If you are new to the world of Depression Glass this might help you to understand what seems to be impossible to understand. Depression Glass doesn't have to be Depressing Glass. With a little knowledge, you can quickly become well educated and will enjoy collecting and using your glass.
FIRST: Decide which pattern you like best. This can be done in a variety of ways. Perhaps something a friend or Grandmother had? Maybe something you saw in a book or on ebay or an antique store? Next, decide a color. Not all patterns come in all colors. Just because a pattern comes in a variety of colors does not mean it can be found readily in all colors. Now research the prices of your selection and color to see if it is feasible to obtain what you have selected for prices realistic to your budget.
SECOND: Any Collection is going to take time. Some pieces will be easily found, others will take years to find. Don't give up. Ebay and other sites on line make finding your treasures much easier.
THIRD: Beware! Many patterns have been reproduced, copied, re-issued, and out right fakes. And just because it says it is something in the listing, doesn't make it so! Believe it or not, some sellers don't have a clue. And some sellers who have tons of knowledge and have sold depression glass for years and years, can make a mistake. (Guilty) It happens. Have you seen pieces of Sharon listed as Mayfair and vice versa? How about Patrician and Madrid? I see it all the time on ebay. So know your pattern and just because it says it is something, make sure you study the pictures and decide for yourself.
WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU GET YOUR GLASS
ABOUT DEPRESSION GLASS: Keep in mind, that Depression Glass was made in the very early 1900s typically between the 1920s and 30s. Some books attribute the status to items made into the 40s. It was mass produced for the masses. Made as afordable as possible so every person could afford it. And that would not have been easy during the depression years of the 30s. Most depression glass (though it varies from pattern to patter) was made very cheaply. It was not intended to be saved for generations or collected 60 to 90 years later. Quality control was week at best. Items routinely passed into the market with what are known as factory flaws. Personally, I think if depression glass was made in this same fashion today, it would never make it onto store shelves. Too many flaws right from the factory. Today's collectors recognize these as charactoristics, not flaws. Here are some of the Charactoristics you should expect to find.
STRAW MARKS OR MOLD MARKS: These are typically seen as what at first appears to be a deep scratch or crack in the glass, but upon closer inspection, you realize it is an impressed line in the glass that was from making. It is easy to tell. It is not extremely deep, does not penetrate through the glass. Is on one side of the glass. Typically irregular in shape. Varies from piece to piece. Most sellers will mention straw marks so you know because they are one of the more readily seen charactoristics and depending on location and size, you may choose to pass on a piece with too strong a mold mark or straw mark.
FLASH OVER: If you look carefully at some depression glass, you will see what is known as flash over. It is typically seen as sharp edges on plates or foot rims of other pieces, around handles. It is where glass slipped through the mold when the piece was made. It formed an extremely tiny very thin protrusion of glass where it slipped through. It is more commonly felt than seen unless using a magnifying glass. It simply feels sharp. The key to this characteristic that separates it from actual flaws is that it protrudes.
BUBBLES: Bubbles are far less common in todays modern glass, but in the old days, bubbles were quite common. Much depression glass will have bubbles. Again, this is a charactoristic that should be expected. When does a bubble become a flaw? When it touches the surface and either protrudes up from the surface, or breaks the surface. These should be disclosed by sellers. These are still good usable items, depending on the size of the bubble and location.
COLOR: There will be some color variation to depression glass of the same pattern and maker. Glass is made using specific formulas. So much of this and that. Most formulas are made in batches and considering that most glass patterns were made for anywhere from 2 to 40 years, it is common for the formulas to have been made ever so slightly different causing a slightly different hue. Instead of 4 pounds of this, maybe they got 4.03 pounds. Maybe the supplier changed something in their supplies. Most will blend with little if any significant difference. If you find a major difference, odds are you may have either a repro or an oddity.
Like anything glass, you are bound to find lots of after market flaws added to your glassware. Does a flaw make an item less usefull or less valuable? Sometimes and Yes. Depending on the flaw, many items are still as usable as the day they were made. They do tend to make the items less valuable, but not always. There are terms associated with flaws that are sometimes fairly self explanatory and other times not easily understood by the experienced collector or dealer. There seems to be a general consensous to the terminology used, but I have never actually found any official definition of the terms. Here are types of flaws to be aware of aand how we describe them
FLEABITES or FLEA BITES: Often grossly overused. This term is meant to mean a tiny nick on the glass (typically found on rims) about the size of a flea's bite. Too small to reasonablly measure. You can usually feel these with your fingernail or find them with a magnifying glass, though some with good eyesight will see them more readily than others. They are the type thing that you will not notice when in use or display.
FLAKES: A flake is a sliver shaped chip that runs with the surface. It does not protrude down into the glass very deeply at all. Mostly a small surface issue. Often found on foot rims, rims of plates, etc. Depending on the location or size, these can have an affect on value. They quite often do not affect the shape of the rim. That is to say, if you look down at a plate sitting on a table that has a rim flake, typically it will not affect the roundness of the plate.
