture, umbrellas, bowls, tobacco tins, teacups, plates, wine coolers, sugar bowls and much more made from hardened paper material.[iv] For this purpose, it was processed in such a way that it was difficult to burn, unbreakable and yet easy to use. The biggest advantage of these pieces, however, was - they were cheap.

The luxury paper industry

Die erhöhte Papierfabrikation und die Vielseitigkeit des Materials ließen eine ganze Reihe an spezialisierten Papierindustrien entstehen. Dazu gehörte zum Beispiel die sogenannte Luxuspapierindustrie. Zu den Erzeugnissen dieser Sparte zählten neben der Dresdner Pappe farbig dekorierte Aufstellkarten, Ausschneide- und Briefbögen, Cotillon-Gegenstände, Etiketten, Fächer, Gratulationskarten, Lampenschirme, Laternen, Menükarten, Oblaten, Papierblumen, Papiertheater, Patenbriefe, Reklamebilder, Servietten, Spiele- und Spielfiguren für Kinder oder Tanzkarten, um nur einige Produkte zu nennen. Anhand der Beispiele wird deutlich, auch wenn alle die genannten Dinge unter dem Begriff Luxuspapier subsumiert wurden, dass es keine klare Grenzziehung gab, was alles unter Luxuspapier zu verstehen war. Erst wenn man damalige technische Kriterien betrachtet, wie Luxuspapier produziert wurde, wird eine Eingrenzung möglich. In Fachzeitschriften, wie zum Beispiel in der Papier-Zeitung, wurden hierzu vier technische Voraussetzungen beschrieben:

                                                                                           Colour printing, embossing, punching, and mounting.

However, not all criteria had to be fulfilled at the same time. In the case of the Dresden ornaments, usually only three points were fulfilled: The pieces were embossed, die-cut and mounted.

The luxury paper industry fanned out into further branches. These included the paper decoration industry, the carnival articles industry and the cardboard packaging industry (by the latter I do not mean the classic shipping packaging industry, but those that produced Attrappen, bonbonnieres or curious gift packaging). Each of the three industries mentioned above initially had local production foci. The paper decoration industry was originally based in Dresden, the carnival articles industry in the Thuringian Forest[v] and the cardboard packaging industry in Berlin, Lahr, Leipzig, and Buchholz in Saxony, among other places.[vi]

If one is looking for the origins of Dresden ornaments, one must look at the Dresden paper decoration industry. Dresden, as its initial centre, was the city where all kinds of things were produced that were needed for the entertainment of private and public festivities, dances, or other events. Everything from hall and table decorations to Attrappen and christmas crackers to the numerous items for the popular cotillon-tours was produced here. The producers would probably be called 'party outfitters' nowadays.

Most of the objects used as festive items had to be inexpensive, as they were usually only used once. The majority were therefore made of paper, cardboard, or paperboard. To expand their product range more and more, manufacturers created special objects for Easter and Christmas in the course of time. However, the production of such pieces - seen in terms of annual production - was only a small seasonal side business. This is how this special cardboard Christmas tree ornament first came into being in Dresden. That is why German-speaking collectors today refer to these pieces by the generic term 'Dresdner Pappe'. The English-speaking collectors call them 'Dresdens' or 'Dresden ornaments'.

Attrappen from France

To go into more detail about the history of the origins of Dresden cardboard, we must first look at the Attrappen and fancy cardboard boxes that were very popular in the early 19th century. The form of this imaginative packaging was not a German invention. The leading manufacturers had been based in France, and here primarily in Paris since the middle of the 18th century.

As early as the beginning of the 19th century, it became fashionable in upper-class German society, as it had been in France before, to give Attrappen and elegant fantasy cardboard boxes made in France as special gift packaging to family, friends or acquaintances. In 1818, an advertisement by a Leipzig dealer specialising in such products stated that he had "Attrappen [sic!] and other articles suitable for Christmas" on offer.[vii] Such Attrappen and cardboard boxes could be filled with perfume, soaps, confectionery or the finest confectionery, depending on the wishes of the buyers.[viii]

You may now be asking yourself what Attrappen and fancy cardboard boxes have to do with Dresden ornaments? The answer is simple: much of what we call Dresden ornaments today was in fact originally sold as Attrappen or other fantasy cardboard pieces. A quote from a newspaper in 1864 makes this clear:

"All these beautiful flowers, figurines, little houses, little temples, jewellery boxes, purses, etc., etc., the finest French cardboard, that one's heart laughs and mouth waters at the thought [that] all these beautiful things that dazzle the eye [are also] full of sweets through and through".[ix]

The author of the lines also advised his readers that one could decorate a Christmas tree "quite splendidly and stately" with these beautiful Attrappen and fantasy cardboard boxes. Here we have early evidence that this kind of cardboard was used to decorate Christmas trees.

