Depression Era Glass

A corner of the American Collecting Mania Hall of Fame must be preserved for Depression Era glassware. Few trends in collecting have enjoyed the massive of popularity of the glassware made for the American market from the beginning of the Great Depression and the start of World War II. At a time of much uncertainty Depression made a symbol of domestic security remain within the shortening economic grip of American homemakers.

Long before anyone would have called them antiques Depression era glassware attracted the attention of collectors, scholars, and industrial design enthusiasts. They were mass produced and thus relatively cheap. Companies of the era continued to make fine glassware for thus who could afford by hand or a mix of machine and hand blowing.

Technically speaking these more expensive pieces are not Depression Glass and are better called Depression Era Glass. Only those made entirely by machine and intended for inexpensive sell, often only a few cents apiece, in a crushing economy get the nit-picking victory of not requiring the vague ‘era’.

It is not just an association an inexpensive domestic product with the trials of the time that makes Depression Glass so appealing to collectors. Simply said, it was beautiful too. The glassware was rolled out in a stunning variety of colors and with an intricacy of pattern and substantial construction unimaginable in a modern mass-produced product.

Depression Glass comes in such a bewildering variety of styles and elaborate designs that many new comers to it have a difficult time accepting the idea that they were machine made.

The use of striking coloration in Depression Glass was no coincidence or victory of beauty over practicalities. The glass used to make the pieces was of the lowest quality, essential the same as that used to make commercial bottles and as a result contained many flaws. Air bubbles within the glass was common as were chemical impurities that gave clear glass uneven coloration. In order to mask these defects as well as add beauty to the pieces the glass was colored with all the shades of the rainbow.

This is not to imply that there is no clear Depression Glass. Many manufacturers released lines of clear products but the majority were colored.

In the beginning the glassware was only sold directly through retail outlets and was immediately successful. However, as the Depression spread and economics grew even tighter many businesses turned to handing out the glassware as promotional premiums. For example, movie houses would offer a different piece of some set each week to be given out with a ticket purchase.

It was also common practice for furniture store to give away entire sets with the purchase of new furniture. Sounds generous, but when you consider that it was possible to buy a complete set of Depression Glass dinnerware for four by mail order for $1.99, it becomes obvious that the give away cost the retailer little but gave the impression of a great deal.

The easiest way to judge the relative rarity and value of a particular piece or set is by its color. Some colors are cheap to make while others were more expensive. The color of glass is determined by the chemicals, usually metals, added to it. It is an almost universal rule that the cheaper the color was to create the more commonly it was used.

Blue was by far the most common color used in Depression Glass although aqua might be a better description. The addition of plentiful and cheap iron gave the glass its blue color. Other common colors were yellow and green. These colors were obtained by adding selenium, carbon, iron, or combinations of these.

Red and purple on the other hand required more expensive ingredients and are correspondingly rare. Red was produced by the addition of copper and even gold to the glass. By adding nickel or magnesium the glass would turn purple. Both of these colors are relatively rare and highly sought after by collectors of antique glassware.

An exception to the rule of expensive ingredients equaling rare colors is black. Black glass could be very cheaply produced using iron slag but black Depression Glass is quite rare. The reason being that, homemakers of the era wanted bright, cheery colors and lacked the modern fascination with black. It also possible that given the misery of the time that people needed all the uplifting environmental affects they could manage and staring at black dinnerware was a little more depression than they wanted.

Silas finch is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Collectible Antiques Etc. He can be reached at Content and Solutions or by email at silas@collectibleantiquesetc.com.

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