Still rolling after 45 years: the Kosta Boda snowball

The Kosta Boda snowball: the classiest affordable gift of the 80's, turned 40 in 2013

FOR THE BENEFIT of those Downunder: last week was Thanksgiving, the day when 'mericans down tools and celebrate the "the blessing of the harvest and the preceding year," according to Wikipedia

It's more like the blessing of the buffet, and generally not a day to bear gifts except for oneself: stores are now opening on the actual day of nothing sacred? 

As an advertising/marketing pundit I use retail therapy to keep abreast of product design and retailing strategies (ok that's my excuse). My destination? The TJ Maxx outlet in Wilton, Connecticut, where I'm visiting for the holiday. Today it was empty. One explanation: TJ's merchandise is always on sale, so there's no real reason to make a beeline for it on Black Friday. 

"You're the first customer to acknowledge that," said the bored gal at the jewelry counter where I pondered over a pair of truly fake-looking gold Ralph Lauren hoop earrings for $12. "Everyone else is demanding why our 70% off stuff isn't 100% off." 

Strolling the aisles of once-were $34 leggings (now $5.99 - damn it, I paid $34 last week) I was stopped dead in my tracks by a blob of glass. Know what I'm talking about, dear reader? 

The classic Kosta Boda snowball

It's the Kosta Boda snowball, circa 1973, designed by Ann Warff (now Ann Wolff). As it sat on the shelf amidst marked down artificially scented candles and Turkish serving platters, the memories came thundering down like an Annapurna avalanche ...

In my mid-teens, I spotted this iconic candle holder on a shelf in DJ's (David Jones), the Bloomingdales of Downunder. The price at the time was a very affordable $12 - affordable for me as I wasn't allowed to have a holiday job, and my meager pocket money felt like my only freedom. So the snowball became my signature gift at any birthday I was invited to. For a while, everyone got a Kosta Boda snowball from me, whether they liked it or not. 

In terms of gift giving, Boda was like the Alessi of today; who hasn't given or received a Alessi tchotchke of some description? Another popular gift item were the multi-faceted Swarovski crystal animals I confess I never found particularly appealing.

Looking back on those formative years, the snowball all about my emerging desire to at once individual and classy ... on a shoestring. I calls it Cheap and Choosy.

The clear sticker, now used today with a san serif typeface
The older gold sticker.

Cheap'n'choosy giftology 

On Facebooking the above photo an old school pal Peter J recalled another example of my pubescent taste making: velour Pierre Cardin facewashers. My father was as into designer labels as the next Asian (it's my culture and I'll stereotype if I want to) and I became fixated on his gold Pierre Cardin keychain and ties. Somehow I stumbled on the Cardin monogrammed facecloth (also at DJs) and at $5.99, voila, it became my second go-to gift. (Turns out velour is actually a lousy material for facecloths; it gets gummed up with soap scum and has to be machine washed often on hot ...)

Who'd have thought a trip to an outlet mall could spark such cathartic childhood memories? Don't knock retail therapy; at 70% off it's cheaper than a shrink. 

The only thing I didn't score so well on yesterday was price: at $19.99 (down from a vertiginous RRP $35) it was no cheaper than at, where it is on sale and is the company's "best selling item of all time."

The difference a beeswax candle makes: lovelier light! 

But is it the real deal? 

For folks fixated on getting one after reading my ode to the snowball, I note there's always a few kicking around on eBay for $10-15 plus around $7-$10 shipping (pay no more). But how do you know you're getting the real deal and not a cheap glass knockoff? Check out the signature snowball features: 
  • SIGNED: Some have KOSTA BODA etched on the base, some don't
  • STICKER: Some still have their little rectangular KOSTA BODA sticker saying SINCE 1742, or SWEDEN 1742, or NOT LESS THAN 24% LEAD CRYSTAL. 
  • STICKER MATERIAL: Silver, Gold, Clear 
  • SIDE SEAMS: Some believe the earliest ones didn't have seams from the mold. 
  • CLARITY: the older ones were "clearer" glass than the new ones, though the new ones throw out more of a pattern on the table 
  • SIZE: Just under 3" high is standard, but there was a smaller (2.3") and larger version (3.5") at one time, not available in the USA it seems. See them here
The signature etched into the base - from the 80's onward