It was not until the second half of the 19th century that France slowly lost its dominant market position in the production of dummy and fancy cardboard boxes. In the following decades, German producers succeeded in overtaking their French competitors and conquering the world market themselves with their own products in this field.[x]

Attrappen from Germany - The Beginning of Dresdens

Probably one of the first German producers to make fine Attrappen and fantasy cardboard boxes for the Christmas tree was Carl Wenzel from Dresden. Wenzel was a bookbinder by trade. This is no coincidence, as bookbinders were the occupational group into whose field of activity the production of luxury and fantasy cardboard boxes fell. Evidence of Wenzel's pioneering work in the field is also evident from the fact that he was mentioned by name in the earliest known written record, dating from 1874. An article in the family magazine Die Gartenlaube states:

"What only the boldest imagination has been able to conceive has already been embodied here in colour and paper form, but Karl Wenzel in particular has not only won the hearts of the children's world in Dresden every year anew with his successful cardboard helmets and armour, as well as his splendid Christmas tree decorations and Easter eggs; in the field of ball decorations, too, he has proved in the most striking way the widespread usability of paper by the most splendid medals and cotillion tours, to which he still adds something new."[xi]

According to the Dresden address book, Wenzel produced such articles from about 1860 onwards. It has not yet been possible to clarify when the company started producing cardboard Christmas tree decorations. A second early source that also mentions Dresden as a production site for this type of special Christmas tree decoration can be found in the work Das goldene Weihnachtsbuch (The Golden Christmas Book) published by Hugo Elm in 1878. The author was probably one of the first to refer to the cardboard Christmas tree ornaments as 'Dresden Christmas tree ornaments'. In his book there is a chapter entitled: Order and Distribution of the Ornaments. It literally states:

"If the tree is in the middle of the room, the following arrangement also looks quite pretty. So-called 'light garlands' are made from small fir branches. These are small fir twigs tied together individually, not to be confused with the strong bushy real garlands used for festive decorations. These light garlands are attached at one end to a hook in the middle of the ceiling and pulled to the four corners of the ceiling, where the other ends are attached to small pins. Likewise, such connected fir or spruce branches can be led from the centre of the ceiling to the centres of the four walls. In the middle of the garlands, where they join in the centre of the ceiling, one hangs a Christian angel, while the garlands receive small paper objects such as gold stars, balloons or 'Dresden Christmas tree decorations' (bags, cornucopias, anchors, beetles, boots, stag heads, horse heads, dog heads, bird builders and the like)." [xii]

Elm's term 'Dresden Christmas tree ornaments' did not catch on, however. On the contrary, the producers and wholesalers of the time offered their three-dimensional products, which we now subsume under the term 'Dresdens', under a wide variety of names in the following years, such as: 'Christmas tree cartonnages', 'durable, unbreakable Christmas tree decorations', 'modern Christmas tree hangings', 'highly delicate Christmas tree hangings' or 'cardboard ornaments'. Some retailers also described them as toys for children. Because of their material, they were considered cheap articles to sell.

Dresden ornaments manufacturers

The Dresden ornaments manufacturers identified with certainty by catalogues so far were: Carl Wenzel (Dresden), Gelbke & Benedictus (Dresden), H. Gottschald & Co. (Dresden), E. Neumann & Co. (Dresden) and N. L. Chrestensen (Erfurt). They all produced cotillon, ball and carnival articles. I am deliberately only mentioning the manufacturers here and not the well-known resellers such as Carl W. Pichler (Vienna) or Ed. Witte (Vienna).

Preisliste Nr. 6 (1888/89)

Regarding Christmas tree decorations made of Dresden ornaments, the firms Gelbke & Benedictus and E. Neumann & Co. were probably the leading firms. Especially Neumann & Co. produced many of the animal ornaments that are well known in collectors' circles. Customers could buy them mixed in boxes of six, ten, twelve or even 50 pieces.[xiii]

Many of the embossed fish, on the other hand, were probably produced by Gelbke & Benedictus. However, they were advertised in their catalogues as Attrappen and not as Christmas tree decorations.

