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For the newbie collector, the huge variety of colors and patterns of depression glass may be a bit overwhelming! Time and experience, and a good depression glass encyclopedia, will help the novice learn how to choose pieces for their collection, and how to tell an authentic piece of depression glass from a reproduction. In the meantime, here are a few tips to help you get started on the right path!
Many collectors have the goal of collecting a particular pattern or color, although some just enjoy the variety and will pick up whatever they find attractive and within their budget. A full setting of a single color and pattern can be striking, but a mixture of patterns and colors has its own esthetic beauty. The choice is really up to the collector.
You may have decided to fill out the set of depression glass that Grandma left you, or set your sights on a particular style. The first thing you need to be aware of is that certain patterns and colors of this vintage glass were made in limited amounts and you may not be able to find enough pieces to create a place setting, let alone enough to set the table with. Before you start investing good money in a lost cause, do some research. There are many excellent collectors’ web sites and reference books that can give you information on the availability of the pattern or color you are searching for.
Know the value of the pieces that you are seeking. As with all collectibles, some pieces may be rather pricey, while some may be picked up for a song. It can be frustrating to find out that you simply can’t afford to finish a collection you have started.
Depression glass manufacturers were concerned about quantity, not quality, and the newbie may notice flaws in the glass and think it is an inferior piece. Depression glass is poorly made and flaws are to be expected. They don’t necessarily detract from the value of the piece. It was mass produced and often given away at movie theaters, gas stations, and other businesses as a premium to attract customers. It could be found inside a box of laundry detergent or cereal flakes. Depression glass could be purchased inexpensively at grocery stores, hardware stores, and the local five-and-dime. The attraction of depression glass was that it was available in so many beautiful colors, which brightened up the drab homes of the era.
You may find that a piece of depression glass is out of shape, or wobbles, or leans to one side, or there may be color variations within the same pattern. Welcome to the world of depression glass!
Depression glass was not hand-finished, unlike higher quality glassware which had imperfections removed after it was released from the mold. The surface may have a “straw mark” as a result of the manufacturing process. A straw mark looks like a crack, but it is not, and will not get larger. A crack will catch the light and may look silver or gray, while a straw mark will only show up if the piece is tilted a certain way in the light. There may be a bump of extra glass, especially along the mold line. Mold lines may be prominent. Chips are undesirable, but it’s possible that a spot that appears chipped may only be an imperfection where the mold was poorly filled (known to collectors as a “flea bite”). Small air bubbles in the glass are common. Minor flaws are normal occurrences and won’t affect the value.
Glass that is cloudy or has lime deposits is considered “sick” glass and cannot be cleaned. If you are browsing through depression glass at an early morning yard sale, don’t mistake sick glass for that which is dew-covered. Condensation can mask the real condition of the glass.
Due to its increase in popularity with collectors, much depression glass has been reproduced. Many pieces have been reproduced in color and pattern combinations that were never originally made. “Fantasy” pieces exist in objects, often pitchers, which were never in the manufacturer’s inventory. Carry a reputable depression glass reference guide with you on your excursions to aid you in your purchases.
Depression glass is easy to find. Yard sales, flea markets, and thrift shops are good places to start. Many people who have no interest in depression glass or its potential value to collectors may dispose of it this way, and it will be as cheap as you’re going to find anywhere.
Antique stores, retail web sites and online auction sites sell depression glass at higher prices than you’ll find by rummaging. Keep in mind that antique stores and retail web sites will often set prices somewhat higher than the actual value of the piece. They know that if a collector has been looking for that item for a long time, they will pay the price!
Online auction sellers may misrepresent collectible glass and describe an item as “vintage” or “antique” when it may only be a reproduction. They may not necessarily be trying to rip off customers, but may only be amateurs who are not knowledgeable about vintage glass. Be careful only to deal with reputable sellers who have good feedback ratings.
If you are collecting for sentimental or esthetic reasons, the value of a piece may not be of particular importance. Buying glass as an investment, or with the intent to resell, is a different matter. Enjoy collecting depression glass, but start slowly to avoid making mistakes and getting stuck with reproductions that have little value.