Depression Glass: What Is It and How Do You Collect It?
Plus, find out how much it's worth today.
Pale pink is the color du jour—in homes, restaurants, and even workspaces. In an earlier time, it was prevalent in glassware better known as Depression glass. Today, Depression glass is the term for the colored or transparent glassware that was mass-produced in the United States during the 1920s and 1930s. This colorful glassware, an inexpensive and cheerful antidote to the dark days of the Great Depression, was not actually known by its current name until the 1970s, when collectors named it. Pink is the most commonly found color of Depression glass available today, followed by green. You can also find it in red, amber, yellow, blue, white, and clear. "There are just too many glasses out there for one collector to get them all," says Michael Kelly, co-author of Collectible Drinking Glasses: Identification and Values.
Still, if you're inclined to try, here, we offer a guide to this vintage American glassware from collecting experts.
The History of Depression Glass
When the Great Depression plummeted the country's market, costly glassware fell out of favor among consumers. Depression glass grew popular, in its stead, particularly among consumers who sought the look of opulent place settings for a fraction of the cost. Manufacturers mass-produced these pieces speedily, which meant that imperfections were common: bubbles, molding flaws, and inconsistent coloring. They were meant for daily use and used in American households as such, which meant that pieces today show their years of wear. In fact, it's odd to find Depression glass without a single chip or scratch to it. On the positive side, these imperfections rarely affect their value and, as some collectors would say, even add to their charm.
The value of Depression glass has been rising steadily in recent years. A 10-inch dinner plate, for instance, was valued at $16 in the '80s, but sells for $35 today. Yet the cost of most Depression glass is still quite reasonable. A cake plate could sell for as little as $13, a sugar bowl for $7, and an attractive footed tumbler for $25. "I've learned that if you want a certain glass, be patient," says Kelly. "It will eventually come up at a price you want to pay."
Many pieces were never marked, so the lack of identification doesn't necessarily have a bearing on the value or authenticity of the piece. Among the companies that did mark their glass was Heisey, whose brand was an "H" inside a diamond shape. The symbol on Federal's glass was an "F" inside a shield. If you don't see a mark etched in the glass, it's possible that the company affixed a paper label to the glass, which rubbed off over time. Because you can't rely on identifying marks, the best way to learn to spot Depression glass is to research the subject and talk to other collectors. "The Daze," a newspaper devoted to Depression glass, and books like The Collector's Encyclopedia of Depression Glass by Gene Florence will help get you started. Signs that a piece might be a reproduction include a somewhat crude pattern and an inconsistent, muddy color.
Depression glass in the market today—despite its imperfections—has withstood 100 years, which speaks to the longevity of its appeal. Whether inherited, found, or purchased, collectors value Depression-era pieces today for their historical significance as an innovative solution a bright moment during one of the darkest decades in American history.