Depression glass collections are beloved for their beauty more than they are for their rarity and monetary value. Depression glass expert Carolyn Robinson, owner of White Rose Glassware and a board member of the National Depression Glass Association, shares the history of and tips for collecting the most sought after Depression glass around so that can you clinch the best deals on your next collecting adventure.
Depression Glass History
Depression era glassware is a very important part of the cultural history of the Depression Era. The Great Depression was a period of rapid decline in the global financial markets, resulting in massive wealth loss and unemployment for people around the world; it started with the stock market crash of 1929 and ran throughout the 1930s. "Depression glass got its name because it was the glass that was made during that time period," shares Carolyn.
What Is Depression Glass?
According to the National Depression Glass Association (NDGA), Depression glass is a type of transparent glassware manufactured in America from the early 1920s through 'til the end of World War II in 1945. Most of the time, this transparent glass was lightly colored in a rainbow of hues. While there were similar types of glassware made with molds and transparent colors, the specific period of manufacturing in which they were created is what really qualifies a piece of glass as Depression glass.
Depression Glass Manufacturing
Most of this glass was mass produced by machine in bulk and sold through five and dime stores or given away as promotional items for other products of that time. Depression glass was often packed in cereal boxes, flour sacks, or given away as gifts at the local movie theaters, gasoline stations, and grocery stores. It helped bring families together at mealtimes and added a bright spot of color through those dark times.
Major Depression Glass Manufacturers
There were seven major glass manufacturers making glass from 1923 to 1939.
- Federal Glass Company - The Federal Glass Company created new patterns of glassware from about 1927 to 1938.
- Jeanette Glass Company - The Jeanette Glass Company is responsible for the famous Adam and Windsor patterns.
- Hazel-Atlas Glass Company - The Hazel-Atlas Glass Company ran new patterns from 1930 to 1938.
- Hocking Glass Company - The Hocking Glass Company, later the Anchor Hocking Glass Company in 1937, was one of the biggest U.S. glassware manufactures of Depression glass.
- Indiana Glass Company - The Indiana Glass Company made the first four Depression glass patterns and introduced new patterns of glassware for ten years from 1923 to 1933.
- Macbeth-Evans Glass Company - The Macbeth-Evans Glass Company became part of Corning in 1936 and is best known for their "American Sweetheart" pink pattern.
- U.S. Glass Company - This lesser-known company had a short run of new patterns from 1927 to 1932.
Two Classes of Depression Glass
Gene Florence is often credited with categorizing Depression glass into two distinct classes.
- Elegant glass - Elegant glass features a lot of hand finishing after the glass was removed from the mold. Because of this extra work and attention to detail, elegant glass was manufactured by fewer and smaller companies called "hand houses."
- Depression glass - Depression glass is the class of glass that did not use any hand finishing. Dishes were simply removed from molds and distributed, mostly as promotional items, and produced en mass.
The Appeal of Depression Glass
Through organizations like the NDGA and various Depression glass clubs across the United States, the heritage of this special glass is being preserved. People love collecting the glass because it's full of history and beauty. Carolyn especially believes, "The pretty glass that brought families together during the Depression Era continues to bring families together today."
Identifying Depression Glass
With over 100 patterns from about 20 manufacturers, it can be really hard to identify real Depression glass. Carolyn suggests that there're many books on Depression glass identification that could help you. She thinks, "Mauzy's Depression Glass, by Barbara and Jim Mauzy, is an excellent book on the subject." Attending Depression glass shows and talking with experienced Depression glass dealers is a great way to learn about Depression glass, too.
How to Identify Depression Glass
Identifying Depression glass comes down to research or an expert opinion. You have to look at the pattern, color, and type of glassware, then research known collections from known manufactures to make a positive identification. These identifying tips that can help you pick out a piece of Depression glass are only useful for Depression glass, not Elegant glass.
- Look for raised designs - The designs are usually slightly raised rather than etched.
- Look for raised seams - Raised seams on the glass can be an indicator of Depression glass because of the quick manufacturing method.
- Find a lack of maker's marks - Depression glass is not typically marked by a maker.
- Look for muted colors - Most Depression glass was not iridescent.
- Check for thin pieces - Opaque white Depression glass is thinner than milk glass.
- Compare silhouettes to known pieces - When possible, trace the outline of pieces like plates onto a piece of paper to help you compare the silhouette to known silhouettes.
- Take notes on the motifs - The details of the pattern will help you differentiate between similar ones, so make specific notes on the motif.
- Check pristine pieces for imperfections - Reproductions will often be scratch resistant and flawless.
Typical Flaws in Depression Glass
Because Depression glassware was often mass produced quickly, you will see typical flaws in the glass that don't impact the value. Depression glass was also made to be used, so you often find scratches and chips. Flaws you could expect to see include:
- Bubbles in the glass
- Inconsistent coloring
- Flaws from the molds
Depression Glass Colors
Nearly every color that glass could be made into was manufactured during the Depression era. Available colors of Depression glass include:
Most Popular and Valuable Depression Glass Colors
Depression glass, with its rainbow of colors, very seldomly ever falls out of fashion, and pieces are often the fastest-selling types of glassware in antique and thrift stores. However, their popularity doesn't really translate into their values, with Depression glass being some of the most affordable vintage glassware on the market. Originally invented to be an affordable and stylish option, both individual pieces and full sets of depression glass can sell for anywhere between $5-$250 depending on their color and pattern.
