The New York Times once called Christopher Radko the "Czar of Christmas Present", and with good reason. The company that bears his name designs about 500 exquisite glass Christmas ornaments each year, as well as other holiday decorations. Radko was once quoted as saying, "I'm like Santa. There's no time off."
Christopher Radko had always had the job of cleaning and storing his family's old, rusty, cast-iron Christmas tree stand. When the 22-year-old was at the family home for the holiday, he decided it was time for a replacement, and the family's 14-foot tree was placed in a new red-and-green stand. They decorated it with over 1000 European mouth-blown glass ornaments, some of which had been in the family for four generations. Each ornament had its own story, making the collection a kind of living diary.
The following day, the stand collapsed and the tree crashed, smashing almost all the ornaments. "Chris has ruined Christmas. What will we do?" his grandmother wrote to some continued his search. No ornaments were being made, but a conversation with a pharmacist who used hand-blown glass beakers led Christopher to a small glassblowing factory and an artisan who was eager to revive the art once practiced by his own great-grandfather. Radko sketched some of his family ornaments and a few of his own designs, and the glassblower produced several dozen.
Friends bought some of the ornaments, and Radko realized he had a desirable product. While still working in the mailroom of a talent agency, he spent his lunch hours showing his designs in New York stores. His first retail account was Georg Jensen, a top-of-the-line jewelry store.
Today, thousands of department stores and gift shops carry ornaments, cookie jars, snow globes, and other Radko collectibles. Christopher Radko sold the company in 2005 and separated himself from the company shortly thereafter. The company, now under the guidance of Rauch Industries, carries on his design influence, and the Radko brand celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2010.
The team of designers at Christopher Radko has created over 10,000 decorations. More than 3,000 artisans in Poland, Germany, Italy, and the Czech Republic produce them in their cottage workshops. Read this LoveToKnow Christmas interview with two artists from the premier design team, Joseph Walden and Michael Sneed.
Presently, Christopher Radko creations can be purchased in over 2,500 stores. These include retailers such as Bloomingdale's and Saks Fifth Avenue, as well as London's legendary Harrods and Fortnum and Mason. Many fine independent gift shops carry the line all year long.
In its early years, Radko's designs were also sold through a company catalog. Graphic Arts Monthly has applauded the high quality of the catalog's artwork, noting that it is considered a collectible item itself.
Starlight magazine, written for the Radko Collectors Club, is produced by Radko. A coffee-table book, Christopher Radko's Ornaments, was published by Clarkson Potter in 1999.
The company website was created in 1998 to give fans a source of information on the ornaments. The online store opened in 1999.
Early Radko designs have become highly desirable collectibles. One ornament, the "Partridge In a Pear Tree", was originally priced at $38. It has sold for as much as $1,000 on the secondary market. Radko ornaments are sold through dealers, auctions, newsletters, and on the internet.
About 40 percent of Radko's ornaments are retired each year, which certainly adds to the value of earlier designs.
Christopher Radko's Fans
Radko's ornaments are found in the collections of celebrities such as Elton John, Oprah Winfrey, Robert Redford, Kim Basinger, Elizabeth Taylor, John Travolta, Dolly Parton, Robert DeNiro, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. His first Hanukkah ornaments were produced at the request of Barbra Streisand.
"They are the most extraordinary ornaments I've ever seen," says Whoopie Goldberg, a longtime fan.