If the Dresden Christmas tree ornaments were considered an inexpensive item to sell, due to their material, it is astonishing that the manufacturers produced visually very appealing pieces from the very beginning. Even with the various animal heads that existed on the market before 1878 (such as the three-dimensional stag, dog or horse heads), one can see how detailed the manufactures worked.

Normally, one would be tempted to classify the less detailed Dresden cardboard pieces as older pieces. Tone would be inclined to say that production was worse in the past and became more and more refined. However, if you look at the old catalogues, it was probably the other way round. 

I am therefore of the opinion that one can divide the Dresden cardboard pieces chronologically in this way: The finer, more three-dimensional and detailed the designs are, the older the pieces are. However, there is no rule without exception. The Christmas tree ornaments made in Dresden by H. Gottschald in 1885 were probably somewhat simpler in their execution from the beginning.

In 1893, four Dresden ornament heads and other Attrappen were offered in the catalogue of the Viennese company Carl W. Pichler.

Dresdner Pappe Angebot der Firma Gottschald & Co. (Saison 1885/86)
Aus der Preisliste 100 von Neumann & Co., Dresden

The three-dimensional versions, which always also meant that the pieces had to be assembled by hand, were supplemented by simpler semi-plastic variants, which usually consisted of only two less pronounced half-shells. These variants, which could be glued together without much effort, either in the factory or in the `Heimindustrie´ (home industry), automatically meant a reduction in manufacturing costs.

The sales success of the products made in Dresden probably gave some other producers in Germany and abroad the idea of bringing similar pieces onto the market. For example, in Austria (including the city of Budweis, which belonged to Austria at the time) there was the manufacturer Fürth, and in other German cities (including Berlin, Erfurt and Leipzig) there were repeated attempts to attract customers with similar pieces.

Dresden ornaments were available in gold- and silver-laminated as well as painted versions. The embossed gold and silver laminated pieces were intended to give the viewer the impression that they were made of sheet metal. Paper thus served as a surrogate, a cheap substitute for the more expensive metal. It is striking that the silver-stamped Dresden ornaments dominate the gold-stamped pieces in terms of numbers and motifs. Why the silver objects were given preference is unknown today. Possibly it was because the 'white wave' (silver Christmas tree decorations on the Christmas tree) came into fashion around 1890.

Further development of the Dresden ornament motifs

Over Time more and more motifs were produced. This can be seen, among other things, in the various animal depictions. Around 1878, it was possible to buy designs of native animal species such as beetles, deer, horse, or dog heads, but the product range was expanded more and more and exotic species such as elephant, flamingo, giraffe, kangaroo, rhinoceros, parrot, ostrich or zebra were added. It is possible that the German colonies 'acquired' in Africa since the 1880s played a role in this. In 1889, the Dresden company Neumann & Co. had the zebra and the parrot's head (for filling) in its range of Dresden Christmas tree decorations.[xiv] These animals, which were not part of traditional Christmas decorations, attracted critics. They saw it as an aberration of taste because the pieces had no relation to Christmas.[xv]

Christmas motifs

Collectors’ circles like to point out, the traditional Christmas motifs are almost non existing as Dresdens. There are the half-plastic embossed St. Nicholas with children and the half-plastic embossed angel or the Christ Child with Christmas tree as motifs. However, these pieces certainly do not date back to the early days of Dresden ornaments. The flatter embossed pieces were probably produced after 1900. Unfortunately, the producers of these two pieces are still unknown.


A small side note regarding the figure of the Christ Child with a Christmas tree. The general depiction of the Christ Child varied and still varies greatly because there is no exact description of what the Christ Child should look like. Sometimes it is the child in the manger (usually in a church context), sometimes a female angel and sometimes an angelic girl. Since the late 19th century, the female angel has repeatedly been juxtaposed with Father Christmas in illustrations and family photos. Father Christmas is responsible for the punitive part of the gift-giving, while the Christ Child plays the role of the gentle and kind being.

11 Bild Engel mit Weihnachtsb. silber
In addition to the figure of the Christ Child, there are at least three other variants of fully sculptured angels with wings. These figures could be interpreted as Christ children according to the church's conception, but for me they embody much more the classical chubby-cheeked putti.

Putti, this may come as a surprise to some, have their origins in antiquity and stand for youthfulness, among other things. The male putti were even regarded as gods of love. They are not angels and therefore have no connection with Christmas, even if this is seen somewhat differently today. If one were to apply strict standards, one would have to say that the putti are not Dresden ornaments as their manufacturing material is much heavier than that of normal Dresden cardboard. They are therefore a good example of how difficult it is to draw a line between Dresden cardboard and other cardboard decorations.