CHIPS: Chips are just that. Be they flakes that got deep into the glass and changed the shape of the rims or more commonly, a chip that goes clean through the item. You see these on rims of glasses, rims of plates and pretty much any other piece. They change the shape of the item so the glass is chipped out from from to back or top to bottom. Much more easily seen. These will always affect the value of an item and should always be disclosed.
CRACKS: When dealing with porcelain, cracks are more common and can sometimes be stopped in their tracks or repaired to some degree. When dealing with glass, cracks are killers. At least for me. Unless that item is so extremely rare as to warrant keeping it, a crack around here goes into the trash can or out to someone looking for scrap glass for various art projects. I would recommend the same to you.
STRESS LINES: Stress lines are cracks distant cousins. They appear as stress marks on the surface of the glass. These are found around handles, spouts, and especially around holes where items are bolted together as in the case of the tiered tidbit trays. They are typically very fine lines, sometimes singular, sometimes in little groupings. Think of them as the crows feet that appear around your eyes as you get a few years older. They are typically caused by the stress to the glass in the making process but can be made from years of use too. Be sure you know what you are looking at and exactly what kind of stress mark. If they are the fine lines extremely short, and just barely visible, not so bad. If they are through the glass, then they are a crack, not just a stress line anymore.
SCRATCHES: There are various degress of scratches. Most of this stuff has been used for years. Knives and forks ran their course over them for years. You will be surprized at how many piece show relatively little wear from use. Some pieces will be highly scratched though. There is no way to remove scratches without buffing and that may or may not help depending on the situation and can be costly. Most plates will show some scratches, though they are often seen only if you hold them to the light and teeter them back and forth. That should not be an issue to you. If it is, then select a brand new patter. Depression glass is not for you. If you think you have plates that don't have some sort of scratches on them, then you are likely either mistaken or extremely lucky.
GLASS SICKNESS: This is most commonly found on shakers and cruets, though it can be found on other items like decanters. It comes from a couple sources. Salt shakers are especially prone. Salt eats at the inside of the shaker. It would have been ideal if the salt were removed after each use, but face it. It sat on the table between uses. As the salt scratched at the surface, it becomes cloudy and looks sick. You cannot get it out. You can use various acids, sometimes false teeth cleaner can help. You can have it tumbled by a professional. That is your best hope, but most likely it will either not clean up, or if it does, it will retain quickly. Cruets and decanters get the same problems, but generally from moisture trapped inside. They get washed, drip dry (how you going to get a drying towel inside a cruet?) and then the stopper goes on and the remaining moisture is trapped to evaporate within the glass leaving deposits. If you are furtunate enough to have shakers that are not sick, empty them after every use. If you have a cruet or decanter without stains, dry it by placing a hose from an aquarium pump inside it and pumping air in it with the stopper off. That will preserve it in the pristine condition.
CARING FOR YOUR DEPRESSION GLASS
Personally I recommend hand washing your depression glass with a mild detergent and soft wash cloth. I know many people who use dishwashers, but I just personally would not put it in the dishwasher. If you do, use the gentle cycle if you have one. And as common sense will tell you, don't submerge cold glass into hot water or vice versa. I never use my depression glass in a microwave, mostly because I have not read any reports on the effects on the glass. I would assume it to be safe, but why put any valable collectible in the microwave? Empty shakers after each use. Dry cruets and decanters with an air hose from an aquarium pump and pump air inside the cruet or decanter until dry.
Store your glassware wisely. I place a styrofoam plate between each of my plates. Saucers I generally have to use paper or plastic plates because I cannot find the Styrofoam in that size. I place papertowels between my cups in the cupboards if they are to be stacked. They are glass. Treat them with respect and they will last another 100 years. Abuse them and they will go to pieces.
Can damaged glass be repaired? Possibly. It depends on the item, the damage and the repairer. Light scratches can sometimes be buffed out. I generally don't recommend it becuase years of experience has taught us that if you buff it out, it becomes even more suseptible to new scratches. Fleabites or very small chips can sometimes be ground out or polished. This is common to stemware and tumblers. They are delicate items and often found themselves with tiny nicks or fleabites. An experienced expert can often polish a rim and get rid of the fleabites though they will loose a certain number in the process. If you are going to grind or buff glass, you are going to have some breakage. I don't have the hand for it. It takes a steady hand and keen eyesight. If it works, the end results are you have your glass repaired. However, the original rim is no longer there. They typically have to polish all around the rim to keep it uniform in height. You don't want one side sagging lower. This changes the height maybe 1/8 of an inch. Hardly noticable unless sitting side by side with an original piece. But it will have an effect on the value should you ever decide to sell it.
Chips and flakes are nearly impossible to repair. There are new resins and epoxies that have been used by some to fill in small chips, but they are almost always distinguishable with the naked eye and always distinguishable to the expert. Is it worth it? Likely in todays day and age, you can find a replacement just as cheaply as a repair. Unless it is the rare item.
