Holiday trees in 1840 were adorned with apples, gilded and natural fruits and nuts, cookies, popcorn and cranberries, as well as homemade paper items, candles, cornucopias, and presents. It was during this decade that the first commercially produced Christmas decorations appeared. In 1848, the first glass ornament, a kugel, appeared in Germany. The kugel was a large hollow ball ranging in size from 1 inch to 18 inches. Smaller ones were used for tree decorations. The blown, molded, figural glass ornaments that we are familiar with today evolved from the tradition of blowing kugels. These ornaments were not sold in America until 1880.
Kugel is a German word that means "ball" and can be used to describe any type of ball-like object. Collectors used this term to describe any early thick glass ornament with a decorative cap. Early Kugels were too heavy to hang on tree branches; instead they were suspended from the ceiling. Soon after their invention, the Germans decided small Kugels should adorn tree boughs in shapes such as grapes, berry clusters, apples and pears. F. W. Woolworth is given credit for bringing Kugels to America in the 1880s. His initial investment of $25 turned into sales of at least $25 million worth of Kugels over the next several years.
European Art glass balls for holiday decoration are still commonly referred to in Austria and Germany as Kugels. Kugels range in shape and styles, according to the artist that made them and the season they are displayed. It is quite common to display egg shaped kugels at Easter and Heart shapes at Valentines day. Quality kugels are hand blown or mouth blown art glass. Most are blown into a apple wood mold to retain shape and consistency. Some artists free blow their kugel designs, thus ending up in an irregular shape. Air bubbles are common, and expected by the collector.
In America these glass balls are marketed in many ways. Witch balls, spirit balls, spirit catchers, friendship balls, gazing balls, wishing balls, and so on. Each having a little bit of home grown folklore attached to make the item unique or extra special.