Paperboard decorations for coffins

The angel heads with wings made of paperboard had a different purpose. They are mostly found as half-shells and only a few are double-sided. You can already tell by the weight of the pieces that they were not made from the fine cardboard like the other Dresden cardboard pieces. This is not surprising when you know that these heads were made as cardboard ornaments for coffins. Among others, three companies had these heads in different variations in their product range. These were the embossing firms A. Kunze & Co. based in Buchholz in Saxony, Heinrich O. Brauer and Ernst Schreiber from Iserlohn. Brauer, for example, produced such angel heads until at least 1937.

The illustration on the left is from the cardboard coffin fittings catalogue of the Kunze company from Buchholz. The illustration on the right is also from a cardboard coffin fitting catalogue but could not be clearly assigned to any manufacturer.

Dresden Ornaments with Christian Symbolism

Among other Dresden ornament exhibits, there are some pieces to which, if not Christmas-related, a religious background can nevertheless be attributed. However, this knowledge has long been forgotten and only those familiar with Christian symbolism can decipher their meaning. For all those who are not familiar with this subject, I would like to give a few examples:

Eagle: The eagle is the symbol of the Ascension of Christ.
Lizard: It is a symbol of resurrection because it sheds its skin and has powers of resistance. At the same time, it is a symbol of light and is sometimes attached to John the Evangelist on depictions.
Donkey: An animal of peaceful disposition, Christ used it as a mount. It is also found on nativity scenes.
Fish: It is a symbol of Christ because the fish lives in water, the element of baptism.
Rooster: The rooster announces the rising of the sun and is a symbol of the light of Christ and his resurrection.
Hare: The hare was always a symbol of God in medieval art.
Stag: The stag is always a symbol of Christ, a symbol of salvation and baptismal grace.
Crab: The crab is a symbol of the resurrection.
Lion: The lion is a symbol of Christ. According to St. Jerome, the lion is the symbol of Christ's resurrection, the symbol of the victorious day over darkness. The roaring lion is therefore a symbol of Christ raising the dead.
Shells: The pearl shell is a symbol of Mary, because the mother Mary holds the 'precious pearl'.
Ox: The ox and donkey are found on every nativity scene from time immemorial, although there is no mention of them in the Christmas story.
Parrot: Symbol of virginity and often included in pictures of Mary.
Peacock: The peacock's wheel with its peacock eyes is supposed to remind us of the starry sky. Since the peacock loses its feathers in spring and gets new ones, it symbolised immortality, resurrection, and paradise in ancient Christian art.
Ship: The ship is an old symbol for the church. In an Advent hymn from around 1600 it said: "There comes a ship, loaded to its highest board, carrying God's Son full of grace, the Father's eternal word. - The ship goes quietly, it carries a costly load; the sail is love, the Holy Spirit the mast".
Turtle: It is a cosmic symbol that connects heaven and earth.
Butterfly: It is also a symbol of the resurrection.
Swallow: It was already called 'bird of light' in ancient times. It became a symbol of Christ and resurrection.
Swan: It is a symbol of Christ and his need of death.
Bull: The bull is the attribute of the evangelist Luke.
Stork: With its return from its winter quarters, the stork is a messenger of spring. According to Jeremiah 8.7, it is also a symbol of righteous change, because it returns home in due time.
Dove: In Christian art it is the symbol of the Holy Spirit.
Birds: According to Matthew 6.26, they generally stand for the goodness of God. According to Psalm 124.7, the soul is associated with a bird. A tree full of singing birds was also considered a symbol of paradise.

This Dresden cardboard piece, for example, shows three Christian symbols in one: a swan, a shell, and a pearl.

To be fair, it should be noted that it is not certain whether the religious symbolism of the pieces was even intended by the producers. It is also possible that the producers only wanted to present a colourful potpourri of the animal world and the shipping industry.

Technical Motifs

The carriages and technical motifs of the Dresden cardboard are not really festive either. What is striking about the various carriages and lorries is that the pieces are too large and delicate to hang on the Christmas tree. Most collectors therefore put the fragile pieces under the tree or in display cases. I received a hint from a knowledgeable collector that the state coaches could possibly be bought as souvenirs or simply as 'knick-knacks' in the Dresden Marstall at the end of the 19th century. However, my enquiries at the various museums and archives in Dresden did not yield any results. The answer was that this could well have been possible, but that if there had been any evidence of this, it had been destroyed due to the extensive destruction of Dresden during the Second World War. The question of a possible Dresden origin of the various ceremonial carriages and sleighs must therefore remain unanswered. However, the Viennese dealer Eduard Witte offered two state coaches in his catalogue published in 1911 as a 'state coach' and as a 'gala carriage with horses, coachman and servant'. This makes the Dresden knick-knack variant seem rather unlikely.

