Although modern day baubles are typically made of blown glass, they have a long history and in the past have been made of glass, wood, metal and various other materials.
Hans Greiner, who made glass beads and tin figures to hang on trees in addition to the traditional apples and candy canes, first manufactured Glass baubles in Lauscha, Germany. Glass tubes were heated over fire, and then inserted into a clay mold where they could be blown so that the glass expanded to fill the shape of the mold. Although the molds used today vary wildly in shape and size, the original ones tended to be fruits or nuts. In the 1850s, a silvering technique developed by Justus von Liebig was also incorporated which involved swirling a silver nitrate solution into the cooled glass after which the bauble could be painted.
As glass baubles became popular, other local glassblowers saw an opportunity and began to produce them in a wider range of designs and finishes. In 1832, a young queen Victoria was delighted to have a Christmas tree adorned with baubles, lights and other ornaments and when a picture of her tree was featured in a London newspaper, from her husbands native Germany, Lauscha began to export products through Europe, leading to the rise in the decorated Christmas tree that we know today.
Although round, glass baubles are the most well known, and typically seen Christmas tree decoration, they are available in all shapes and sizes, as well as different finishes now. Plastic can often be used to make cheaper and more affordable baubles, and metal may be used to make more intricate figures and decorations such as reindeers, angels and stars. Older Christmas decorations tend to be made of more expensive materials, such as silver bells or tinsel made of shredded silver – although this is rarely seen anymore. The decision to use cheaper materials, as we see today, is to make them more accessible and affordable, as well as cheaper and easier to mass produce.