Past Glass

Vaseline. Uranium. Westmoreland. Fostoria. Fire King. Names that invaded American cupboards between the Twenties and the Forties. What they stood for: Depression glass, machine-made low-quality glass that was mass-produced in vibrant colors such as pink, purple, red, yellow, blue, green, as well as white.

A happy reminder of better days for those who had fallen on hard times, Depression glass often was decorated in relief patterns and also was priced right. Entire sets could be had for less than two dollars. Individual pieces would sell for as little as five cents, or were packed free of charge with other items as an incentive for purchase. A bag of flour could include a cake stand. A box of oatmeal might feature a set of bowls. Movie theaters even instituted "dish nights." Buy a ticket, take home a piece of glass.

The era of financial difficulty ended, but the plates, bowls, cups, saucers, pitchers, mugs, vases, and more endured and now are a favorite of collectors. Found in flea markets, thrift and antique stores, or grandma's kitchen, the items command big bucks. A measuring cup set in milky green glass known as Jadeite can garner more than $200 today. A blue Caprice Doulton pitcher goes for thousands.

The National Depression Glass Association was organized in 1974, and there are thousands of clubs devoted to the stuff all over the nation. Founded in the early Seventies, the South Florida Depression Glass Club is one of them. Boasting 50 members, the club throws its annual Depression Glass Show and Sale this weekend, where 23 dealers show off their wares.

"It's a hobby; it's an obsession; it's a way of life; it's a disease. Everything bad it could possibly be, it is!" jokes Jack Surman, show chairman, who began collecting in the early Eighties when he and his wife fell in love with a set of ultramarine swirl dinnerware by the Jeanette glass company. Eventually the couple sold the set and moved on, in Surman's words, "to bigger and better things," which includes pottery such as Roseville and Haeger. "My wife has a tendency to find a new item or pattern to collect once a month," Surman says. "It's all over the house and in boxes in the garage."

The best thing about owning all this Depression glass? "You can appreciate, look at it, and enjoy it physically," Surman notes. The worst? "When you break it."

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Nina Korman
Contact: Nina Korman