Depression glass is glass which was produced in the United States between the 1920s and 1930s, during the Great Depression. A number of manufacturers made Depression glass, creating a wide range of patterns and color tints, with most production focused in the American Midwest. Since the 1960s, Depression glass has been viewed as a collector's item, and it is exchanged widely at craft fairs, antique stores, and collector's meetings.
This glass is characterized by being of generally poor quality. Depression glass was made by manufacturers for use as a freebie item, allowing companies to give out glass products as an incentive to buy their products. Depression glass was often included in food packaging, in addition to being handed out by insurance salesmen, movie theaters, and a wide variety of other businesses. In an era when times were extremely tough, the allure of any sort of free product was obvious, and the bright colors and various patterns of Depression glass appealed to many people.
Common colors for Depression glass include pink, green, amber, and pale blue, with some manufacturers producing clear glass. More rarely, Depression glass came in yellow, red, black, or delphite, a type of opaque pale blue. Some manufacturers also made milk glass, an opaque white glass. Depression glass was typically mass-produced in machine presses, and it came both in standalone pieces and sets.
Fenton Glass, Cambridge Glass, Lancaster Glass, U.S. Glass, and Hocking Glass, among many others, all made Depression glass. These companies typically produced several patterns at once so that they had a range of products on offer. For families struggling to make ends meet, a single piece of this usually colored translucent glass could become a treasured item, with many pattern names referencing happier times or optimistically looking into the future.
A related concept is elegant glass, a much higher-quality glass produced for department stores from the 1920s through the 1950s. Elegant glass was designed as an alternative to china, which was too costly for many families, and this glass is also a collector's item. By the 1950s, inexpensive china and glassware had become readily available, making elegant glass less appealing, but some households still treasure their elegant glass heirlooms.
If you plan to collect Depression glass, it is a good idea to purchase an illustrated guidebook which identifies patterns and manufacturers. Watch out for reproduction glass, which is not as valuable, and check glass items carefully before purchase for signs of damage. Because Depression glass was so inexpensive at time of manufacture, it can develop pitting or cracks very quickly if not well handled.