A Glass Riddle
When is glass made during the Great Depression not Depression Glass?
When it's happy?
No, when it's Elegant Glass.
In other words all Depression Glass was made during the Great Depression but not all glass made during the Great Depression is Depression glass.
|An example of seams & bubbles in Depression Glass|
There were two main types of glass made in the United States during the first half of the twentieth century. Depression Glass was totally machine made and therefore much cheaper to produce. This glass was made in a variety of colors and patterns and was often sold in Dime Stores or even given away as promotional items. Due to the way it was manufactured Depression Glass (DG) almost always has visible seams, straw marks and bubbles in the glass. These are not flaws but a typical characteristic of DG and considered by many collectors as adding to the charm of the glass.
|Duncan Miller Teardrop Console Bowl|
But what if I don’t find flaws charming?
Well, if you want perfect don’t buy Depression Glass
– buy Elegant Glass!
Elegant glass always was at least partially hand made by skilled craftsmen resulting in a much higher quality glass which although not "perfect" had far fewer flaws.
|Fostoria Console Set|
Companies such as Heisey, Fostoria, Duncan Miller, Cambrige and other early glass makers employed skilled workers to hand craft their glassware.
Elegant glassware was frequently sold in jewelry stores and was used by the upper middle class for dinner parties and other special occasions.
It would have been what was called “the good glassware”.
|Vaseline Glass Plates with ground and polished bottoms|
Although molds were used by elegant glassware companies they were hand pressed meaning that a glass maker would gather the molten glass, place it in the mold, swish it around and then bring down the plunger to compress the glass into the shape of the mold.
Due to the skill of the glass maker this method resulted in fewer bubbles and a finer product than machine made glass.
|Fry Glass Diamond Optic|
Another method used by elegant glass companies was mold blown glass where the glass was mouth blow into a mold, requiring a high level of skill. This produced a thinner glass and was often used for stemware.
Elegant glass is also fire polished which means that the glass is finished by direct application of flames which eliminates straw marks and obvious mold marks to produce a smooth and brilliant surface.
In addition, the bases of plates, cups and the like are always ground and polished.
|Fostoria Baroque w Shirley Etch|
Wow that’s a lot of work!
...but what about the patterns?
I was just getting to that!
At this point in the manufacturing process some pieces are complete but others have another step. Many patterns have etched designs where the piece of glassware, called a blank at this point, is passed along to the decorating department.
|An example of Needle Etching|
The most common decorating method on Elegant Glass is needle etching. This method involves coating the glass with a film or wax then using a machine that activates needles which remove the protective layer from the portion of the glass where the design is desired. Next the glass is placed in contact with acid, which eats into the unprotected surface of the glass. The wax or film is then removed leaving a precise pattern.
|Cambridge Carmen Dinner Plate|
Is there still Elegant Glass being made today?
Sadly the majority of the well known Elegant Glass companies closed their doors in the 1950’s due to high production costs and the onslaught of cheap imported glassware.
Fortunately much of this beautiful glass remains and is highly sought after by collectors either to add to or start their own sets of this truly elegant glass.
About the Author
Karen Mantone-Pillar is one of the founders and admin of Got Vintage Shops. She currently owns and operates two online shops; Charmings Collectibles on Etsy, and a stand alone web store CharmingsCollectibles.com.