Depression glass is among the most popular 20th century collectibles but what glassware manufactured in the 20th century is actually Depression Glass?
Depression Glass is a term that collectors use to describe cheap American colored pressed glass produced during the middle part of the twentieth century. At the height of it’s popularity, over one hundred different manufacturers were producing this glassware. Depression Glass was made in a rainbow of colors, including clear “crystal,” of course. A few patterns had enameled decals, or even gold gilding on some pieces.
Most of what is now collectible Depression Glass were sets of tableware, although a variety of kitchen items were also produced and some collectors specialize in these as well. Some companies had a dozen or more patterns in their product line. While the Depression began in 1929 and lasted until the end of World War 2, companies began producing this type of glassware in the early 1920′s and some patterns were still in production through the 1950′s.
Not all mid century glassware is “Depression Glass.” Carnival Glass, which was most popular around the turn of the century is characterized by a distinctive opalescent shine on the surface of the pieces. It gets its name from the fact that many pieces were given away as prizes for games at traveling carnivals. “Elegant Glass” is the modern collectors term for the higher quality lines of glassware available during the Depression Glass era. Many people label pieces of Elegant Glass as Depression Glass but it can usually be distinguished by visible signs of hand finishing. These include bases that have been ground smooth, a lack of mold marks which were often polished off, and sometimes the addition of designs done with acid etching or wheel cutting that were added to the pieces after they were taken from the mold.
At the time that it was produced, depression glass was very cheap. Much of it was given away as product premiums by food companies. Businesses like movie theaters and gas stations gave away pieces to attract customers, as well. During the financially difficult years of the actual depression these were the only dishes many families could afford to have at all. In spite of this, many of the pattern lines are very sophisticated by modern standards and include unusual pieces such as wine decanters, multiple pieces of stemware, special luncheon plates, a variety of vases and candlesticks, and a wide range of serving pieces from simple bowls to divided relish trays. The designs of various patterns range from very traditional to what, at the time, was very adventurous Art Deco style.
The days of Depression Glass being the last resort of the desperate are long gone. Beginning in the mid 70′s, Depression Glass gained popularity as a modern “collectable” and now the prices for the most avidly sought after patterns rival or surpass that of fine china. The rise in price has, unfortunately, led to the production of fakes in some of the more expensive patterns. The overall rise in the popularity of depression glass has prompted manufacturers to reissue honest contemporary editions of other patterns. Before you spend your money, you should educate yourself about the pattern you wish to collect and, as with any vintage, or antique item, only buy from trustworthy dealers.