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Unloved Antiques: Depression Glass

by Mike Wilcox (09/26/11).

A pair of “Iris” pattern Depression glass tumblers, made by the Jeannette Glass Company, often sell at auction for less than $10 each.

The next item in this series of Unloved Antiques is 20th century is crystal Depression glass, which gets its name from the fact the bulk of it was mass produced during the years of the Great Depression (1929-40). Depression glass is a form of pressed glass—both in clear or colored varieties—that was originally distributed free, as a premium or low cost give away. Some theater chains offered different pieces on a weekly basis to draw crowds during these lean years. Some companies, such as Quaker Oats and other packed food companies, offered glassware as a marketing method by placing it in the boxes (also saving the amount of product needed to fill the box).

Most glassware of this type was made in the central and midwest United States, an area with existing industrial manufacturing capacity with ready access to power and raw materials. Depression glass was also made in Canada for similar reasons. There were hundreds of patterns produced in clear and colors such as green, blue, pink and amber, rarer colors include cobalt blue, ruby, black, canary yellow and jadeite. Being what it was—a low cost or give away item—the quality of Depression glass isn’t top notch, but it’s always had a group of collectors since the 1960s. While some of the more unusual colors can be fairly valuable, the clear glass types like the examples above are very inexpensive, even some 80 years after its introduction.

The examples above, two tumblers from a water/lemonade set are in the “Iris” pattern, so called for its relief pattern of leaves and flowers that covered the main body of the pieces, along with a herringbone background. The pattern in clear glass was first issued circa 1928 by the Jeannette Glass Company, which was located in Jeannette, Pa.

Judging by the sheer numbers of these examples one sees at antique markets and shops, these items must have been produced in staggering numbers. The Iris pattern covered about 40 different pieces of tableware, including bowls, teacups, water/cordial sets, candelabras, light shades and plates. This pattern was revived after the Second World War and again in the 1970s, but in clearly different color variations.

The Jeannette Glass Company closed for good in 1983, after being in operation since 1898. In today’s market, the Jeannette Iris pattern tumblers above often sell at auction for less than $10 each.

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Previous “Unloved Antiques” articles:

Unloved Antiques: ‘Limited Edition’ Collectors Plates
Unloved Antiques: Singer Sewing Machines
Unloved Antiques: Decorator Prints
Unloved Antiques: Commemorative Whiskey Decanters
Unloved Antiques: ‘Bronze’ Flatware
Unloved Antiques: 1847 Rogers Brothers Flatware
Unloved Antiques: Hummel Knockoffs
Unloved Antiques: National Geographic Magazines
Unloved Antiques: Dragonware
Unloved Antiques: 19th Century Religious Prints
Unloved Antiques: Depression Glass

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

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7 Responses to “Unloved Antiques: Depression Glass”

  1. Debbie says:

    I read the article regarding unloved Depression glass with great interest. My mother collected Depression glass in the 1970s when it was popular and priced accordingly. She passed away in 2006 and left me her collection as an inheritance. I though I was sitting on a goldmine, but come to find out, antique dealers here in upstate New York don’t want it. I tried selling it off on my own but there has been little interest. For instance, I have a luncheon set for 8 in green “Horseshoe” (Indiana No. 612) – cups, saucers, plates, serving plate, creamer & sugar. My mom paid $200 for it in 1975. I started at that price, then went to $150. With still no interest, I dropped the price to $100 and still no takers. The antiques people say that due to the fickleness of the collectibles market, Depression glass is not longer a desirable item. Also, because of reproductions being made by Asian glassmakers who bought the original molds, it is difficult for experts to tell the modern “Depression” from the original. I know my mom bought her collection before repros were being made, but it’s a difficult thing to prove. Now I’m stuck with cabinets and tables full of Depression glass (also Carnival and EAPG) no one wants. To tell the truth, I would rather have had the money she spent on all that glass.

    • Mike Wilcox says:

      Hi Debbie, sadly that’s often the case with fads and collectibles. Things tend to go through cycles of popularity, peaking then dropping out of sight for years before price appreciation occurs again. All I can suggest is box them up and wait it out, if the market recovers, sell them while values are just appearing to slow again.

  2. I am looking for Presto glass lids and seals for antique canning jars. Can you help me? Thank you, Terry

  3. My husband and I do a few antique shows and actually do well with depression glass. There are patterns that I would not buy, like the Jeanette “Iris” as you can’t give them away. There are still collectors out there looking for something to add to their collection. Plus the younger generation can be quite nostalgic and will buy what they remember Mom or Grandma having had. I think the problem with trying to sell a complete set is people only need a piece or two out of it. As much as I hate to break up a set you can make more money piecing it out. That seems to be the case with china as well. There was a time when most all carnival glass sold however I think collectors have become more sophisticated and they are looking for rarer and perfect pieces.

    • Mike Wilcox says:

      Collectibles are like fashion, they come and go with demand & nostalgia. Another aspect is the big collecting boom happened when the baby boomers were in their peak spending years, now they are all downsizing and causing a glut on the market as they dump their collections in a limited market demand

  4. Kay Porter says:

    I have some American Sweetheart depression dishes.(Pink) very delicate, does anyone have any of this pattern?

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