The other various simpler one-horse carriages and lorries were certainly not intended as Christmas tree decorations, but as table decorations or Attrappen. Explicitly, in 1892, the firm Gelbke & Benedictus offered a ladder cart, barrel cart, carriage, covered wagon and railway carriage, as well as a cart and a (carriage) cabriolet as 'miniature Attrappen' to its buyers. Gelbke & Benedictus also classified the well-known sailing boats in their catalogues under the heading 'Attrappen'. One could conclude that if the small carriages and carts were sold as Attrappen, the various larger carriages and sleighs were also intended as such.

Innovations or technical inventions were readily adopted as new motifs by the Dresden ornament producers. This can be seen in several pieces. Let us take a look at the small steam locomotive. It is probably a somewhat freer representation of the express locomotive 1-A-1 N2 of the Royal Saxon State Railway, which was designed by August Borsig (1804-1854).

Another example of how the creative artists used technical innovations or important technical inventions as models for their Dresden ornaments motifs, is the penny-farthing, which came onto the market around 1870.

Another example for the adoption of technical objects as motifs is the well-known paddle steamer. The real model performed its passenger service in Dresden. Since 1836, there had been a Saxon steamship company with various steamships in the state capital.

However, the producers' vision extended far beyond Dresden, as the large steamships illustrate. The repertoire included the passenger ship Deutschland, which was launched in 1900. The launch took place to great media acclaim. The Deutschland was the second German steamship to win the 'Blue Ribbon'. This was awarded to the passenger ship that made the transatlantic route from Europe to New York the fastest.

The second large steamer in the Dresden ornament collection is an unspecified Japanese armoured ship, which was advertised in the winter catalogue of the Viennese company Witte[xvi] in 1911/1912. It was the most expensive Dresden cardboard model to buy from Witte and is said to have been suitable as a candy container.

In the first decade of the 20th century, people's dreams came true and zeppelins like aeroplanes took to the skies for the first time. People were thrilled by this technical innovation. The first airships and aeroplane models could be bought from the Dresden cardboard producers shortly after the invention of modern aviation. Ever since Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin took off in his LZ 1 on 2 July 1900, Zeppelin models have been very popular as motifs for cotillion tours or as glass Christmas tree decorations. So it is not surprising that the Dresden ornament producers also produced variations of them.

The same thing happened when the first aeroplanes took to the skies. It was probably the Dresden company Neumann & Co. that included aircraft representations in its product range. Neumann was known for its assortment boxes in which various Dresden cardboard objects and animals were sold. In 1911, a new assortment, advertised as "modern Christmas tree decorations", came onto the market. It was again a cardboard box which now contained six aircraft instead of animals (four aeroplanes, one zeppelin and one balloon).

Illustration from the J. C. Schmidt Erfurt catalogue.

The pieces can be seen among others in the winter catalogues 1911/1912 of the companies J. C. Schmidt in Erfurt and the Viennese company Eduard Witte. While Schmidt offered the whole assortment in a box to his customers, Witte sold the same pieces individually. While J. C. Schmidt lacked a more precise designation of the aircraft, two of the aircraft in the Witte catalogue were designated by name as 'Aeroplan Voisin' and 'Aeroplan Blériot'. However, the supposed 'Aeroplan Voisin', which was in the aviation assortment box in a larger and a smaller version, is much more likely to have been the model of the Wright Brothers' 'Flyer'. The front wings of the Dresden cardboard model correspond to the 'Flyer' and not to the 'Voisin'.

There are quite a few collectors who hang the plane upside down because of its unusual shape.

Besides the two different sized models of the 'Flyer', there were two other types of aircraft in the aviation assortment catalogue. One was the Blériot XI. Its designer Louis Blériot had achieved world fame by being the first person to fly across the English Channel in his Blériot XI on 25 July 1909.

The other, and fourth model included in the aviation assortment box, was either the Antoinette IV or VII. Both types of aircraft were used to attempt to fly across the English Channel within a month of each other. The designer of the aircraft type was Léon Levavasseur. On Levavasseur's behalf, the pilot Hubert Latham attempted to cross the English Channel with the Antoinette IV and VII. However, he failed in his attempts on 19 and 27 July 1909, both times having to ditch due to engine failure. Nevertheless, Levavasseur was euphoric when he said: "She sails, she flies, she floats. That is a triumph.”

