Depression Glass

“Poinsettia” pattern footed tumblers by Jeanette Glass Co.
Attribution: Angela Sickelsmith via Stockvault

Depression Glass is a term used to cover a broad range of mass-produced, inexpensive glassware. It was very popular from the late 1920s, throughout the 1930s during the height of the Depression, and into the 1940s.

During this stressful and difficult era, many Americans lost their jobs. Others, only slightly more fortunate, were forced to take deep pay cuts. Learning to survive on little or no money became the way of life for many families for well over a decade.

These were fairly dreary times for average Americans and the inexpensive molded glassware, mass-produced in a variety of beautiful colors, brought a cheerful accent into the homes of those who could no longer afford very much. 

Depression glass was popular with thrifty homemakers because it was new and affordable. It could be purchased at the dime store. Stores such as Woolworth’s were a source for this inexpensive and useful everyday glassware. A loaf of bread cost a nickel. A piece of glassware sold for the same price.

Even better, many businesses, gas stations and movie theaters gave away glassware as a premium; a glass punch bowl with a set of cups for an oil change, or a glass bowl for the price of a Saturday matinee movie ticket. A free piece of glass might be in a box of detergent, a bag of flour or in a box of oatmeal.  Practical and penny-wise women took full advantage of the “freebies” offered from wherever they came.

A huge quantity of true Depression glass was made in the Ohio River Valley. Manufacturing was fairly inexpensive in the first half of the 20th century due to the relatively free access to raw materials— silica sand, soda ash and limestone— and easily available power sources.

According to an article in the New York Times: “Depression glass was the first glassware in American history to be produced by a completely automated method without need for skilled glass blowers, so the major glass companies could sell complete 20-piece dinner sets for as little as $1.99. This low-priced glassware found a ready market at a time when most people could not afford hand-finished glass.” More than 20 companies designed and produced over 100 innovative and elegant patterns from which the interested buyer could choose.

Major companies producing depression glass during this time included Hocking, later Anchor-Hocking; Hazel Atlas; Fenton Glass Company; Federal Glass Company; Imperial Glass Company, Indiana Glass Company; U.S. Glass; Mac-Beth Evans; Jeannette Glass Company and Lancaster Glass among others. This molded glassware came in colors and patterns to suit every taste. 

The most common and popular colors produced were light to medium green, pink, amber, pale blue and clear crystal. Other less common colors included canary yellow, ultramarine jadeite, opaque pale green and blue, ruby, black, amethyst, and white milk glass.

Fostoria “American” plate.
Attribution: Kdm85 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

The major disadvantage of this inexpensive glassware was its low quality. Being cheaply mass-produced, the pieces frequently displayed air bubbles, mold marks and other flaws in the glass.  It is amazing that so much of it has survived to the present day and is highly-prized as a collectible.

When one decides to either begin or add to an existing collection, look beyond the surface flaws.  Avoid pieces with chips or cracks.  Finding and collecting Depression glass is fascinating and fun. The  pieces seem to be imbued with a wealth of history and add a note of cheerful brightness to a home as they did many years ago.

The most popular colors with collectors today are the various shades of pink, cobalt blue and green. Pattern names favored by today’s buyers include Cameo, Mayfair, American Sweetheart, Princess and Royal Lace.

In a thesprucecrafts.com article on collecting Depression glass, some of the challenges facing collectors today are noted:

Have I learned enough about Depression glass to know what I am buying?

Has the pattern I’ve chosen to collect been reproduced or reissued? Some depression glass patterns have been reproduced. There are many reproductions on the market today, particularly on online auction sites.

Do I understand the issues relating to condition, which can diminish the value of Depression glass?

Do I know how to examine glassware for damage?

All reasons to become not only an enthusiastic collector, but a well-informed one. There are many reference books on glass companies and patterns, newsletters and internet sites, as well as groups such as the National Depression Glass Association. These groups are great starting points for interested collectors. They offer in-depth reference articles, glass company advertisements, upcoming and current glass shows, and tips for shopping and buying.

To find a list of current auctions and prices of Depression glass, the site www.antiquesnavigator.com is a good source of information. The online auction site www.liveauctioneers.com is another source for what is for sale as well as the prices of items that have been sold.

A number of years ago, the president of the Long Island Depression Glass Society remarked on the one reason for the popularity of this glassware is that it comes from a period in our history many people remember with nostalgia. Also, since this glass is not yet considered an antique, pieces can still be found for reasonable prices, although as the availability of desirable pieces decreases, prices are definitely on the rise.

Sources

Kitchen Glassware of the Depression Years Identification and Values, 6th Edition. Gene and Kathy Florence, Collector Books, Schroeder Publishing, 2001

Collectors Encyclopedia of Depression Glass, 13th Edition. Gene Florence, Collector Books, Schroeder Publishing. An excellent resource. Full-page illustrations of many popular patterns and colors.

What is Depression Glass? Newsletter Article in glassbottlemarks.com

Antique Depression Glass. Newsletter article in CollectorsWeekly.com

Depression Glass Daze (Monthly Newsletter)

Collecting Depression Glass.

Depression Glass. Price Guide and Pattern Identification.

Articles in thesprucecrafts.com

Antique Depression Glass Price Guide. kovels.com

The National Depression Glass Association   ndga.net

Historical Glass Museum, Redlands, Calif. The largest collection of American made glass West of the Rockies.   www.historicalglassmuseum.com

Green Depression glass, various patterns. Attribution: holly from asheville, NC [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]