In our line of work, we come across many personal collections. Items range from toys and coins to dolls and holiday decorations. Each of these collections has a story, both personal and historical. We would like to share some of those stories with you, starting with Depression glass.
Up through the early 1900s, glass items were made by hand. Each piece was individually poured, cut and polished, making glass time-consuming – and costly – to make. To own a piece of glass was a sign of privilege. When the Depression hit in the 1920s, glassmakers were forced to either find another way to manufacture glass or risk going out of business.
One such company was the Hocking Glass Company in Lancaster, Ohio. Named for its proximity to the Hocking River, the company was founded in 1905. According to the Anchor Hocking Glass Museum, the company could manufacture one piece of glass per minute when it started. Shortly before the Depression, they began using a machine that streamlined the process and allowed them to make up to 30 pieces per minute. The stock market crash forced them to create glass at an even cheaper rate, so they invented a machine that could make 90 pieces per minute. The glass made on this machine, and others like it in the area, came to be known as Depression glass.
In an effort to encourage people to spend what money they had in their establishments, business owners started giving away depression glass with qualifying purchases. Filling up your tank at a gas station could earn you a dinner plate, a trip to the movies on “Dish Night” could net a coffee cup. Some pieces, particularly drinking glasses, were included in packages of Quaker Oats and boxes of laundry detergent, and families would collect a complete set, one glass at a time. For larger pieces, like a platter or punch bowl, frugal housewives would collect multiple coupons or proofs of sale to send in at the same time.
Depression glass came in a variety of clear colors, including green, red, pink, amber, yellow and blue. Opaque glass was also available in white, jade green and black. The patterns printed in the glass often mimicked those used in the handmade glass only the truly wealthy could afford. For those with a little bit more cash, elegant glass was still machine-made, but had some finishing work done by hand after it was removed from the mold to smooth out edges or remove unsightly seams.
The reasons people start collecting Depression glass are as numerous as the collectors themselves. Many older collectors remember using it as children, while others fell in love with it while visiting their grandparents’ homes. Some simply enjoy the hunt and finding a hidden treasure at a yard sale or consignment shop. The value of Depression glass varies widely, depending on your location and the rarity of the pieces.
There are several things to look for when buying Depression glass to ensure you don’t buy a less valuable reproduction piece. True Depression glass is lighter and thinner than replicated glass and it often has small bubbles within the glass. Scratches on a piece often means it’s authentic because these pieces were used in everyday life, not just put on display. Seams on lids from molds and straw marks on the bottom of the glass where it would have been set to cool are also signs that the glass is truly from the Depression era.
Whether you display it in a china cabinet or use it on a daily basis, Depression glass can bring a beautiful piece of history to your home.