For the September "Artifact of the Month" at the Western Illinois Museum, a selection of Depression Glass from the museum's collection of over 100 piece of glass will be on display.
"Depression Glass" describes a style of clear or colored translucent glassware made in the United States. Most of this particular type of glass was produced during the height of the Great Depression in the 1930s.
Machine made and produced in huge quantities, Depression Glass was stylish and functional glassware that was affordable. It was tremendously popular all over the United States. The glass came in a wide variety of shapes, from entire dinner sets, lunch sets, decorative bowls and plates to individual special serving pieces.
During the late 1920s, glassmakers developed new mass production techniques that allowed them to make attractive glass cheaply and without handwork. However, these new techniques caused imperfections in the glass, such as air bubbles or mold marks. Even though the glassware was not considered perfect, the public acquired Depression Glass avidly, primarily because it was so inexpensive.
One of the most distinguishing features about Depression Glass was the fact that it was made so inexpensively that companies could literally give away this glassware. To boost sales during a difficult economy, Depression Glass pieces were often offered as premiums, or given away as promotions. Companies considered them an incentive to the consumer to purchase the product. Sales tactics, such as offering "free" glassware with the purchase of a product, or purchasing a certain dollar amount at a store, made the buyer feel like they were getting "something for nothing."
Sometimes, glassware was packed in cereal boxes, such as Quaker Oats, or in bags of flour or sugar, or even laundry detergent. Gasoline stations and grocery stores gave pieces of glassware if a particular dollar amount was spent, or as gifts as a thank you for stopping in. Some movie theaters had popular "Dish Night" events, giving away a different piece of glassware each week to moviegoers, with some families acquiring an entire dish set this way.
Used as a marketing tool, Depression Glass was given away with all sorts of products from furniture to appliances. Westinghouse gave away sets of what they called "leftover dishes" (glassware to store leftovers in) when a refrigerator was purchased.
Depression Glass was also sold at very low cost at five and ten cent stores such as Woolworths. During the Depression, the total price for a 45-piece dinner set made of glass was $2.75, which comes out to about six cents apiece.
Distributed nation-wide and transported by the trainloads, this type of glass was considered so common; it was sometimes sold by the barrelful.
Made in an array of cheery colors, the most popular colors of Depression Glass were amber, pink, red, blue, green, yellow, white and clear. The pieces on display at the museum represent examples of most of these colors.
Most Depression Glass was made in the Midwest, particularly in Ohio and Indiana. Seven main companies made about 92 different patterns. Some of the major manufacturers were Indiana Glass, Hocking Glass, Federal Glass, US Glass, Jeanette Glass, MacBeth-Evans Glass and Hazel-Atlas Glass.
One example on display is an amber berry bowl, measuring 8 1/2 inches in the Patrician pattern but also known as Spoke. The Patrician pattern was produced by Federal Glass Company between 1933 and 1937.
One of the top ten Depression Glass pattern is Princess which was produced by the Hocking Glass Company between 1931 and 1935. It came in crystal, blue, green, pink, and yellow. By the example of the green vase on display, it is easy to see why it was so popular.
Also on view is a gorgeous cobalt blue Aurora pattern was produced by the Hazel Atlas Glass Company in the late 1930's. The Hazel Atlas Glass Company, found in 1902 in West Virginia, by the 1930s became the largest glass manufacture in the world, producing a large quantity of Depression Glass.
As part of a savvy marketing campaign, pattern names for Depression Glass (referred by collectors as DG) were inventive and pretty sounding, based on the consumers desire to have a little bit of beauty in their homes. Almost 100 different pattern names have been documented that range from A to Z: "American Sweetheart", "Lake Como", "Patrician", "Royal Lace", "Victory", to name just a few. "Adam" and "Windsor" are the first and last pattern names in the compiled listing of all Depression Glass. When a Depression Glass collector refers to the whole field of DG patterns, they often say "Adam to Windsor."
Manufacturers found that plain patterns could scratch easily; so many patterns had elaborate designs, so they were less easy to scratch.
Even though they are an everyday object from the recent past, Depression Glass is very collectible. All over the United States, Depression Glass collectors frequent flea markets and estate sales looking for Depression Glass pieces. One definition of a collectible antique is "Grandma had it, Mom got rid of it, and I'm collecting it."
One of the appealing aspects of collecting Depression Glass is that attractive pieces can be purchased rather inexpensively and that good examples are available at many antique shops, yard sales and auctions.
For anyone thinking about collecting Depression Glass, a word to the wise- there is a great deal of glassware being produced today as reproductions of Depression Glass patterns. Use caution, and know what to look for, to avoid paying too much for a non-Depression Glass piece. For anyone wanting more information about Depression Glass, a good reference book is The Collector's Encyclopedia of Depression Glass by Gene Florence.
From an essay by Heather Munro