After inheriting her grandmother's collection of antiques, Dolores has maintained an interest in the care and sale of vintage items.
What Is Depression Glass?
Depression glass refers to a particular type of glass that is often associated with the Great Depression. However, many of the glass companies that offered the pretty patterned glass had been in business long before the stock market crash of 1929. Federal Glass Company, for example, opened in 1900. When it and other companies automated production techniques and began to offer inexpensive glass dinner and luncheon ware, consumers on the lower end of the economic spectrum were able to afford the pretty glass.
During the 1930s, the general public was unable to afford the niceties of life. People who were able to hang onto jobs often had their hours cut, and the rest lived in fear of job loss. Many lost their life savings when banks collapsed. Many businesses failed as a result of the harsh economic conditions.
Some businesses that remained open offered incentives for consumers in order to remain afloat. Depression glass was often used as an enticement to attract customers. Movie theaters featured "glass night" when attendees received free glassware along with the show. Depression glass was offered along with the purchase of kitchen appliances. Some pieces were included in boxes of soap or oatmeal.
Depression-era homemakers could find their favorite patterns at the five-and-ten or Woolworth's for as little as five cents each.
- Not all Depression glass is colored. Though clear pink and green have long been popular colors, other colors included amber, blue, amethyst, ruby red, and black. Many companies offered clear uncolored patterns usually referred to as "crystal" though they were not crystal per se.
- Not all colored glass is Depression glass. If the glass was handmade or hand-finished, it is generally not Depression glass.
- Elegant glass is sometimes included in the genre though many purists disagree. When the United States emerged from the Great Depression, new hand-finished glassware was sold at better department stores, though it had been produced for some time. Elegant glass usually shows an etched, highly polished design while Depression glass features slightly raised designs.
- Carnival glass is iridescent hand-finished glass produced from 1900–1925. Most pieces are decorative rather than functional. However, the Normandie pattern offered by the Federal Glass Company from 1933–1940 did have an iridescent quality.
- Just because it shows up on a Google image search does not mean it is Depression glass. This handy tool is a great place to browse pictures but images of other things may appear. Use the search to locate reliable pages.
- Not all Depression glass is translucent. Some items appeared in an opaque red, black, or green. Opaque white is thinner than milk glass.
The Collecting Craze
As the baby boomers plunged into a collecting mania in the 1980s, reproductions of popular vintage items were rampant. Some reproductions were created to fool buyers as the value of Depression glass skyrocketed. Other copies were offered just because people liked the look and did not want to use the real thing.
During those years, people bought up things for investment. The concept that "they don't make this any more" convinced buyers that the value could only escalate. Some shoppers had the idea that prices could only go up. Of course the value of collectables does go up as long as there is a demand.
As baby boomers began to downsize, suddenly everyone wanted to sell their old stuff. More and more Depression glass appeared on the market. But decorating trends influence shopping habits. The movement toward minimalism steered young people away from the fussy glass toward simpler items.
The good news is that the market is great for buyers. Prices go down with less demand. But buyers should still beware of the fakes of the late-20th century. Many avid collectors say they can identify the real thing by how it feels. For the most part, real Depression glass is lighter than reproductions. There may be slight imperfections in authentic Depression glass like tiny bubbles or ripples. Some may show minor scratches from use.
If you want to collect a particular pattern, get to know that pattern. Look closely at it. Hold it up to the light to study the color (the color of a fake may be off). Feel the heft of it. You should soon be able to judge what is real versus what is fake.
How to Identify a Pattern
Use a book or online guide to identify your pattern. Many guides provide simple images to make this easy. Look for several different things.
Shape guides display the general outline of a plate or bowl. Notice dips, scallops, or beaded edges. A plate may feature a smooth edge interrupted by dips. Trace the outline as shown below on a piece of paper. This makes comparison easier without the distraction of color or pattern details.
Notice where arcs, swirls, or other details lay on the edge of the item. Count large, obvious details such as the six straight edges on the green Florentine #1 sherbet plate as illustrated below.
Take a close look at the pattern on your piece. Decide on the prominent motif. It could be a style like Art Deco or geometric. You may see leaves, flowers, loops, petals, fruit, or birds. Concentrate on those obvious motifs in your search.
Patterns can be confusing so you need to hone your powers of observation. For instance, English Hobnail and Miss America can look very similar with just a cursory inspection.
When you find a pattern that appears to match your piece, check to see if the company that produced that pattern made it in the color that you have. If you find that it did not your piece is a reproduction. Or perhaps you misidentified the piece.
The heavy peachy pink pitcher above is a personal favorite for iced tea or ice water. Due to its shape, it was easy to identify by pattern. The design is an obvious series of diamonds bisected by vertical lines. The bottom features a circle of elongated diamonds with a center that resembles a daisy or sunburst.
