Depression Glass vs. Elegant Glass: What’s The Difference?
By Linda Carannante
One big misnomer that I often hear is the assumption that all Pink and Green Glassware is Depression Glass. This isn’t always the case, and the pieces in question may very well be Elegant Glass. So what is the difference and where did these names come from?
Depression and Elegant is actually a modern name bestowed by price guide writers who had to find an easier way to describe the glass they were writing about. In the end, both names were appropriate. Both types of glass began production around the same period of time; the late 1900s. The overall “recipe” to make the glass was basically the same. Some companies even made both types of glass, and, to confuse you even more, they used the same molds to produce them!
The name “Depression Glass” was given to a period of glass whose production began around 1920 and continued until the late ’40s. However, some patterns which are still considered Depression were still being made into the 1980s. Throughout glass collecting circles, Depression glass is typically American-made glassware, but we must not forget that this glass was also being produced throughout Canada, Europe & Australia.
If not made only during the Depression years, why then is it called Depression Glass? I’ve heard several assumptions over the years as to why it acquired the name. The most accepted reason seems to be this is a form of “pressed” glass, originating during a “depressed” era, thus the name was born!
The simplest way to explain it is that for the most part, Depression Glass is machine-made glass that was mass produced and did not have to be touched by human hands. Imperfections were a natural part of the process and often left alone. It was usually a premium item or sold in a dime store.
Depression Glass was produced in a variety of colors in addition to pink and green; blue, amber, yellow, crystal and even white to name a few. Jeannette Glass, MacBeth Evans, Anchor Hocking, Imperial, Hazel Atlas, U.S. Glass were just some of the companies that produced Depression Glass.
Elegant Glass—although it has many of the same characteristics such as color, production and era—had to be touch by “human hands” in its production. Elegant Glass, unlike Depression, was polished to get rid of the imperfections in the glass. These same imperfections are one of the things we expect to find in Depression Glass. The base of bowls, platters, etc. in Elegant Glass were ground so it would sit evenly on your table; acid etching or hand etching was used to create the pattern, one more beautiful then the next.
Another, and probably the biggest difference, is the way in which two were distributed. As we said before Depression was usually a premium item or sold in the 5 & 10 stores. Conversely, Elegant Glass was sold in the finer stores and never given away.
These patterns were marketed as wedding patterns, as early on china was not really used. One reason may be it was much more expensive and American Companies were far behind Japan and other foreign countries in producing colorful, attractive china in a large variety. Elegant glass provided a variety of beautifully etched designs in an equally attractive array of colors as well as pieces. There was a piece of glass created for every possible use, and available in many patterns! This was something else Depression Glass did not offer. The more successful an Elegant pattern was, the more pieces you would find. Take Candlewick for example. You have your standard table setting, but you also have a Card Tray, which the lady of the house would have her cards on and setting in the middle of her bridge table when her guests would arrive; lights were made for every room of your house; not only the glasses were made for your cocktails, but the decanter, the bitters bottle, and even the muddler was made; All you needed to serve a proper drink!
Elegant Glass was made by several glass companies; Heisey, Fostoria, Cambridge, Imperial, just to name a few. Because of the the onset of World War II, many glass companies went out of business or were bought out by other companies. Molds continued to be utilized and patterns went on just under other names.
One more thing: Where Depression Glass, for the most part, was fading away in the 1940s, it was the opposite for Elegant Glass. The momentum for this type of glass was increasing. Think about it: Families were benefitting post war and wanting to add the finer things. People disposed of their Depression Glass as it represented a time they couldn’t afford anything else! Elegant Glass represented status, change and an individual affluence. I remember when I was 16, I purchased my first piece of Depression Glass and my mother’s first words were: “What did you buy poor man’s glass for?” My response was if she would have kept hers, she would have been a rich darn woman! However, that shows you the mindset of a particular item. A single piece of glass represented a status to many.
There is beauty in both types of glassware as well as an economic building of a nation. Their common threads are stronger than their differences, although great. These two sets of glass were developed early in our history, their production kept this country going during a hard time, and they lived on for future generations to cherish!
Well, now that you know the definitions of each. Aren’t they a perfect fit?
Reference: The Collector’s Guide to Depression Glass by Marian Klamkin 1973
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