Dresden ornaments as crackers

Dresden ornaments could not only be hung on Christmas trees but could also be used in a completely different way. For example, the early animal heads were offered as Attrappen (to be filled) or as crackers. Sometimes a Dresden ornament animal was simply added to a cracker as a decoration.

The Berlin company Max Retemeyer, a specialist for pyrotechnical products, carnival, and joke articles, went one step further in combining Dresden ornaments with firecrackers. In a catalogue published by them around 1910, examples of Dresden ornament can be found as fcrackers.

Similar items were also offered by the pyrotechnical factory Wilhelm Fischer from Cleebronn in Württemberg and the Erfurt company J. C. Schmidt, manufacturer of cotillon, ball and joke articles.

Pieces individually assembled by collectors ('weddings')

One should not forget to mention the 'Mariage' (wedding) pieces made by collectors. ‘Marriages’ are the uniting of exhibits that did not originally belong together. An example of this can be found in the collection catalogue of Joseph G. Hrncirik Luxus aus Pappe. Luxus aus Pappe. Dresdner Christbaumschmuck 1870–1914 (2011), p. 21 (no. 17). The ensemble, described as a circus elephant with chariot, was assembled from two originally independent pieces. The carriage, for example, corresponds to a rolling dressing room of the kind that were common in seaside resorts on the Baltic and North Seas around 1900. An elephant never pulled such a cart.

The plane 'Antoinette' shown above is also a 'Mariage' (wedding). The small pewter pilot's upper body did not originally belong to it. I would like to show two more small examples. One is the golden tub with the wax baby (originally a Christ child to be bought separately for a nativity scene). The tub was offered by the Viennese company Eduard Witte in 1898, among other things as a candy container. For this purpose, the inside of the tub was covered with a fabric as a bag. The second example concerns the Roman chariot with the bride and groom made of wax. The piece probably once adorned a wedding cake or was intended as a table decoration at a wedding celebration.





Besides the 'Mariage-Variants' there are other curious Dresden ornaments. While the pieces normally range in size from about 8 to 14 cm, there are pieces that deviate from this. The smallest elephant is about 8 cm high, the biggest elephant with the howdah has a height of about 18 cm.

The Dresden company Neumann & Co. even had armoured ships made of embossed cardboard as table Attrappen, which were either 18 or 32 cm long, depending on the customer's wishes.

Also somewhat out of the ordinary are pieces that were probably not put together quite correctly during the manufacturing process. However, these are not ‘Mariage’ pieces, but original variants of Dresden ornament pieces. The following is an example: The emperor's sailing ship had two sail masts in the original pattern. In the present version, however, one mast is missing. If the ship had been built like this as a real ship, it would probably have sunk at the first squall. It gives the impression that the person who was commissioned to glue the ship together did not have all the materials available. He used too large a sail for the imperial sailing yacht.

In the case of individual animal motifs, the persons who glued and painted the pieces together may have had some leeway. This can be seen in the eyes, among other things. Sometimes there are identical animals whose eyes are either painted or glued with glass eyes.

Dresden ornaments for foreign countries

The great variety of Dresden ornaments soon delighted foreign customers as well. The producers, such as Gelbke & Benedictus, had their Cotillon catalogues translated into several languages and sent them all over the world. Even in Tsarist Russia, Dresdens found enthusiastic buyers. The domestic pig with the money bags on its back was probably made for the Russian market. In any case, the inscription on the sacks reads 'ruble'.

America very quickly developed into the largest foreign sales market. Dresden ornaments were specially adapted for American customers' tastes. The illustration of the following three dwarfs makes this clear in two ways. Firstly, the imprint on the bag is in dollars and secondly, which is easily overlooked, the painting is in the national colours of the United States (red-white-blue). This colour combination was also common among toy manufacturers from the Sonneberg area in Thuringia (for example on Father Christmases) when it came to exports to the USA.

A law passed in the United States in 1893 required foreign manufacturers to label their exports with a reference to the country of origin. Sometimes this was simply printed on the packaging, but actually the individual pieces themselves had to be marked.[xvii] So there are individual Dresden ornaments that have 'Germany' stamped or embossed on them. By stamping or embossing, one can date the production period of such pieces to after 1893.

Four examples follow: you can see the embossing or the stamp "Germany" on the right of the two pictures.

