In Victorian days, Christmas meant family, food, and friends gathered warmly around an evergreen tree filled with tasty goodies and the sparkle of ornaments.
According to a media release from the William J. Rigby Co., one of the makers of those ornaments was Gustav A. Mayer of Staten Island, who made his “Sparkling Brilliants” as well as his fine biscuits for the New York hotel trade. His ornaments were sold around the world for about 30 years until electric tree lights drove them out of fashion. Mayer suffered a stroke in 1917 and died a year later. The ornament equipment was packed away by the family and eventually sold.
Elm Street resident Bill Rigby, who also lived on Staten Island at the time, bought the molds from Mayer’s two daughters. In 1987 he, along with his wife, Janet, tried making the ornaments for their own tree. They used pure tin as opposed to Mayer’s mixture of tin and lead with remarkable results. The facets in the ornaments sparkled like tiny mirrors and, when painted, looked like gemstones. Soon they were selling the ornaments across the country. They produced the ornaments for about ten years until the demands of the business started to impact their own children’s Christmas. Again, the ornaments were packed away.
Once again the Rigbys, now “empty-nesters,” are making Mayer’s “Sparkling Tin Brilliants.” They have collected new information on the ornaments and have had time to experiment with casting techniques. The grade of tin has also improved so they shine brighter than ever. They have begun to sell them around the country once again.
The Rigbys live in a restored Victorian house, where they make and sell their ornaments. The ornaments can be purchased through their website: www.wmjrigby.com, by calling 547-1900, or by stopping by 73 Elm St. in Cooperstown on Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., where factory prices are offered. They are open every Saturday except Dec. 8, from now until Dec. 22.