A Cheerful Mood for Depression Glass
By Karen S. Murray, ISA
Some collectibles come and go, but depression glass has held its own since it was first produced during the late 1920’s and continuing into the 1940’s. Some acquire it for its color or pattern; some collect it for nostalgic memories of “grandma’s cupboard”. Whatever the reason, it remains very popular in the world of collectables. It is not especially high quality glassware, with the lack of polishing or hand finishing. But at the time, manufacturing was changing and the need for more affordable kitchenware was evident.
Depression glass originally came about as a marketing tool by companies who included pieces free with the purchase of everyday products such as oatmeal and powdered detergent. Movie theatres, gas stations and carnivals gave it away as incentives or prizes. It could be purchased inexpensively at five and dime stores or Woolworth’s. With their varied patterns and pretty colors, this machine made molded glass had a huge appeal to those wanting a colorful tablescape but for whom fine china was too pricey. It was also a nod to better times, to help brighten homes and lift spirits during the difficult times of the Great Depression.
The first step in finding the value of collectable glassware is identifying the manufacturer and the pattern. The most notable companies to produce Depression glass were: Indiana Glass, Hocking Glass, Federal Glass, Jeanette Glass, MacBeth Evans Glass, US Glass and Hazel-Atlas Glass. Patterns are varied and numerous, but popular ones include: Cameo, Mayfair, Princess, Royal Lace and American Sweetheart. Common colors are greens, pinks, cobalt and amber (as well as clear). Less common (and usually more desirable) are ultramarine, black, amethyst and red.
Original Depression glass is often confused with reproductions, which were manufactured in the 1960’s and continue today. There are deliberate counterfeits being sold as the real thing, but there are also copies made in a slightly different color or size. Then you have the difficult problem where the original glass maker reissued a design long after the initial one was made. This makes for tricky identification, but there are some things to look out for in evaluating the authenticity of Depression glass. First and foremost, look for flaws such as small bubbles, seams and straw marks or lines. Typically, the reproductions will not have these flaws. Also, check for thickness and weight. A reproduction piece is often thicker and heavier than an older piece.
It is important to learn your patterns and get a good “feel” for Depression glass. Not all patterns have been reproduced (in fact, only about a dozen), so knowing a pattern well and comparing originals to reproductions will give you more confidence in knowing the difference. An example of a reissue is the Madrid pattern (original pictured here):
Federal Glass made this pattern from 1932 to 1939. They reissued it in 1976 and changed the name to Recollection. They did not use the original molds, but new ones. However, the look is very similar (and meant to be). There are, though, a few clues you can be aware of. For example, the Butter Dish Lid has a knob with a vertical mold seam on the newer Recollection pieces and a horizontal seam on the older pieces. In creamers, the spouts rise above the rim on newer pieces and dip below the rim on older pieces. It may not be that important to you to know the difference. You buy it because you like the look of it. But if you would ever like (or need) to know the value, these distinctions are critical. Another example is Cobalt Blue Royal Lace made by Hazel Atlas, pictured here.
This pattern is one of the more scarce and pricey of all American Depression Glass. In 1996, Royal Lace was reproduced in 5 oz. juice glasses. The following summer, the same occurred for the 9 oz. tumblers and the cookie jars. An original Royal Lace cookie jar is valued at about $350-500, whereas a reproduction sells for about $20. A 9 oz. original tumbler has a value of $65-80, whereas the repro goes for about $5. In this case, you want to look first at color. The reproductions are usually a darker blue. You also want to inspect mold details. There would be a mold seam in the lid of an original cookie jar, but not in a reproduction. The bottom of the cookie jar would have a plunger mark, where the newer piece would be plain and smooth. In a tumbler, the glass is thicker on the bottom in a newer glass. These are just a few examples of things to look for when evaluating this particular pattern.
Depression glass continues to have wide appeal perhaps because it is pretty to display, while still being usable. Perhaps it is because it is still relatively affordable to purchase. Because Depression glass was often used as everyday dishware, many pieces found today have condition issues. If you do find original pieces in good shape, you might consider adding to your collection…especially now that you can spot those reproductions a bit faster!