A small Viennese firm claims that it had invented the snowglobe that delighted even Hollywood and the White House.
In 1900, Erwin Perzy, a local repairman for surgical instruments, decided to improve the lighting in operating rooms by using a glass ball filled with water and semolina, for added brightness.
AdvertisementThe light was a non-starter, but the snowglobe was born -- "by pure accident", notes Perzy's grandson Erwin III, with a grin.
And 110 years on, the Perzy family still produces snowglobes in an unpretentious workshop in an outer district of Vienna.
Fifteen employees, and a small army of enthusiastic elves, churn out some 200,000 pieces every year, sold from Japan to the United States and the Middle East.
"Everyone plays with snowglobes, shakes them, peers into them and is fascinated by the snow, because it brings back childhood memories," Perzy told AFP.
Although a small family-run business, the Original Vienna Snowglobe factory has had some prestigious clients.
Former US president Ronald Reagan had a special snowglobe made of his California ranch and his favourite red Jeep.
Former president Bill Clinton has one with confetti from his inauguration and Perzy made another for President Barack Obama's youngest daughter.
Arguably the most famous snowglobe in history, featured in Orson Welles's 1941 film "Citizen Kane" -- where it is dropped by the dying lead character in the notorious "Rosebud" scene -- is also a product of the Perzy factory.
In total, there are some 350 standard designs, not including special commissions, from Viennese sights and Santa Claus to Mickey Mouse, Buddha and a platter of donuts.
"The actual figure inside is beautiful and how the snow goes round, it's lovely. It just floats, you know," British tourist Jackie Cattell told AFP at a Vienna Christmas market after buying a few snowglobes.
Indeed, a snowglobe wouldn't be anything without its snow, and only Perzy knows the secret formula, which he plans to pass on to his daughter when she takes over the business.
In other products, which use glitter or heavier flakes, "it doesn't snow right," he says proudly.
While the glass globes are purchased from suppliers, the plastic figurines and stands are designed and produced by the Perzys and their employees, painted and assembled by 30 to 60 helpers who work from home.
"We prefer to flourish in obscurity. We want to keep the company as small as it is now and make a good, exclusive product."
For Erwin Perzy III, the snowglobes -- like a forest in winter, when the snow gently drops from the trees -- represent "peace and tranquillity".
In other words, winter wonderland on sale: for six to 24 euros (eight to 32 dollars).