Typically, amber and green are some of the most abundant Depression glass colors, with pink (while not particularly rare) being the most popular color today. Less-common colors like cobalt blue, tangerine, and red can sell for comparatively more than the aforementioned colors thanks to their rarity. Similarly, unusual dishes and tools - things out of the norm for a typical dishware set (which includes things like dinner plates, tea cups, saucers, salad bowls, and so on) - can sell for higher individual values due to their more one-of-a-kind nature.
Iconic Depression Glass Patterns to Look For
One of the most appealing aspects of Depression glass is the multitude of patterns that were stamped onto these colorful dishes, making them highly customizable and easily collectible. Granted, as specific glass companies like the Anchor Hocking Glass Company and Hazel Atlas began acquiring smaller production facilities, pattern molds changed ownership several times. Despite the sometimes confusing nature of attributing patterns to Depression glass, there are a few patterns which stand above the rest for how desirable they were in the past and still are today.
- Mayfair - Also known as the Open Rose pattern, Mayfair was made by the Anchor Hocking Glass Company between 1931-1937 and came in an assortment of colors, including pink, blue, yellow, and green.
- Cameo - The Anchor Hocking Glass Company produced the Cameo Depression glass pattern between 1930-1934. Most commonly, the pattern was made in green, though you can find it in yellow, crystal, and pink.
- Royal Lace - Royal Lace was a pattern released by the Hazel Atlas Company between 1934-1941 and came in cobalt blue, green, pink, and crystal varieties.
- American Sweetheart - Released by the Macbeth Evans Glass Company between 1930-1936, the American Sweetheart pattern came in pink and crystal varieties.
- Madrid - The Madrid pattern was produced between 1932-1939 by the Federal Glass Co. in such colors as pink, amber, green, and blue.
Collectible Depression Glass
All colors, patterns, and manufacturers of Depression glass are collectible. Some people collect Depression glass stemware, some collect plates, some collect salt and pepper shakers, and some collect whole Depression glass sets. "Collections fit the personality of the collector," Carolyn explains.
- Everyone has their own personality, and so does the glass and collecting glass. Only collect the glass that you really like.
- Collectors should only buy what is considered "mint" glass. This is glassware that has no chips, scratches, or repairs of chips.
- Before buying glass, ask the dealer to point out any imperfections or repairs. A reputable dealer will be glad to answer any questions.
Most Valuable Depression Glass Colors
The most valuable Depression glass colors are the ones that were manufactured in short runs because they weren't popular sellers at that time. The value of Depression glass changes over time with supply, demand, and the part of the country that you're buying in.
- Alexandrite colored glass - An alexandrite color that was lavender, but changed hues in the light, was run by several companies for a very short time.
- Tangerine colored glass - Manufacturer Heisey made a bright orange, or tangerine, glass on a short run that proved unpopular at the time.
- Cameo pattern in pink and yellow - Pink and yellow Cameo patterns from Hocking are rare because they were made for a limited time.
Unusual colors or printed glass - Multi-colored or printed Depression glass can be very valuable.
Rare Depression Glass
Carolyn warns that there is "a difference between rare glass and hard to find glass." Most Depression glass patterns have one or more pieces within the pattern that are hard to find. That doesn't make those pieces rare.
- Rare glass is a piece that was only made a few times and is hardly ever seen, because only a few of those pieces were made.
- You need to know the history of a design and manufacturer to figure out the rarity of the piece.
- The rarest piece Carolyn ever saw was a Pink Cherry Blossom cookie jar that was on display at one of the NDGA conventions.
Tips for Depression Glass Collectors
Carolyn's biggest tip for Depression glass collectors is to find pieces you love, not choose them by valuation. The value fluctuates often, but your love of the piece will not.
Get to Know Your Glass
Collecting Depression glass is as much about history lessons as it is about having nice things. You need to be able to describe every detail of your dishes and spend the time researching Depression glass to find out what pattern your piece is, who made it, and how old it is.
Start With One Set
If you're a true beginner, it might be more helpful to look through guidebooks and choose the pattern, manufacturer, or specific items you want to collect. Then you can go on a hunt to find them. Alternatively, you might find a piece you love at an antique shop and try to find the rest of the pieces from its original set.
Shop in Person When Possible
Since you need to see all the details inside the glass and on the outside, it's easiest to look at Depression glass in person. If you can't shop at an antique store or similar location, make sure you request lots of close-up photos of a piece before you buy it.
How to Use and Care for Your Depression Glass
Depression glass was made to be used and bring joy to families. So, it's perfectly safe to use your Depression glass.
- Keep in mind this glass was made before the invention of the microwave, so you shouldn't put it in the microwave.
- Heat can affect the glass, so you shouldn't put it in the oven or on the stovetop either.
- Hand washing is ideal, but Carolyn shares, "Occasional cleaning glass in the dishwasher does not hurt the glass."
Storing and Displaying Your Depression Glass
Whether you use, store, or display your glass is a personal decision. Carolyn "likes to display glass where it can be enjoyed." If it has to be stored, wrap each piece individually in plain paper, cloth, or bubble wrap and store in cardboard boxes or plastic containers. Sudden temperature changes can cause the glass to crack or break, so try to store the glass in areas where the temperature remains constant.
Check Your Own Closets for Depression Glass
If you're thinking about bringing a few of these pieces home with you, then the first place to start when collecting Depression glass is with your own family and close friends. Chances are, one of the older people in your life has some real Depression glass, and if they don't, you can find an abundance of pieces at antique auctions in person and online. Thanks to their sturdy and cheap construction, these glassware sets make the perfect dishes for high tea and special occasions.