Collecting Depression Glass for Beginners

Reviewed by Antique Collector Kate Miller-Wilson
Kate Miller-Wilson Kate Miller-Wilson

An avid antiques collector herself, Kate has written about antiques for many years. She has also managed an online antiques community.

American Depression Glass

Depression glass collections are beloved for their beauty more than their rarity and 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 these amazing pieces.

Depression Glass History

Depression era glassware is a very important part of the history of the Depression Era. The Great Depression started with the stock market crash of 1929 and ran through 1930s. "Depression glass got its name because it was the glass that was made during that time period," shares Carolyn.

What Is Depression Era Glass?

According to the National Depression Glass Association (NDGA), Depression glass is transparent glassware manufactured in America from the early 1920s through the end of World War II in 1945. Most of the time, this transparent glass was colored. This specific period of manufacturing 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 darkest of times.

Depression Glass Manufacturers

There were seven major glass manufacturers making glass from 1923 to 1939.

  • Federal Glass Company created new patterns of glassware from about 1927 to 1938.
  • Jeanette Glass Company is responsible for the famous Adam and Windsor patterns.
  • Hazel-Atlas Glass Company ran new patterns from 1930 to 1938.
  • Hocking Glass Company was one of the biggest U.S. glassware manufactures of Depression glass Their name became Anchor Hocking in 1937.
  • 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 became part of Corning in 1936 and is best known for their "American Sweetheart" pink pattern.
  • U.S. Glass Company had a short run of new patterns from 1927 to 1932.
Depression glass from the 1930's

Two Classes of Depression Glass

Gene Florence is often credited with putting Depression glass into two distinct classes.

  • 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, smaller companies called "hand houses."
  • 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.

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 there are 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.

Mauzy's Depresson Glass

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 are just for Depression glass, not Elegant glass.

  • The designs are usually slightly raised rather than etched.
  • Raised seams on the glass can be an indicator of Depression glass because of the quick manufacturing method.
  • Depression glass is not typically marked by a maker.
  • Most Depression glass was not iridescent.
  • Opaque white Depression glass is thinner than milk glass.
  • When possible, trace the outline of pieces like plates onto a piece of paper to help you compare the silhouette to known silhouettes.
  • The details of the pattern will help you differentiate between similar ones, so make specific notes on the motif.
  • Most manufacturers had signature patterns that are documented, so you can use the pattern to match the piece to a known Depression glass manufacturer.
  • 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 and Patterns

Nearly every color of glass was manufactured during the Great Depression era. Available colors include:

  • Amber
  • Green
  • Blue
  • Yellow
  • Pink
  • Amethyst
  • Red
  • Black
  • White
  • Crystal
Depression Glass Collection

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," says Carolyn.

  • 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 help and answer any questions of the collector.

Most Popular Depression Glass Colors

The popularity of Depression glass changes with the times.

  • At the time of manufacture, yellow and amber were the most popular colors, so large quantities of yellow and amber glass were made.
  • Pink, green, and blue depression glass seem to be the most popular today.
  • The Princess pattern from Hocking is popular because of the feminine scalloped edges.
  • The Royal Lace pattern is one of the most sought-after Depression glass pattern with the cobalt blue version being on top of the wanted list.

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 you're buying in.

  • An alexandrite color that was lavender, but changed hues in the light, was run by several companies for a very short time.
  • Manufacturer Heisey made a bright orange, or tangerine, glass on a short run that proved unpopular at the time.
  • Pink and yellow Cameo patterns from Hocking are rare because they were made for a limited time.
  • The actual type of dish plays into the value of Depression glass, not just the color.
  • Multi-colored or printed Depression glass can be very valuable.

Vintage amber pressed glass goblet

Rare Depression Glass

Carolyn warns 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 does not 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 it.

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.

table decorated with vases

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 as it was meant.

  • 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.

Get Your Own Depression Glass

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. You can shop on sites like eBay, at antique auctions in person and online, or at antique stores to find Depression glass. Keep history and identification details with the pieces so your heirs will know what they are when you pass them on.

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Collecting Depression Glass for Beginners