Looking at various images of diamond patterns, I decided that my pattern was Windsor by Jeanette Glass Company and produced from 1936–1946. The book I was using did not include the 6 1/2" tall pitcher. So I searched online and found the same product at Replacements. The pitcher appears on Ebay priced between ten and sixty dollars. When searching for reliable prices, check out prices for sold items.
How to Determine Value
Many informative books on Depression glass are older and will not reflect current values. However, these older books can offer a lot of information and can be used to identify your pattern. Some excellent books are no longer in print. The good news is that older books can be found used online.
To find a value for your vintage glassware, shop around. Visit local antique dealers. Often, the demand for a particular pattern varies according to the area in which you live. Dealers can be quite informative especially if the shop is not very busy at the time of your visit.
Check online auction sites. Look at the "sold" price. You may want to disregard the highest asking prices as some sellers overvalue their goods. When browsing online look at sellers who specify the pattern. That means they have some knowledge of their wares.
If you want to sell your glass, do not expect to collect the full retail value of a piece as stated at sites like Kovel's or Replacements. Remember that a dealer must make overhead and profit. Consignment shops also must collect a percentage of the sold price. Some dealers lower the prices on goods that have not sold in a specific time.
What is value?
A pink Windsor pitcher (like the one shown above) sold for $40 online. I got mine for free! So if I sold it for $40, that would be a significant profit!
If you can't remember what you paid for a piece, you're downsizing and just need to get rid of stuff, price your glass a bit lower than everyone else. Someone gets a bargain and you get rid of stuff.
Many collectors of the past bought their dishware at flea markets, rummage sales, thrift stores, and yard sales. In that case, you may still make a tidy profit if you choose to sell today.
Take Care of Your Depression Glass
The general rule of microwave is that if an item was produced before microwaves were in use, do not place those old things in a microwave. That goes for Depression glass.
Do not clean Depression glass in a dishwasher. Wash in warm water by hand with a soft cloth.
If you love your old glassware, use it! What's the sense of hiding it?
There are tons of books out there about Depression glass. An older book may not help you understand the current value of your items but can help you research your pattern. Here are several resources:
- Barbara Mauzy's Comprehensive Handbook of Depression Glass, by Barbara and Jim Mouzy
- Pocket Guide to Depression Glass and More, by Gene and Cathy Florence
- Colors and Patterns of Depression Era Glassware Revised and Expanded Second Edition, by Doris Yeske and Lyle Fokken
- Warman's Depression Glass Handbook: Identification, Values, Pattern Guide, by Ellen Schroy
- Depression Glass and Beyond: A Guide to Pattern Identification, Schiffer Book for Collectors
Also check out the National Depression Glass Association where you can find information on dealers, conventions, seminars, and shows.
There are many informative online sites that can help you such as:
- Depression, Elegant, and 1940s, 50s, and 60s Glass Patterns, Identification Guide, by Kejaba Treasures
Questions & Answers
Question: I’ve inherited my grandparents clear with gold plated accents, cut glass bowl. It is signed on inside with a “G and what looks like an arrow”. Can you help me identify it?
Answer: The mark you describe sounds like the mark Imperial Glass Corporation used from 1951 - 1972. It is the letter G over the letter I but it looks like an arrow to me. Google image the mark to see if it's the one you mean.
Imperial Glass was founded in 1901 as New Crystal Glass but quickly changed to Imperial Glass. It was founded by Edward Muhlemon in Belaire, Ohio. During the early part of the 20th century, they made products for Woolworth's. They produced Carnival glass beginning in 1909. Later, they made imitation cut glass and art glass. They became Imperial Glass Corporation in 1931 creating Elegant glass as well as the famous Candlewick pattern. The company began to reissue old patterns in the 1960s and went out of business in 1984.
Question: I have a very old pink measuring cup with no name. There are no markings for measuring. What is the value?
Answer: Your measuring cup is most likely one of a set of four. Liquid measuring cups come with printed or raised lines and measures. Dry measuring cups made for measuring flour, nuts, and berries do not have markings. The nesting cups came in a one cup measure, a half cup measure, a third of a cup measure and one quarter cup measure.
Usually, a piece of a set will not be valued as high as if you had the entire set. Look around online to see if you can find the pattern and asking or sold prices.
Question: I have a pink set depression glass still in its FW Woolworth packaging. It's 4 or 5 boxes of glasses and stemware. Would this be a valuable find?
Answer: The best value in Depression glass depends on if the set is a pattern that is in high demand. When you comparison shop online, look for items in their original packaging, not just in Woolworth packaging. I've seen pretty sets offered for up to twenty dollars. Depression glass was once highly collectible but the lack of interest and the vast number of pieces for sale have deflated the value.
Question: Does Depression glass come with a mark on the bottom, mine has an F in a shield?
