Collecting Depression Glass

There are collectors of all kinds and the collectors of Depression glass are among the most passionate. Glassware in and of itself is fragile, delicate. It must be handled with care. Depression glassware comes to us from another time, when life was in many ways simpler and yet terribly hard. The colors and patterns contain a mesmerizing quality. There is elegance and grace in every piece.

What Is Depression Glass?

Strictly speaking, Depression glass is dinnerware and stemware created during the years of the Great Depression. Many dealers and collectors include patterns and pieces created in the late 1920s but for the most part, the category extends from 1929 through 1940. It is characterized by the colors amber, blue, black, crystal, green, pink, red, yellow and white. A few other colors exist but these are the most common.

This glassware was made in bulk by machines and sold inexpensively throughout the period. It was also used as prizes and premiums for buying specific products or services. It might have come packaged in with a sack of flour or in cereal boxes. It was offered as an incentive to customers who bought designated products at movie theaters, gas stations and grocery stores. Some were offered as prizes for selling seeds or for collecting coupons earned by buying butter or soap.

Depression Glass Pieces

There really is no limit to what type of tableware was made during this time period using the bulk machine methods. Typical place settings could include a dinner plate, lunch plate, salad palate and dessert plate. Soup bowls, serving bowls, covered and uncovered, candy dishes, coffee cups and saucers, creamer and sugar bowls, pitchers, decanters, butter dishes, salt and pepper shakers, and drinking glasses were very common. More unique pieces like canisters, handled or footed bowls and large platters were less common but still popular.


There were many companies which produced Depression glass. Many books and websites exist which can help collectors identify patterns and years of manufacture for this beautiful collectible. Chiefly among them were the Jeanette Glass Company, Hocking Glass Company, Hazel Atlas Glass Company, Imperial Glass Company, Westmoreland Glass Company, U.S. Glass Company, Paden City Glass Company and MacBeth Evans Division of Corning Glass Works. Some of these companies are still in the glassware business today.

Patterns and Characteristics

The majority of Depression glass is transparent. Some colors like cobalt blues, black and the white varieties are more opaque but the type most people think of when Depression glass is discussed is lightly tinted glass in one of the above mentioned colors. The color tends to get deeper near the foot or the center of the piece and lighten as the piece extends outward or upward.

Patterns vary widely and it would take more than an Internet article to adequately address them all. There are several easily recognizable patterns however. A common pattern is the hobnail pattern in which the pieces are covered with rows of symmetrical bumps. Block Optic by Hocking is another easily identifiable pattern consisting of radiating rings each divided subtly into blocks. Adam by Jeanette Glass came in pink or green and sported square dishes with softly notched corners. Sherbet glasses and tumblers stood on squared feet.

Another characteristic of Depression glass was the unique shapes some of the pieces took. Aside from the square plates and feet of some patterns, others were hexagonal or even octagonal in shape. The Adam pattern offered a rectangular platter. Many patterns offered divided dinner plates and serving dishes. Some had spiny edges to reflect the leaf or flower pattern they represented.

Collecting Depression Glass

Collecting Depression glass is driven by a love for the glass. Some people remember their grandmother’s set and want to reassemble it. Others fall in love with a pattern found in a second hand shop. Collecting a single pattern in all one color used to be the norm. Today it is popular to collect samples from all the available colors of a given pattern. This is referred to as “rainbow collecting.” Others collect a single dish type across a variety of patterns. Sugar bowls and creamers or platters are common. So are tea cups and saucers.

Second hand shops, thrift stores and yard sales can be a good source for Depression glass but not really depend able as you never know when you’ll find what you are looking for. Auction sites like eBay are more reliable for finding particular pieces and gaging the market price by what it’s selling for in today’s dollars. With the downturn in the economy, now can be a wonderful time fill out your collection or start a new one.