Mercury Glass Is the Nostalgic Finish That Makes the Perfect Holiday Accent

Learn more about this classic finish, plus expert decorating tips to make your holiday decor sparkle.

matte green and gold mercury glass tabletop holiday trees
Photo: Adam Albright

There’s nothing quite like the sparkle of mercury glass to highlight holiday decor. Whether it’s featured on a Christmas tree, scattered throughout bookshelves, or within a holiday centerpiece, there are countless ways to let mercury glass dazzle when paired with your season’s best decor. “[Mercury glass] has a delicate look, but at the same time is incredibly detailed,” says Sarah Dyne, Old World Christmas master decorator. “[It] sparkles in a way that nothing else can, especially on a Christmas tree.” 

If you're on the receiving end of hand-me-down mercury glass holiday decorations, count yourself lucky. They add incredible interest and dimension, not to mention provide a conversation starter for all those holiday soirees. But if your mercury glass collection is just getting started, there are plenty of sources for this festive accent. For even more original flair, consider making your own. Here's everything you need to know about decorating with mercury glass, plus how to make it a showstopper in your holiday displays.

entry table christmas decorations holiday
Aurelie Erikson

What Is Mercury Glass?

Mercury glass was first made out of elemental mercury when it hit the scene in the mid-1800s as a way to create a reflective, mirrored surface. Because elemental mercury was determined to be toxic, silver nitrate was called on instead, which is why mercury glass is sometimes referred to as silvered glass. Today’s mercury glass finish no longer utilizes either, but instead relies on a silvering formula inserted between double-walled glass that is then sealed. 

Mercury glass can be used for anything from candlesticks to decorative objects and is an interesting alternative to a standard mirror, providing a finish that isn’t as reflective. It makes a beautiful, elevated addition to cabinet doors and can lend a vintage feel to framed mirrors where clear reflection isn’t necessary, such as above a fireplace mantel. 

Additionally, mercury glass doesn’t show streaks and imperfections as easily, which means less frequent cleaning. When cleaning is needed, you can use glass cleaner applied directly to a microfiber towel to gently wipe over the object. Warm water can also do the trick if you prefer to skip the cleaner. 

christmas tree decor on book shelf and lockers
Adam Albright

How to Decorate with Mercury Glass

Dyne says the sparkle that mercury glass ornaments provide is unparalleled, especially when positioned in front of well-placed strands of lights. “Accented with solid-colored balls, you are able to create a beautiful, cohesive tree,” she says. If you don’t have a Christmas tree, or just want to give your mercury glass ornaments a slightly more unexpected spin, Dyne suggests using them as place settings, fixed to table linens as an unexpected napkin ring, or simply using a collection of mercury glass ornaments to serve as a centerpiece.

You can use mercury glass balls in a similar fashion on a bookshelf or mantel. Dyne advises filling a glass cloche with your favorite pieces for an eye-level display. When the holidays are over, that doesn’t mean it’s time to hibernate your mercury glass collection. “Keep your favorite ornaments out all year long so that you can enjoy the memories that every ornament brings you,” she says. 

DIY Mercury Glass Vases
Jason Donnelly

How to DIY Mercury Glass 

If you’re looking to get crafty and love the nostalgic look of mercury glass, consider making your own. The pros at Window Genie offer this relatively simple process.

Start with a well-ventilated area, preferably outside, since you’ll be working with spray paint. You’ll need protective gloves, a paper towel, mirror-finish spray paint, a spray bottle filled with a 1:1 solution of vinegar and water, and whatever item you wish to give a mercury glass finish.

Spray the item with the spray paint and immediately spritz it with the vinegar solution. Gently blot the item to give it a speckled look. Wait 30 seconds, then repeat the process, beginning with the spray paint and ending with the blotting, a handful of times until you reach the desired effect. Allow the finish to dry completely.

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