Collecting Depression Glass

By Heather Matthews

Collecting Depression Glass gets harder all the time. Since the 1960s interest in this transparent yet colorful antique glass has skyrocketed. Originally, Depression Glass was created for the common people, and widely distributed at low cost, or no cost at all. During the devastating economic climate of the Great Depression, examples of this budget glasswork were everywhere. But times have changed, the number of people collecting antique depression glass today has made the price rise, and made it much harder to find. So much Depression Glass already rests with collectors, that finding examples of these antiques in good to mint condition has become a challenge.

If you are a collector of Depression Glass, there are some things you should be aware of as you seek to expand your collection. The chances of getting fake Depression Glass are shockingly high, as reproductions abound. Some manufacturers specialize in making near-perfect reproductions of Depression Glass (and they are quite open and honest about this) but other, shadier, dealers may try to pass off modern versions of Depression Glass as the real thing. In order to really understand what you are collecting, and what authentic Depression Glass is, you need to look at the history and the construction of the material.

A lot of the pleasure derived from collecting Depression Glass is due to its rich, vibrant history, when it brought welcome cheer and color to lives that were hardscrabble and tough. Much of the glass was offered to Americans as gifts with purchases, or else at very economical prices; it was available in a rainbow of lovely colors, and though it may have had little flaws, such as heavy seams from glass molds, and air bubbles, its charm and affordability more than compensated for small design flaws.

Some popular colors for the glass are amber, pale amethyst, cobalt blue, emerald green, and pale pink: there is also white and clear Depression Glass.

During the Great Depression, shoppers could find a lovely piece or two of Depression Glass for five to ten cents, and the glass became a common fixture in almost every American kitchen. Quaker Oats and other companies would also put Depression Glass in their boxes as a prize, or else allow the buyer to use coupons which could be redeemed for free glassware.

Once you’ve determined the authenticity of the Depression Glass you are interested in buying, examine the piece with a fine-tooth comb, looking carefully at its surface in bright light. Condition is a problem that can affect your investment. Certain flaws will really cause the value of this glassware to diminish. Damage in the form of chips and cracks in the glass due to heavy everyday use in family homes, may further underscore the genuine nature of what you are buying, but you should avoid collecting damaged glass. Only Depression Glass in good to mint condition is really prized and valued by collectors. Under the strongest light you can find, examine the glass from all angles, looking for damage. Until you’ve found a piece that is clean of chips and other flaws, you should keep looking.

There are other forms of damage that are more subtle, but equally detrimental to the value of your glassware. If Depression Glass had been loaded into modern dishwashers, it will become clouded with thousands of tiny scratches in the surface. In collector lingo, glassware damaged in this manner is referred to as "sick." You should not expect to see any increase in value on this type as glassware, as it is, for collecting purposes, ruined, and you should avoid paying high prices for these pieces. They are best avoided.

There are many great ways to compare the prices and value of various patterns and makes of Depression Glass in today’s internet age: antique guides, online websites, magazines, collector’s groups, and countless other sources of information will allow you to really assess the value of your collection, and the wisdom in buying new pieces at certain price . The more you educate yourself about the history and characteristics of this colorful glass, the more likely you are to find pieces that are genuine and in good condition. Although many collectors vie for the same items, you can scour flea markets and estate sales, looking for any untapped sources of original Depression Glass.

The beauty of this glassware endures: it represents a sense of hope in desperate times, with its bright colors and creative shapes. It is a true piece of Americana, and its staying power as a collectible only rises higher in modern times.

The main manufacturers of Depression Glass were three American companies, who created masses of the molded glassware for Americans from all walks of life: Federal Glass, Hocking Glass, and MacBeth Evans. These companies will always be linked to the best examples of true, authentic Depression Glass.

From its simple origins as a five and dime store item, this glassware now commands prices in the hundreds to thousands of dollars, and its value will only increase as the interest in collecting quintessentially American items continues to grow. A simple pair of candleholders in Depression Glass have been known to go for as much as $1500.00 at auction, so the potential of this genre of collectible is excellent for long-term investments.

When you are investing in fragile glassware, remember that you must ensure it remains free of scratches, chips and cracks under you care. In order to protect your investment, you should keep it out of the reach of anything or anyone that might lessen its value, even a metal wristwatch could scratch the surface of this material, so be careful when you handle it, or let others handle it.

There are many popular patterns of Depression glass, such as Cherry Blossom, and Madrid. You can try to collect a full set of the pattern you like best, but it will be challenging to avoid the plethora of repros and damaged items that will cross your path. If collecting Depression Glass is a labor of love for you, as it is for so many, you will enjoy the challenge of the hunt, and take real pleasure in owning these colorful symbols of hope, and a brighter future.



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