When we go to the movies these days, we don’t expect to get free popcorn – let alone free dishes. But in the depths of the Great Depression glass dishware was so inexpensive to manufacture that many companies simply gave it away as an incentive to buy their products, including cereal makers, gas stations, carnivals and cinemas.
While generally made with low-quality glass, the plates, saucers, cups and bowls that are today classified as “Depression Glass” have bright colors and pretty molded patterns that make them as fun to collect today as they were 80 years ago. In fact, Depression Glass is so popular these days it can be hard to find on the vintage and antique market. A tumbler that came out of an oatmeal box might be worth several hundred dollars today. More common pieces might cost you just a few dollars.
Here’s a quick run-down of some facts you should know if you find the pretty pink, green, blues and yellows of Depression Glass tickling your collector’s fancy.
Depression Glass History
Depression glass refers specifically to glass produced between the mid-1920s to about the end of World War II.
Nearly all Depression glass was produced in or near the Ohio River Valley, with about 20 companies producing approximately 100 different patterns during the period. Some of the most important manufacturers were Hazel Atlas Glass Company, Hocking Glass Company, Federal Glass Company, Indiana Glass Company, MacBeth-Evans Glass Company, Jeanette Glass Company, Imperial Glass Company, Lancaster Glass Company, U.S. Glass Company, and L. E. Smith Glass Company.
The most popular colors for Depression Glass are light-to-medium green, pink, amber and clear. Other colors include pale blue, ruby red, deep cobalt, canary yellow, ultramarine, jadeite, amethyst, black, jadeite (opaque pale green), delphite (opaque pale blue), monax (translucent white), and white (milk glass).
Most green-colored Depression Glass pieces have trace amounts of uranium which makes the glass glow under black lights. (The levels of radiation are insignificant, and less than our daily exposure from other sources.)
The most popular patterns among collectors today are Cameo, Mayfair, American Sweetheart, Princess and Royal Lace. You can see a gallery of other patterns here.
Tips for Buying Depression Glass
Flaws are to be expected in Depression Glass. Bubbles, straw marks, inclusion, molding flaws, color discrepancies, and so forth only add to the charm of the pieces. However, before buying check pieces carefully for damage including chips on rims and edges, cracks on handles (especially at the base of a pitcher), and scratches from utensils. Glass that has been clouded or permanently etched by automatic dishwashers is called “sick” glass and can’t be restored.
Asian-produced reproductions have flooded the market in recent years. Telltale signs such as less-detailed designs and a greasy feeling to the glass may indicate a reproduction. Many references exist to help you identify authentic Depression Glass, and always shop through a reputable dealer.
While frugal shoppers could buy Depression Glass for the same price as a loaf of bread when it was new (that’s about 5 cents!), prices are a little more varied. Research before you buy to be sure you’re getting a reasonable price on desired pieces. Books and online price guides can help keep your budget on track.
There are many ways to build a Depression Glass collection, whether you choose to seek out pieces in a particular pattern, collect widely in one or two colors, or collect multiple pieces of a particular type (like pitchers, teacups or cake stands). The choice is up to you!
For further information on particular patterns and manufacturers, visit the National Depression Glass Association here.