Fortunes crashed and incomes shot down to the bare negligible during the Great Depression of 1929-1939. Nobody that lived through those dark, turbulent years will remember them with a “Wish You Were Back” fondness, but the mention of Depression glass collectibles might just bring on a smile.
Given for free with items such as oats, flour or laundry soap, sold at five-and-dime stores or for a nickel at “Dish Nites” at cinema halls and gas stations, this cheap, mass-produced glassware buoyed up an entire glass industry, as well as the spirits of an entire nation. Scanty meals seemed more bearable with the bright-colored glass, and the expensive-sounding pattern names, in evoking memories of happier days, held out a glimmer of hope for the future.
Paradoxically, in the immediate aftermath of the Great Depression, this glassware became a jarring reminder of painful times. Many people, as they prospered, threw it out.
No one, of course, had counted on the vagaries of the collecting world to turn it into a highly collectible, high-priced glassware, valued as much for its design as for its symbolism of triumph over adversity.
Collecting Depression glass
There are now more than 150,000 Depression-glass collectors in America. With more than 200 Depression-glass patterns to collect, not to mention a prolific industry of reproductions and fakes to sift through, these collectors have their work cut out. Newbies, as in any enterprise, should get well informed before loosening their purse strings. So—
• Buy the latest edition of Gene Florence’s well-researched, comprehensive book, “Collectors’ Encyclopedia of Depression Glass”, as well as other Depression-glass reference books, price guides and catalogs.
• Join Depression-glass collectors’ associations and clubs, visit online forums, read articles and subscribe to mailing lists. The National Depression Glass Association sends out informative newsletters, and magazines such as Reproduction News can be enlightening.
• Visit museums with Depression-glass collections, and attend Depression-glass shows and conventions. Talk to dealers, glass experts and other collectors.
• Learn about Depression-glass manufacturers and their marks. Some of the leading Depression-glass makers were Westmoreland, Heisey, Fostoria, Jeannette, Anchor-Hocking, McBeth-Evans, Hazel Atlas, Federal Glass, Indiana Glass Company and U.S. Glass.
• These manufacturers produced Art Deco, geometric or classical designs in Elegant Glass and Depression Glass. Elegant Glass, after mechanical production, was refurbished, etched and polished by hand. Depression Glass wasn’t. Some of the most popular patterns were Avocado, Royal Lace, Cameo, Mayfair, American Sweetheart, Princess, Cherry Blossom, Sharon, Patrician, Madrid, Moderntone, Windsor, Adam, Sierra, Diana, Waterford, Columbia, Miss America, Iris and Herringbone and Rosemary.
• Depression glass came in different transparent colors such as crystal, pink, amber, blue, green, yellow, red, orange, lavender, iridescent, black and white. There were also some opaque patterns and pieces decorated with gold, platinum and even colored enamel.
• Depression glassware included plates, tumblers, bowls, cups and saucers, decanters, vases, candlesticks, lamps and so on.
• Learn how to recognize authentic Depression glass, determine condition, to detect chips and cracks.
Once you know what’s what, we come to the “Okay, so where do I buy it?” part, and you can take your pick from flea markets, church bazaars, garage sales, antique shops, classified-newspaper ads, estate auctions and online auctions. Or try all of these.
Prices depend on glassware type, design pattern and color, manufacturer, rarity, location of sale and demand from collectors. There is no hard-and-fast pricing.
Tips for Collectors—
Finding pieces to complete a set can be challenging. Many original pieces are difficult or impossible to find on the market nowadays. Or, if available, are expensive. Rare items include butter dishes, serving pieces, lids, cobalt-blue mixing bowls, refrigerator dishes, measuring cups and canisters. Also hard to find are the Shirley Temple cereal bowls, mugs and milk pitchers.
Scratches and nicks are inevitable in regularly used Depression glassware. Even so, avoid buying severely nicked or flawed glass.
Examine each piece carefully before buying. If buying online, ask seller to list all visible flaws, and make sure there’s a money-back guarantee.
Sound like hard work? Not really, and besides, these collectibles are worth any effort you expend.
Other stories by Sonal Panse:
Antiques, Art & Collectibles Auction Ploys
Finding Art & Collectibles in All the Right Places
Paperweight Collectibles Find a Following
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