The selected examples show how varied Dresden cardboard can be. Some collectors expand their collection spectrum with objects that, strictly speaking, are not actually Dresden ornaments. We remember: one prerequisite for the definition of Dresden ornaments is that they were 'assembled', i.e., composed of at least two pieces (glued).

Supposed Dresden Ornament Objects

Well-known examples of such 'non-Dresdner ornaments' are the various (half-) moons and suns that appear from time to time in the form of half-shells. Many a piece hangs in the Christmas tree, somewhat concealed from view, because people believe that only the second half of the exhibit is missing. But this is a mistake. These pieces were in fact former joke or cotillion medals, for example, from the company Kunze & Co. in Buchholz. Besides their function as medals, the moon and the sun were also used as decoration for headbands and cardboard tiaras.

These pieces existed with a brown, silver or golden back.
45 Bild_DSF0076
46 Bild _DSF0063

The cat head shown here is probably similar. It has the classical size for a cotillon medal, also traces of an attachment can be seen on the back. Unfortunately, I could not find this piece in an old catalogue yet.

In a similar category is a full moon, which also seems to be missing its counterpart. The peculiarity of this moon is that it was neither a cotillon nor a joke medal, which is obvious from its size. This moon was the upper part of a humorous cap. Presumably some wearers of such hats found it amusing to separate out the upper part and use it separately, for example on the Christmas tree.

In addition to the misappropriated cotillon medals or upper parts of caps, we must also briefly mention the semi-finished products embossed from cardboard, which were and are also often used as Christmas decorations. However, their original purpose was something else. They had been intended as decorations for toys. A centre for the production of such objects was Buchholz in Saxony.

A small side note should be allowed. Sometimes furniture made of cardboard (which, according to their function, are not Attrappen or candy containers) is also counted as Dresden ornaments. Strictly speaking, however, this is only doll's furniture, which at that time was also made of cardboard for cost reasons.

The End of Dresden Ornament Production

For the manufacturers of the seasonal Dresden Christmas tree ornaments, the last quarter of the 19th century to the first decade of the 20th century brought quiet and steady sales. Although raw material prices rose, leading to a general increase in the cost of living, the business situation nevertheless remained satisfactory. But the start of the First World War on 28 July 1914 changed everything. After a short time, production was completely shut down, orders were withdrawn and, with the exception of a few countries such as Austria and Hungary, there was no longer any thought of selling abroad. Many experienced workers were called up for military service. Women were obliged to work in war-related industries. In turn, factory owners were forced to adapt their production to the war if they did not want to go bankrupt. For the producers of festive articles with their special products, however, this was difficult. Most of the lucrative work for the army's needs was already in other hands. Only after some time did they get orders for the production of paper sacks, cardboard grenades, shoe soles made of cardboard and other things. The production of Dresden ornaments, which were no longer in demand, was quickly discontinued.

In this context, the question arises as to what happened to all the existing embossing moulds for the three-dimensional Dresden cardboard pieces. So far, I know of no one who has ever held an old mould in their hands. There are still numerous old moulds for lettering, embossed borders or flat embossed objects[xviii], but the elaborately produced embossing moulds like those for the three-dimensional animals have disappeared. It is of course possible that such embossing moulds were melted down during the First World War because they were no longer in use and the military needed metal. Unfortunately, the question cannot be answered yet. If there is anyone who has a mould - or at least a picture of one - I would be very pleased to hear about it!

Since no more Dresden ornaments were produced in wartime, I would like to make a small remark at this point about an illustration in the book Kostbarkeiten aus Karton Dresdner Christbaumschmuck 1870–1920 (Treasures made of Cardboard. Dresden Christmas tree decorations 1870-1920), written and edited by Mrs. Wiltrud Elbert. On p. 132 there is an illustration of a tank (Fig. 396) made of cardboard. This is probably a somewhat freely interpreted scaled-down replica of the British (male) Mark V tank. This type of tank was only used towards the end of the First World War and was in service until the early 1930s. Three reasons speak against this being a product of the Dresden cardboard manufacturers. Firstly, the late date, as no more production took place here; secondly, an 'enemy' tank would never have been made by the patriotically minded German producers of the time; and thirdly, at the beginning of the 1920s, under the devastating impression of the First World War, a discussion had broken out in the German toy industry as to whether tanks should still be made as toys at all. The tank was either a successful in-house production or came from abroad.

