What is Depression Glass?

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.

Depression glass green dish - Unidentified pattern

Depression Glass green dish – Unidentified pattern

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.

Sharon ("Cabbage Rose") dinner plate in pink, made by Federal Glass Company, 1935-1939.

Sharon (“Cabbage Rose”) dinner plate in pink, made by Federal Glass Company, 1935-1939.

 

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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10 Responses to What is Depression Glass?

  1. Pingback: 11 Surprising Facts You Never Knew About Depression Glass – AccessViral

  2. I have some green depression glass items that do not glow under a UV lamp. Does this mean that they are not true depression glass pieces, possibly modern copies?

    • David says:

      Greg,
      I have heard there are some authentic green Depression pieces that do NOT glow under blacklight, and presumably that’s because the glass “recipe” used was slightly different, i.e. not containing uranium, yet resulting in a comparable green colored glass. I don’t know what pieces or patterns would fall under that heading. I’m sorry but I can’t say with certainty about what you have. Reproductions of Depression glass have been made since at least the late 1970s or early 1980s. If you haven’t already, check various editions of the depression glass books by Gene Florence, in which he briefly discusses some of the known reproductions out there. Also, some sellers on ebay are honest about the age of their items in their descriptions, so you might try searching auctions there with the keywords “Reproduction” and “Depression glass” to see a sampling of newer “depression style” glass being sold today in various patterns.
      ~David

  3. Pingback: Collecting True Depression Glass | widhalmscollectibles

  4. AnneMichelle says:

    What is the actual difference between depression and vaseline glass?

    • David says:

      Anne, the term “Vaseline Glass” has several meanings but the most common definition that most collectors would agree with is referring to a glass which is yellow to yellowish-green in color and glows bright green (that is, a stronger “glowing” yellow-green) under a blacklight because of URANIUM in the glass formula. Vaseline glass (especially that made in the 1880s) was often called “Canary”.

      “Depression Glass” is a very general term that means glassware, usually mass-produced and relatively inexpensive, that was made in large quantity during the late 1920s through the 1930s. One of the most common colors of Depression-era glass is a light to medium green, which often does contain a very small amount of Uranium, just enough to cause that type of glass to glow under a blacklight as well. HOWEVER, green-colored Depression glass is NOT “VASELINE”. They are two different types of glass. I hope this explains it. ~David

  5. John G says:

    The “green depression glass dish – unknown pattern” photo in your article appears to be the Paden City Glass line “party line” pattern. Found this at http://www.replacements.com/webquote/PCGPALG.htm while researching the same pattern and instantly recognized it.

  6. My mother Hazel Marie Weatherman researched and wrote the first book on Depression glass, traveling to almost all the glass companies mentioned here, meticulously identifying an compiling thousands of patterns and pieces. She published the annual Price Guides and the comprehensive Colored Glassware of the Depression Era, Book 2 (Glassbooks, 1969,1972). She appeared on the Walter Kronkite Evening News and in Newsweek magazine, both of which credited her with starting the collecting craze of the 70’s.

    • David says:

      Hi Annette, and thanks alot for your information! Those books are indeed classics, and a sampling of reader reviews posted on internet bookseller sites are overwhelmingly positive…….a great labor of love, and very painstakingly done with tons of background information and photographs. Obviously, a tremendous amount of time and effort was poured into them! I will insert a paragraph in my main text mentioning those books! Take care,
      ~David

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