A Magic Collection
Local collector discovers meaning behind ornaments
By Katie Kishi
When the coronavirus pandemic forced the world to quarantine back in March, Joe Wilson followed the common theme of many Americans—use his extra time to organize and declutter his house. He intended to throw out old items, but ended up adding many new ones.
“Just like everyone else, I wanted to do something I hadn’t had the time to do before the pandemic,” Wilson says.
As he went through boxes of holiday decorations, he discovered a Christopher Radko ornament with a hand-written number on it. The Carmichael resident became intrigued and researched the history and purpose of the handcrafted glass ornament, and soon found out about the “Magic 25.”
The ornaments originated in 1986 after the Radko family Christmas tree fell, leading to broken ornaments and a distraught young Christopher Radko. He couldn’t find the perfect replacements, so he decided to start from scratch and create his own ornaments.
With help from a Polish glassblower and old European molds, Christopher Radko was able to recreate his family’s lost ornaments. Today, the company has produced more than 18 million glass-blown ornaments that have become heirlooms for many families.
Among them are the “Magic 25,” created in 1995 when the factories couldn’t deliver ornaments to retailers in time for Christmas. To make up for the issue, Christopher Radko re-released 25 hand-numbered styles he planned to retire. These 25 are the most limited, and only about 200 people own all of them.
Wilson started collecting these treasured ornaments in 1991 simply because he liked their aesthetic. “They became a travel journal. I would buy one in different states to represent all my trips,” Wilson says. But after learning about the “Magic 25,” he went on a mission to collect them all.
He joined Facebook groups with other Christopher Radko collectors, specifically those on the hunt for the “Magic 25.” Messaging fellow collectors helped him find ornaments all over the country. Some were valued reasonably, while others had large price tags. Wilson’s most expensive purchase was $350.
Oftentimes Wilson would buy an ornament directly from someone in the groups, but several times he had to dig deeper. He would tell people which ornaments he needed, and they would connect him to people who were selling them.
“I became friends with these people I’ve never met. That was the fun of the search,” Wilson says.
After months of looking, Wilson acquired all 25 “magic” ornaments in August. “The most fun was not to say that I was one of the 200 people who have the 25, but rather having conversations with different people who also collect them.”
Wilson’s favorite ornament? He couldn’t say. He loves so many of them for different reasons. “I enjoy the unique, odd ones like the goblins, or the commemorative ones like those based on the Kennedy Center Honors.” However, he has always liked one of a forlorn-looking boy wearing a striped shirt named “Mugsy” because his niece shares the same nickname.
After taking inventory on an Excel spreadsheet, Wilson estimates he has about 875 ornaments, which he proudly arranges on his Christmas tree every year. Decorating the tree is “usually a three- to four-day process,” says Wilson, who likes to display it in his front window so people can see it from outside.
Collecting Radko ornaments used to be a casual hobby for Wilson, acquiring them here and there. Now it’s a weekly endeavor looking at auction sites and Facebook groups to see what he can find. Although his collection has grown immensely this year, Wilson says he doesn’t need every Christopher Radko ornament. “If they make me happy, I’ll buy something, but I don’t have to have all of them.”
Looking back at what he has accomplished, Wilson finds great joy. His collection has kept him occupied during quarantine and allowed him to connect with new friends while discovering ornaments he never expected to find. He plans to continue his collection because of what the ornaments represent about his experiences throughout this year.
“Different pieces remind me of trips and places I got them, or of people who gave them to me or ones I purchased to remind me of someone special,” Wilson says. What began as an attempt to record his ornaments soon became a journey to turn them into a beloved collection.
Katie Kishi can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.