The end of the First World War in 1918 brought great social changes. The monarchy was abolished, and Weimar democracy proclaimed. In addition, there were the after-effects of the war, food shortages, a failed revolution, and difficult economic conditions. Before the war, the companies that had produced Dresden Christmas tree decorations had mainly been producers of festive and carnival decorations of all kinds. It was particularly difficult for them after the war. There were hardly any balls and carnivals were not allowed to be celebrated publicly until 1925. In addition, buyers' tastes had changed. The miniature cardboard dummies that had been popular for decades were considered old-fashioned. Without greater demand, however, production was no longer worthwhile. Dresden cardboard was history.

[i] Apianus: Aus unserem papiernen Zeitalter, in: Die Gartenlaube, Jg. 1874, No. 45, S. 730–734; [ohne Verfasser]: Haushaltsgegenstände aus Papier, in: Dies Blatt gehört der Hausfrau! Zeitschrift für die Angelegenheiten des Haushaltes. IV. Jg. (1889/90), Nr. 1 (5. Oktober 1889), p. 5 f

[ii] Weissenfels, Karl: Die Standorte der papierverarbeitenden Industrie Deutschlands. Dissertation Uni Köln, Kaldenkirchen 1931, p. 13 f.

[iii] The company Mörder from Leipzig already offered a 60cm tall hourglass clock made up of 2000 cardboard pieces in 1850. See Illustrierte Zeitung, Leipzig (8. Juni 1850), p. 360.

[iv] See: Mährisches Tagblatt, 1. Jg. (1880), Nr. 102 (13. Oktober).

[v] Eilers, Gerhard: Die Thüringer Karnevalartikel-Industrie als Typus hausindustrieller Betriebsform. Dissertation, Leipzig 1928.

[vi] In Lahr, initially mainly cardboard boxes for the pharmaceutical sector were produced. Berlin was a centre for imaginative cardboard boxes for confectionery and in Buchholz imaginative gift and chocolate packaging was produced.

[vii] Leipziger Zeitung No. 242, 9th of December 1818, p. 2816.

[viii] Leipziger Zeitung No. 298, 19th of December 1826, p. 3503.

[ix] Oedenburger Lokal-Blatt. Organ für Wissenschaft u. Kunst, geistige Anregung u. Erholung, Lebens= u. Geschäftsverkehr, Auskünfte und Anzeigen, IV. Jg. (1864), Nr. 102 (21. Dezember), p. 418.

[x] The Georg Adler company in Buchholz, Saxony, was one of them. It began producing fancy cardboard boxes as early as the early 1850s, which were in no way inferior to the popular French productions. See: Zur Erinnerung an die Jubelfeier des fünfzigjährigen Bestehens der Firma Georg Adler zu Buchholz am 24. März 1896, p. 7; See also: Illustrierte Zeitung, Leipzig (1855), XXV. Bd., No. 648 (1st of December), p. 368 f.

[xi] Apianus: Aus unserem papiernen Zeitalter, in: Die Gartenlaube, Jg. 1874, No. 45, S. 732. [Unterstreichung durch Verfasser.]

[xii] Elm, Hugo: Das goldene Weihnachts=Buch. Beschreibung und Darstellung des Ursprungs, der Feier, Sitten, der Gebräuche, Sagen und des Aberglaubens der Weihnachtszeit und gleichzeitig Anleitung zur sinnigen Schmückung des Christbaumes, der Pyramide, sowie zur Anlegung der Krippen und Weihnachtsgärten, Halle [1878], p. 65. [Fettdruck durch Verfasser.]

[xiii] According to the offer of the Dresden company Neumann & Co. price list 100 from 1912.

[xiv] Neumann & Co. Dresden: Preis-Liste Nr. 6, Winter-Saison 1888/89. Preis-Liste über Cotillon- und Carneval-Artikel der Fabrik E. Neumann & Co. Dresden [1888]. Das Zebra und der Papageienkopf sind abgebildet auf der Tafel nach S. 108.

[xv] Wie der Weihnachtsbaum sein soll!, in: Fürs Haus. Praktisches Wochenblatt für alle Hausfrauen, Nr. 324 (15. Dezember 1888), VII. Jg. (1888/89), p. 81.

[xvi] Winterkatalog Eduard Witte Wien 1911/12.

[xvii] It was not until 1923 that the law was changed, so that from then on it was sufficient to print the country of origin on the packaging.

[xviii] I would like to refer here to a video on YouTube where old embossing forms are still used. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLsnRfZn0xo

[xix] 'Male' because it had gun barrels on the side. There was also a 'female' version with machine guns on the side.