Depression Glass vs. Elegant Glass: What’s The Difference?

An Elegant Glass fruit bowl with pink tones.

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 are actually modern names 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!

Depression Glass

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 actually 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 that 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 were 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.

A vintage Elegant Glass pitcher with five glasses by Anchor Hocking in a gorgeous green. A pitcher by itself would start at about $20-$25 today. With the glasses, the value would go up to $45-$50 or more, depending on the pattern.

Elegant Glass

Elegant Glass—although it has many of the same characteristics such as color, production and era—had to be touched 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 than the next.

Another, and probably the biggest difference, is the way in which the two were distributed. As we said before Depression was usually a premium item or sold in the 5 & 10 cent stores. Conversely, Elegant Glass was sold in the finer stores and was never given away.

These patterns were marketed as wedding patterns, as early on china was not really used. One reason may be that 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 sitting in the middle of her bridge table when her guests would arrive.   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!

A cup and saucer in the Candlewick pattern from Imperial Glass. A set of eight of these cups and saucers sold for $99 on eBay recently. A single cup and saucer will run you about $12.50.

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 when 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 a particular item could bear. 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 kinds 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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