Depression Glass – Brief Summary
Collectible, mass-produced glassware (principally tableware), inexpensively produced and very popular in average American households beginning in the late 1920s, throughout the 1930s and into the 1940s.
“Depression glass” is a term that is sometimes bandied about indiscriminately by glass collectors, and sometimes incorrectly.
Basically, this is a catch-all phrase for a general type of inexpensive glassware, in clear or colors, that was sold (or given away as premiums) during the late 1920s into the early 1940s.
Note: Some “Depression Glass” patterns have been reproduced in more recent years, notably in the 1970s, but even up to the present day. (Much of so-called Depression glass for sale on online auction sites is actually reproduction glass, made in Asia during the last few years, even being imported today! Terms used such as “Depression era-style” or “Depression style” indicate these are new or recent items.)
Large quantities of true Depression glass was made, by about 20 different glass companies, and virtually all of these manufacturers were located in the Midwest or eastern United States.
The most common and popular colors produced were light to medium green, pink, and amber (usually a light yellow-amber), along with clear glass.
Colors that were made in lesser quantities, and thus are harder to find, include amethyst, true yellow (canary), cobalt blue, opaque black (may appear intense purple when held to the light), jadeite (an opaque or translucent green), white milkglass, and red.
The great majority of the green-colored true Depression-era glass contains very small quantities of uranium, which causes the glass to glow a fluorescent green under an ultraviolet light (blacklight). This type of glass is sometimes incorrectly labeled “Vaseline glass”, although true Vaseline glass (also containing uranium) is a separate category, trending to some shade of yellow or canary, and much of that type of glass actually dates from the late Victorian era, having reached a height of popularity in the mid to late 1880s.
The most important companies to produce Depression glassware include: Hazel Atlas Glass Company, Hocking Glass Company (and later Anchor Hocking Glass Company/Corporation), Federal Glass Company, Indiana Glass Company, MacBeth-Evans Glass Company, Jeannette Glass Company, Imperial Glass Company, Lancaster Glass Company, U.S. Glass Company, and L. E. Smith Glass Company.
For a webpage that illustrates many of the known patterns of Depression Glass, check out About.com page on Depression Glass Patterns .
Much of this type of glass was given away as premiums, as a marketing ploy to help increase sales of a product or service. Small saucers or tumblers might be included inside a box of oatmeal, or given away at a gas station with a gasoline fill-up. Some businesses would give away one piece of glassware to each customer just for coming in the door.
Some of these pieces were given away at carnivals or fairs, as a prize for throwing a coin accurately if you managed to get it to land inside a piece of glassware, or to win another type of prize at the booth. (Although so-called “Carnival Glass” is a separate category, it is also frequently misunderstood. Carnival Glass, first produced about 1908, and extremely popular throughout the 1920s, (and again in the 1970s) is merely a general term which means glass that has been “carnivalized”, that is, has an iridescent multi-colored “rainbow sheen” or “gasoline on water puddle” appearance, produced by spraying metallic salts on the glass surface during manufacture. For more information on Carnival Glass, check out this great site: David Doty’s Carnival Glass website ).
Some Depression pieces are hard to classify as to the exact pattern name, or might be called “generic” pieces, such as some rather plain-looking sugar bowls, salt shakers, ashtrays or other items that don’t seem to match any photos in depression glass price guidebooks.
Although much of this type of glass is of low to medium quality (for instance, because of molding flaws), Depression glass has been highly collectible since the 1960s, but with the market fluctuating somewhat…….up and down in cycles…….over the last several decades.
Due to its popularity as a collectible, authentic Depression glass is gradually becoming more scarce on the open market, although auction sites such as ebay have revealed large quantities of pieces in various patterns that had previously been unavailable to the average collector (with only local or regional antique shops and flea markets to browse through for finds).
Some of the most common pieces in a plentiful pattern may sell for only a few dollars, but rare pieces in certain patterns can sell for hundreds of dollars at depression glass shows.
Some manufacturers continued to make the most popular glass patterns after World War II, or introduced similar patterns, which are also collectible.
Another category of “Depression era” glass, usually handmade with more care and thus higher quality, is more accurately labeled “Elegant Glass”, as produced by such companies as Westmoreland Glass Company, Imperial Glass Company, Fostoria Glass Company, A. H. Heisey & Company, and others.
For more information on Depression glass, there are several websites online. For example, you might try the home page of the National Depression Glass Association here .
As far as reference books, often available at local libraries or at bookstores, as well as available for purchase online, every serious collector of Depression Glass would greatly benefit from obtaining and studying copies of “Colored Glassware of the Depression Era” (1970) and “Colored Glassware of the Depression Era, Book 2” (1974), written by noted collector, author and researcher Hazel Marie Weatherman. The books have been widely reprinted since the 1970s, and are chock full of great background information and photos– describing many patterns and pieces, and including reprints of various glass catalog pages, info on glass companies of that era, etc.
Also, I would strongly recommend the “Collector’s Encyclopedia of Depression Glass” series of books by Gene and Cathy Florence. This book has been through many editions, and contains great photographs, market trend information, and identification tips on the various patterns and the glass companies that made them. Some pricing may be out-of-date on older editions, but the photographs and background info on patterns make these books important and worthwhile to any collector of Depression Glass.
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