Inexpensive depression glass was manufactured in massive quantities during the 1920s and ‘30s by dozens of American factories. The depression glass was inexpensive because it was manufactured by a new, automated tank-molded method that made it possible to quickly create thin glassware in many different patterns and colors. Overall lacy patterns helped hide any flaws in the glass. Several glass patterns were molded on the outside of plates and bowls so the surface that held food was smooth. A twenty-piece set sold for only about $2. The glass, sold in dime stores and department stores, was dubbed “Depression glass” by collectors in the late 1960s. Gradually, the meaning of the term Depression glass broadened to include inexpensive glass made after the Depression, including glass that was pressed to resemble earlier cut glass, glass with enameled or silk-screened decorations, and glass made of dark green, cobalt blue, or other deep colors.
In addition, manufacturers added more shapes to their Depression glass lines as times and attitudes changed. The end of Prohibition in 1933 led to a demand for cocktail shakers, ice buckets, and other liquor-related ware. Small glass statues and figurines, as well as ashtrays and glass bowls with three-dimensional figural handles, were popular from the 1930s to the ‘50s. By the ‘40s, many types of icebox dishes, reamers, canister sets, and other kitchen wares were made. Reproductions began appearing by the ‘70s.
There are clues that can help date glass dishes. Each style was made to sell in its own era, and as the styles of expensive, handmade glassware (called “Elegant glass” by collectors) changed, the styles and colors of Depression glass changed, too.
During the Depression and afterwards, ceramic dinnerware was made in colors and patterns that complemented popular furniture, glassware, silverware, and table-linen designs. Favorite colors were primarily pastels, cream, and white during the 1920s and early ‘30s, a period when pottery dishes were made with floral borders that resembled the decorations on expensive porcelain sets. In the 1940s, deep red, blue, and green were favored colors, and dinnerware like Blue Ridge, with hand-painted colorful designs, became popular. By the late ‘40s, new and modern shapes like Iroquois Casual, designed by Russel Wright, were favored by young families. Plastic dishes in dark or pastel colors were stylish in the 1950s, and avocado green and harvest gold were favored in the ‘60s for everything from dishes and rugs to refrigerators.
By the mid 1970s, Depression-era glass and dinnerware were out of fashion. Instead, modern shapes, abstract designs, and informal tablewares were popular. But collectors remembered the beautiful table settings at Grandma’s house, so they started collecting older pieces. Manufacturers realized that reproductions would sell and were soon copying many of the older designs. Today, both old and new versions of Depression-era dishes can be found-and often the original pieces sell for less than new ones.
The Depression glass era began in the 1920s. Glass dishes were simple and classic in shape, usually pastel with lacy designs. The companion ceramic dinnerwares were simple shapes with traditional floral borders.
During the 1930s, design went in two different directions. Lacy pastel glass continued to be popular, but deep colors and an Art Deco influence made for an opposing, daring look. Ceramic dinnerwares were made for both markets. Buyers could find simple plates with floral borders, as well as brightly colored pottery dishes.
During and just after World War II, many people wanted to return to old and familiar dinnerware designs. Colonial scenes, fruit, and flowers were popular decorations on many pottery dishes. But by the late 1940s, a few totally new pottery dinnerware shapes added excitement to the table. Glassware remained light in color, and copies of Victorian milk glass patterns came into fashion.
This decade marked the introduction of designs known as Mid-Century Modern. Streamlined kitchenware enticed new buyers, and ceramic dinnerware was produced in abstract designs. Plastic dishes were considered new and modern. Inexpensive, attractive, and almost unbreakable sets of Melmac and other types of plastic dinnerware were fast sellers, even though the surface scratched and stained with use. Turquoise, yellow, and brown were favored for appliances and textiles. Still, the buyer with more traditional taste found that old, established designs were also available.
Color-coordinated dishes were part of the fashion movement in the 1960s. New houses featured avocado or gold kitchens and living rooms. Earth tones that blended with these colors and designs inspired by nature were popular for dinnerware. Plates were often rimless and many had overall center designs instead of border decorations. Textured glassware was popular.
Thank you to our friends at Kovels’ Depression Glass & Dinnerware