Gustav A. Mayer was a New York businessman, confectioner and inventor who created, among many other things, the method and molds for hand-fashioning Zinn Brilliant ornaments.
Mr. Mayer learned the confectioner’s trade in his native Germany before coming to the United States at age 19 in the late 1850s. A successful businessman, he designed many molds for making intricately “printed biscuits,” a fashionable dessert of the day. They had names like The Vienna Roll, Cigaretta, Champagne, Wafer Shells, Leaves and Plaisir de Paris.
In the 1880s, Mr. Mayer used his mold-making artistry to create a mold for fashioning uniquely brilliant and faceted Christmas ornaments that seemed in the gaslight to sparkle with precious gems. Even in the bright light of day, or modern lighting, the illusion is remarkably complete.
Light in a Dark Season
“It’s hard for us to imagine in our well-lit homes how it was to live in a house that fell dark at the setting of the sun,” says Janet Rigby, who has been making G.A. Mayer’s ornaments from the original molds since the 1980s.
During that time, décor that reflected and invited light became very popular, especially during the holidays.
“They brought a live, fresh-smelling tree into the house and decorated it with candles, the occasional cookies and small gifts, and shiny ornaments of glass and metal,” Janet explains. “With the kids shooed away, the parents would light the candles and then, voila! – open the doors to let in the rest of the family. For a few short minutes, they’d see this shining festival of wonder in their dark, old parlor.”