Collecting Depression Glass

People getting into the collection of antiques have several avenues they can pursue, whether they want to collect furniture, household items, or various types of equipment. One popular item that many people collect is what is known as Depression Glass. This is the name given to a type of household glassware that was either sold very cheaply or even distributed for free during the Great Depression and for a few years afterward. Although most things labeled "antique" need to be at least 100 years old, this label has been extended to Depression Glass as well, probably because of its historical significance.

The odd thing is that, unlike many other types of antiques, which often have lasted so long because they are so much better made than their modern counterparts, Depression Glass isn't that great a product. It often shows distinct flaws, and is of poor quality. And yet it's collected avidly.

This brightly colored glass, usually clear but not always, was made into plates and cups, wine glasses, pitchers, bowls, and other sorts of dishware. It was distributed in many ways: coming as a "free gift" in a box of laundry detergent or oatmeal, given out with movie tickets or at gas stations, or sold at dollar stores for a few cents. Production had actually started before the Depression began, but the dissemination of this type of glass continued through that period and beyond.

The idea behind this glassware was that it provided an extra incentive to buy a product. The pieces, made of machine-pressed glass, were manufactured mostly in the American mid-western and central states, because the raw materials were relatively inexpensive in that region. So companies like the Anchor Hocking Glass Company, Indiana Glass Company, Federal Glass Company, and many others produced this dishware in more than 100 distinct patterns and colors. The patterns had names like Queen Mary, Royal Lace, Aurora, and Cherry Blossom, and the dishes came in many colors such as pink, green, cobalt blue, and amber. Most of the glass was clear, but it was also occasionally made in opaque, milky white and in a few other solid colors.

Production went on into the 1940s but gradually faded away. Some patterns and pieces are still reproduced today, of better quality, perhaps made for reasons of nostalgia. But they are generally not considered genuine Depression Glass.

Why do people collect these pieces now? It's hard to judge why certain things come into vogue, but these items were collectibles almost as soon as they were made, because people would get one or two pieces in cereal boxes, and immediately want to collect an entire set. In more recent times, it's possible that people collect this glass as a record or memento of the Great Depression itself. Times were very hard for a great many people, but a lot of them at least had dishes to eat from because of this glass. And it was literally a bright, colorful spot in people's lives.

Now there are entire associations devoted to the collection of Depression Glass, and many reference books have been written to help people recognize genuine patterns and real originals, while spotting more recent reproductions. As more people collect, these pieces of glassware become more rare in the marketplace, and the price is steadily going up. Depression Glass was a valuable thing for many people during the Depression itself, and now it's considered of great value as a collectible, and as a partial record of how people lived through those difficult times.