WHAT'S WRONG WITH REPRODUCTIONS GLASSWARE?
So you have a collection but need more pieces. You can buy that hard to find piece on the Internet, but they want $300 for it. Or you can get that look alike reproduction for $20. Seems like the smarter move, unless you want quality and a matching piece. The repro is not going to match in color and likely not in size. The pattern is going to be weak and not match exactly. It is valuless in a collection and if you sell off your collection in the future, make sure you pull any repros out of the collection first. If a person knows their glass, they will spot it instantly and that leads them to immediately become suspicious of the entire set. You have spent a good amount of money gathering your prized collection. Do you really want a reproduction that someone made for the sheer purpuse of fooling people and ripping them off? Watch out, they run rampant on ebay and everywhere. Know your glass. Invest in books. They tell you what is known to be reproduced and how to tell them from the authentic. REPRODUCTIONS HAVE NO VALUE IN AN AUTHENTIC COLLECTION OF DEPRESSION GLASS.
RE-ISSUES: Re-issues are items that were made by a company, then years later re-issued usually by the same company. Federal Glass did it with their Madrid Pattern. You can tell it from the original because it was marked with a 76 on the underside, provided someone has not buffed the numbers away. The 76 refers to the year 1976 when it was made. Indiana Glass did it with their Pyramid pattern. It was re-issued in the 80s by Tiara, a division of Indiana Glass. It was not made in the orignal colors so it is easy to tell. Re-issued glass is almost always done in honesty and issued with tell tale signs to distinguish it from the vintage, be it color or numbers or some other marking. There is nothing wrong with re-issues, but they are not depression glass. Just depression glass patterns.
IS IT RARE OR FAKE?
So you just found a piece of your pattern at a garage sale and cannot find any word on it in your books. Is it rare or a fake? This can be difficult for the beginner to determine. Gene Florence has written several books on the Rare Treasures of the Depression Glass Era. They would be well worth your time to check out at the local library or pick up a copy on ebay or local books store.
Many authors write about the morgue in their books. The morgue is a place in the glass factories where pieces were stored that were experimental, never produced for the markets. Some of these items found their way onto the streets and into collections. Most are in museums. We just sold a delphite blue Colony water Goblet. Well documented as an experimental piece. Some exist in chocolate too. Very hard to find. Our goblet brought $175. We currently have a Moonstone bowl and underplate listed. One piece is shown in one of Gene Florence's books, but as far as we have been able to tell, the other piece has never been shown to exist other than the one we have. We have had many such pieces over the years. We are fortunate to live in near where much of the glass and pottery was made and have purchased from factory workers, and obtained items from the factory presidents estates too. Some extremely rare pieces have passed through our hands right here on ebay. More will be found by us an others and possibly by you. Another good source to determine if you have found a treasure of a fake is the Internet. There are many good sites (as well as books) on fake items. Most collector societies post photos of fakes and repros. They can be seen for free as the colloctor associations wish to help you know a fake from a real item. Finally search ebay and search the Internet. If you item is fake, it won't take long to find many of them showing up on ebay and the net. Some are honestly thought to be real by less experienced dealers. A Fostoria Egg Plate sold on ebay recently for an outragesous sum. It wasn't Fostoria. Fostoria never made that pattern. It was misrepresented by the seller either by honest mistake or by crookedness. A simple look around ebay would have alerted the seller to their error and alerted the buyer not to bid since the item was readily available on ebay for the low price of $4.99 through other sellers who correctly identified it.
The best advice to adhere to regardless of what you collect, is to find a dealer you trust. An experienced dealer who knows their stuff and is honest. We sell hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of depression glass each year and hope you will consider us, but whomever you choose to do business with, make sure they have a good reputation. Check their feedback. Understand that any seller is going to have some bad feedback. It is nearly impossible not to as people are people and as much as there are some unreasonable crooked sellers out there, there are just as many unreasonable crooked buyers. Most sellers are very honest. Some are both honest and know what they are talking about. Some don't have a clue. Sure, take a chance. There are sellers who list things and tell you right up front they don't know what they have. I have bought lots off ebay from inexperienced sellers who don't even try to determine a maker or pattern. Bought for pennies on the dollar. But if you routinely run into problems with a seller, go elsewhere. If you slam a door on your hand, you quickly learn not to do it again. Why not learn the same lesson. If you get burned and a seller does not want to make things right, go elsewhere. If you get a great item for a good reasonable price, even if you have to pay a little more, then its worth it. There is a reason the price is slightly higher, more buyers are bidding it up because they know the seller is trustworthy. Spending a tiny bit more for the peace of mind is much better than getting a deal that turns out to be fake or have hidden damages.
AND ASK QUESTIONS! DEALERS ARE MORE THAN HAPPY TO HELP AND ANSWER QUESTIONS.
NOW GO SHOPPING