Mercury Glass Christmas Ornaments

by blackspanielgallery

Modern mercury glass Christmas ornaments should be free of mercury, and the name is a carryover from long ago. Today, silver is used.

Mercury glass Christmas ornaments that are currently being produced do not contain mercury. This unfortunate name has negative connotations that are not deserved. These ornaments most likely contain silver, not mercury, if made today.

Mercury would not be acceptable for use in Christmas ornaments due to its toxicity. Even encapsulated there would be the danger of breakage, so mercury would not be used. This is the same kind of misnomer as the red liquid in thermometers that often is referred to as mercury. Indeed, the liquid in thermometers is often alcohol colored with red coloring or mineral spirits.

Silver Ornaments

Mercury glass is hand blown glass that is blown in a double layer.  In between the layers silver nitrate is used to silver the glass.  This is done to avoid a problem with the silver ornaments tarnishing.  The silver is encased between glass, and not subject to tarnishing.  Hence, silver ornaments that do not need polishing are the result.


The silver appearance of mercury, and possibly its early use, gives the mercury glass its name. 


The Christmas ornaments that result are highly reflective and silver in appearance, but have a glass outer layer, which has refractive properties.  The combination of the silver and layer of glass combine to make attractive Christmas ornaments.

Mercury Is Not an Option

Mercury could not be used in mercury glass because of its toxicity.  While encapsulated it would be safe, but once exposed as would happen in breakage it would be dangerous.  Mercury can be absorbed through the skin, and its vapors can be inhaled.  It does not have to be consumed.


Mercury poisoning is cumulative, meaning what enters the body does not pass through it easily, so it adds to has entered the body in the past.  Once it reaches a toxic level it causes hair loss, insanity, and even death.


So, mercury is not used for decorative glass Christmas ornaments. 

What Is Used?

The silver comes from silver nitrate, which with a sugar compound is used to coat the surfaces between the layers of glass.  Silver from the silver nitrate essentially make the surfaces mirrors, and the ornaments take on the appearance of silver.  Of course, the glass layer on the outside of each ornament is not really different from what happens with a mirror, the back of the glass is silvered.  But since the ornaments have curves and edges, the light will refract giving the ornament a distinct appearance. 


Once the silver layer is produced, the hot glass is closed and the area between the surfaces sealed.  The result is a silver ornament that will not tarnish, but it has the downfall of being breakable.  Fortunately, if an ornament breaks it can be swept up, and does not pose a danger other than would occur from any other broken glass.


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Updated: 12/07/2019, blackspanielgallery
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blackspanielgallery on 12/10/2019

The use of mercury is itself problematic, so resale might be difficult. However, vintage and antique pieces do have age on their side. From what I read one manufacturer did try using he effort was too difficult to make profitable, so perhaps there are no ornaments using real mercury. The process is not limited to Christmas ornaments.

DerdriuMarriner on 12/10/2019

blackspanielgallery, Thank you for the practical information and product lines.
Over time, which would prove more valuable in an estate passed from heir/heiress to heir/heiress or in an estate sale: well-made, well-preserved mercury glass Christmas ornaments with mercury or with silver?

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