How to Identify and Value Depression Glass
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 U.S. 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 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 new 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 may be 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. I also learned that one recently sold for $40 on Ebay.
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
- Helpful 11
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?
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.Helpful 11
Does Depression glass coming in pink have the Lords last supper on it?
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.Helpful 8
Does Depression glass come with a mark on the bottom, mine has an F in a shield?
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.Helpful 8
- Helpful 5