Stories to Tell: Collecting Classic Transferware

Make a statement on your holiday table with classic transferware dishes.

Red transferware lends its cheery hue to holiday vignettes
Transferware comes in many colors, but during the holiday season, red is our color of choice!

Temptingly graphic with stories to tell, antique transferware comes into its own at holiday time. With elaborate borders and endearing scenes, each piece of transferware pottery is a miniature work of art. A few pieces grouped together or a large collection displayed en masse make an exquisite decorative statement. Transferware, with its subject matter, technique and colors, is timeless—a classic that is admired just as much today as it was in the 18th century.

Red transferware plate with cows

What Is Transferware?

Transferware is a type of pottery that is decorated by a process developed in England in the mid-1750s. To produce each colorful design, a master pattern was engraved on copper, glazed with color and transferred to thin paper. These sections of paper were applied one by one to a piece of pottery before the piece was put into the kiln. Many patterns were so complex that it took over a month to engrave the copper master sheet.

a holiday vignette featuring red transferware

History

Transferware was made all over Europe and the United States in many colors and patterns. Before transfer printing was developed, each piece in a dinner set had to be painted by hand, a costly process, making decorated dishes completely out of reach for working class families.

The industrial revolution in England changed that. The transfer process meant pottery patterns could be reproduced repeatedly, allowing middle class families to enjoy appealing dinnerware similar to that found in the homes of the gentry. By the 1800s, factories were producing entire tableware sets, most in romantic patterns featuring a man and woman in lush landscapes.

A display of red transferware plates and a platterWhat to Look For

Most transferware on the market today is from the mid to late 1800s. Especially appealing are pieces from the late 1800s Aesthetic Movement, when artists believed that creating something for beauty alone justified their artwork. Look for Oriental patterns, free-flowing asymmetrical designs, lavish florals and garden scenes filled with exotic birds, trees and lush landscapes.

Holiday vignette featuring red transferware

Most transfer pieces are marked on the bottom with the maker’s mark, and often with a pattern name. Some early pieces are unmarked; they are just as valuable. The older the transferware, the more “misses” you will see where the pattern joins at the seams. Unless it truly is a huge miss, this does not devalue a piece.

Prices can range from a lucky find at a flea market for well under $100.00 to thousands at an auction house, depending on rarity, size, and who else wants to add that piece to their collection.  Of all the colors of transferware, yellow was the least produced, therefore the most rare and costly to acquire.

Next time you come across a striking platter, bowl or cup, don’t hesitate to add it to your antique collection. The darling of decorators, transferware is decorative as well as useful. Whether you display your collection on your walls, or set a holiday table, these pieces have survived for over a hundred years and are meant to be used and bring joy.

For more on Lidy Baars and French Garden House, visit frenchgardenhouse.com



Depression Glass History and Collecting Tips

Produced cheaply, and often given away for free, Depression Glass has become a favorite collectible for flea market hunters.

pink dogwood depression glass
The Dogwood pitcher and tumblers as well as the sherbet dishes and cake plates were not common pieces. The MacBeth-Evans Glass Company didn’t produce many patterns of Depression glass, but they made a large selection of pieces in each of their patterns.

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.

green depression glass table setting
The transparency of Depression Glass works well with the colorful patterns of vintage tablecloths

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.

amber depression glass compote dish

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.

green depression glass teacup and sacer

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.