Answer: Some Depression glass is marked and some are not. Your F inside a shield indicated that your glass was produced by the Federal Glass Company. Some of their products were not marked. The company was founded in 1900 in Columbus, Ohio and produced handmade, etched glass. It went over to mass production in the 1920s. Federal Glass made many popular glass patterns including Normandie, Mayfair, Colonial Fluted, and Raindrops.
Consult one of the books that I have suggested to find your pattern.
Question: Does Depression glass coming in pink have the Lords last supper on it?
Answer: Pink glass trays or trinket trays were made to look like Depression glass in the 1970s and 1980s when molded glass was popular. The Last Supper tray also came in aquamarine or teal colored.
Question: I'm trying to find out how much my great grandmother's antique depression glass is worth. I have pink glass. I have vaseline glass. I have so much! How do I tell what the value is by looking at the marks on the pieces?
Answer: You can identify your Depression Glass by checking out marks on the bottom, but you also need to know the pattern. If the mark indicates a particular company, that is a help, but most companies made several patterns. You can identify the pattern by using one of the many books on the topic. Books show you how to identify patterns by studying shape, edges, color, size, and design. Designs can be floral, geometric, can show scrolls, lattice, or other elements. If you look at the products of a particular company, you will find out that certain patterns made by that company are in higher demand than other patterns made by the same manufacturer.
Once you learn more about each piece, you can search online to see what each item sells for. When possible, check the sold price. Sellers may over value their wares, so just because you see something offered for sale at a high price does not mean the seller will actually achieve that price.
Question: Did they ever make pink frosted globes for chandeliers or light fixtures?
Answer: When we think of Depression Glass, we usually think of the popular dishware manufactured during that period. Many glass companies at that time also made jars, lamps bases, and bowls for lighting fixtures. If you are trying to identify your glass there are many resources available including books such as:
"Antique Lamp Buyer's Guide: Identifying Late 19th Century and Early 20th Century American Lighting" by Nadja Meril
"Antique Trader Lamps and Lighting Price Guide" by Kyle Husfloen
"Early 20th Century Lighting Fixtures Featuring Gas and Electric, Ceiling, Wall, Table, and Art Glass Fixtures" by Jo Ann Thomas
"Lighting Fixtures of the Depression Era" by Jo Ann Thomas
Do not rely on older price guides as they will not reflect current values.
You can also check out the Corning Museum of Glass, a site that offers a wealth of information on glass. Find a glass club online or in your area for more information.
Question: I have a pale pink piece that I believe is a vase for flowers to put at a cemetery stone or mausoleum. I have never seen it anywhere. How do I identify it?
Answer: When you search for information about a piece, include the size and material in your search. Is it metal, glass, porcelain, cloisonne, etc. If it appears to be a vase with no base then it is probably a mausoleum piece. If you think it is a piece related to the funeral industry, take it to a funeral home and have them take a look at it. They may be able to point you in the right direction.
Question: I have a set of six glasses plus matching pitcher in green poinsettia pattern depression glass. What is the best way to find a relative value of this set of glasses?
Answer: The set you refer to is often called the poinsettia pattern because the image resembles that popular Christmas plant. Produced between 1931 - 1935, by the Jeanette Glass Company the set was originally called Floral. In her famous book on Depression glass, Hazel Marie Weatherman referred to the pattern as "passiflora."
The pretty pitcher is cone-shaped, tapering downward to a footed base. It has a nice, sturdy handle. Glasses are also cone-shaped. The set also comes in pink.
Follow the suggestions in the article to understand the value. Look for the set online to check asking or sold prices.
Question: I have a Dunbar Glass Co. pitcher. It stands about 9 inches tall, bulbous ringed body, footed base and and the clear handle is attached. The color is Cobalt Blue. Is it worth anything ?
Answer: You can find an image of what may be a smaller version of your Dunbar cobalt glass pitcher on the Museum of American Glass website. The pitcher there is decorated with hand painted tomatoes and was made in 1947. Check out the site to find more information about glass.
Dunbar Glass operated in Dunbar, West Virginia from 1913 - 1953 and was Flint Dunbar until the 1930s.
You may also find information online at the Corning Museum of Glass. Visit some glass shows to learn more. You'd be surprised at how many glasses shows there are in many parts of the country. Visiting a show will help you learn about current values. You can also hunt online sales sites. Check with them often as inventories change from week to week.
Question: I have an aquamarine glass plate with three rings in the middle, like a teacup saucer. What are the 3 rings for? Also, no makers mark.
Answer: Of course I can't be sure without really seeing what you mean but it sounds like it might be the bottom of a cheese or butter dish. Round, slightly flat butter dishes came with a lid. The circles may be where the lid sets. If this is the case, the rings would be slightly raised. Google Depression Glass round butter dish and see what comes up.
Jeanette made Doric and Pansy and Swirl in turquoise or aquamarine. Hazel Atlas used the color called Capri in several patterns.