I bought a few on eBay and the sellers assured me they were former wedding presents, or Christmas decorations in the 70's and so on. I prodded Kosta Boda on their Facebook page and managed to get some slush: 

Dear Lynette. The snowball has been made since 1973, and we have not heard about any fake snowballs yet. The snowballs is made in 3 sizes the heights 6cm, 7cm and 9cm. The snowballs from Kosta Boda have seams on the side of the mold, and as far as we know the ones from the 70´s also had seams on the sides. We started etching Kosta Boda in the bottom in about 15-20 years ago, so the snowballs from the 70´s have no etching. The snowballs have a sticker, when sold from us, but the stickers might disappear as they are used. Kind regards, Kosta Boda

So there you have it. 

A word about candles

After using the cheapest candles I could find - think IKEA, 24 for $4.99 and the like - I discovered beeswax candles. At 24 for $24 they are almost 5x more expensive. But the rich, warm glow emitted is incomparable, and beeswax is purported to purify the air. Or, word for word from this article:
Beeswax candles offer a honey scent, a golden flame, and the longest, cleanest burn of any candle. But there is much more benefit to beeswax candles compared to paraffin candles that are made from polluted petroleum sludge, or even vegetable-based candles that are a big improvement over paraffin: When beeswax candles burn, they clean the air like a great, natural, air purifier, and they are a link to a deep spiritual belief system.

For the snowball, you're best using the clear, plastic cups these candles come in. However, to avoid adding poorly biodegradeable landfill to our environment, simply buy the beeswax tea lights in the foil cup, pop them in the plastic cups from your big, bad, paraffin and petroleum tea lights - you can use the cups over and over (just snap off and discard the used little wick stand each time). 

Happy Thanksgiving - let it snowball, let it snowball, let it snowball!

(Greeting card spotted in supermarket)


Brad Miter said…
My granddaughter was delited with th eKista Boda snowball for her birthday. Thanks for giving us the hint.
Re: Peter and Sue. Peter is retired and Sue keeps plugging ahead.
Lynette Chiang said…
Great Brad! Mine is sitting in front of me now, glimmering away. Make sure she doesn't set the house on fire with it!
Siri Ward said…
SO glad I found this post! Im KOSTA crazy for snowballs. I have about 2 dozen. My mother is Swedish and loves glass. She gave my sister and I each a set of 3 snowballs once we had moved out. The largest, the medium sized - most common - and the little one. The rest I've found second hand. I really thought there were copies of these out there. Not all the snowballs I have look the same. I suppose this can happen with anything, not every lot is identical. Most no longer have stickers. (People do not realize you are supposed to leave the stickers on. A house guest once peeled all the Orrefors stickers off of my mothers stemware!)
I just loved reading about how you became interested in the snowball and the research you have done!
Lynette Chiang said…
Dear Siri,
Wonderful to meet a fellow KB snowball obsessor! I’ve been searching for the larger one but it’s hard to find, so hang onto that one. I’m pretty sure we all took labels off everything in the past, just with vintage stuff it’s always way cooler to have left them on. It’s funny, there’s something about a “singular snowball” flickering away that’s more appealing to me, so I’ve been giving mine away as gifts. Besides, the fancy beeswax tealights I now insist on makes them way too expensive to run more than one or two at a time now. The advantage of collecting the vintage ones is not only a cheaper price, they are all different - just like real snowballs. They could well be made in China now and/or pressed out of a mold - I haven’t ascertained if the new ones are all the same. Thank you and keep on snowballing!

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