Depression Era Memories, Part I

by Reyne Haines

 One of the top three coveted items by collectors year after year is glassware.  Probably because it has been made for hundreds of years, by hundreds of manufacturers around the globe.  In short, there is something for everyone.

In today’s market, glass collector’s tastes vary from the Victorian era to Contemporary.  In the middle of that span falls Depression glass, the most mass-produced glassware in the last 100 years. 

There is a large community of Depression glass enthusiasts.  It has nothing to do with the amount that was produced.  Most of the appeal to collectors starts and stops on just one word:  Nostalgia.  Many people began their collections accidentally.  For years, they were just “the dishes grandma had”.   They inherited these items when Aunt Gracie passed away, or they were the candlesticks mom gave you for your wedding.  It’s not until one day a neighbor comes over for tea and notices the sandwich tray or the salt and pepper shakers and makes a comment about your depression glass collection do you realize they are something more.

One out of every four pieces of glass brought to the Roadshow is from the Depression era.  It’s interesting to see the looks on the faces of people when you tell them they have Depression glass made by Hocking Glass Company and the pattern is…..  They recognize the term, but why did they not realize this before?  With all the pieces produced that have survived all these years, the numerous collectors clubs and reference books on the market, you’d think we’d never see another piece.  But hour-by-hour the pieces pour in and each owner excited by the thought that they own a something that’s a little more than they thought they had the day before.

Why do so many people have it in their kitchen cupboards and china cabinets?  Most likely because it reaches three generations of people.  Either you had it growing up, your mother gave it to you when you left for college, or you remember eating on it at grandma’s house each Thanksgiving. 

Depression glass was produced in America from 1925 to 1940.  Depression glass was colorful and inexpensive to own, and to produce.  Full table settings were being made in an array of patterns that would dress up any table.  Several of the patterns, such as Sandwich and Miss America, were designed to copy more expensive glassware.  Depression glass was all the rage. 

However, 1929 brought on the Depression and money was then used for necessities such as food and clothing.  Ideas of buying additional pieces of dinnerware were all but a dream, until one day….Depression glass became a premium.  Something you received as a bonus for buying something else.  It might have been the oatmeal for breakfast, or the laundry detergent for your clothing.  If you bought this, you got that + a little something more.  A very clever marketing trick, and it worked.  You could go to a carnival, toss a penny and win a glass prize.  Go to the movies - take home a dinner plate.  Why would people spend that extra nickel on the movies when times were tough?  The glass they took home reminded them of a prosperous time when things were better. 

Today there is still an abundance of Depression glass to buy.  The great thing about it is the cost. It is still relatively inexpensive, though there are some pieces and patterns that are pricey.  The average cost of a dinner plate is only $20-25.00.  (Some patterns less, some patterns more).   Every now and then we see a hard to find piece turn up at the show.  Interestingly enough, many people who find their item is Depression glass don’t ask what the value is.  They simply want to know where can I buy more, and what books do we recommend to learn more about it.  I guess they already realize, the sentimental value of the piece is, of course, priceless.