Elegant glass is a term of art referring to expensive glass made just before, during, and after the Great Depression.
Despite the Depression, the market for higher quality glass remained strong and manufacturers like Heissey, Fostoria, Cambridge, and others produced this beautiful glass, often with special handwork decoration, like etching.
Usually the glass was clear, sometimes colored. Not surprisingly, the colored pieces now demand some of the highest prices, along with larger pieces in any color–cake plates, pitchers, and punch bowls, for example.
Since I started in the business back in 1996, the prices for common pieces of elegant glass have dropped steadily, due in large part to eBay. The market has been flooded with all kinds of items that used to be rare and “collectible.”
Sometimes new collectors confuse depression glass with elegant glass. Manufacturers produced depression glass rather cheaply and in a variety of pretty colors, like yellow, red, blue, and green.
Once pieces were unmolded, they were ready for sale. Elegant era glass, on the other hand, was more costly to produce.
While both depression and elegant glass have intricate designs, those on elegant glass were acid-etched by hand. Depression glass designs, on the other hand, were mold-etched, meaning the designs were part of the molding process. Elegant glass designs are incised, depression glass are raised.
If you have a piece of each in your hand, the difference is pretty obvious. Additionally, depression glass often contains flaws like bubbles and wrinkles. Elegant glass does not, and in fact manufacturers usually burnished the glass to a high gloss through an extra fire-polishing.
If your mother or grandmother owned some of this type of glass, she probably referred to it as “the good glass.”
You may recognize this piece of glass from a previous post: This Week’s Vintage Finds #22. The Fostoria Glass Company of Fostoria, Ohio, produced this beautiful tidbit server in the Romance pattern.
They eventually moved to West Virginia when Ohio’s natural glass resources dried up, and they operated for almost 100 years before closing in 1983.
NOTE: I shot these photos against brown craft paper so the pattern could be more clearly seen and appreciated. Clear glass is notoriously difficult to photograph. Sorry for the seemingly dull pics.
In this close up, you can see that the pattern consists of swirling ribbon and vines with lovely large bows and five-petaled, dogwood-like flowers.
Fostoria also manufactured this oblong divided dish, in the Chintz pattern. In production from 1940-1973, this pattern includes roses with thorned stems and multi-leaved fern-like fronds. Value: $10-20.
Fostoria produced one of the longest running glass patterns ever: American. Value: $3-5.
This dimensional cube pattern was produced in such abundance and in so many forms, that it is still widely available at garage sales, flea markets, estate sales, auctions, and antique shops.
Beware of reproductions made of inferior, hazy glass. True American pieces almost glow they are so heavy and glossy. One common repro is a tall pitcher, which stands about 12″.
Most American is crystal -colored, but they manufactured a few of the 100+ different pieces in both clear and colored glass.
Collectors currently have no interest in common pieces but serving pieces sometimes sell for $20-40; however, they will sit on the shelf for a good while before selling.
The Cambridge Glass Company, founded in Cambridge, Ohio in 1901, produced this lovely bon bon in the Wildflower pattern. Value: $10-20
Comprised of large dogwood and poinsettia-type flowers, Cambridge produced this pattern in the 1940s and 50s.
Major A. H. Heissey founded the Heissey Glass Company in Newark, Ohio in 1893. It remained in business until 1958, when the Imperial Glass Company purchased it.
This medium-sized bowl is in the Heissey Colonial pattern. The blueish cast comes from the lighting, not the glass. Value: $5-10.
The photographs do not quite do justice to the beauty of the glass.
Heissey marked glass manufactured prior to 1958 with an H in a diamond, as you can see on this piece.
Though the market for elegant glass is not strong, its quality and elegance speak for itself. Hopefully the market will pick up again in the near future.
If you love these beautiful pieces of glass and enjoy entertaining with them, now is a great time to make a purchase since the prices are low!
What’s your opinion about elegant glass–love it or leave it?
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Oh, how I love it! I have a lot of milk glass too, kinda inherited with my house! Would love to sell it and buy more glass!
Thanks for visiting, Lisa!
Lovely, informative post!
I learned a lot from your post – thanks for sharing this information!
Thanks for dropping by Frances!
Thank you so much, Diana, for this extremely informative post! I love looking for glass items while antiquing and have no knowledge of what is what. I just love and appreciate the shapes and etched patterns! This post has given me a knowledge base now!! Thanks, again, Rosie @ The Magic Hutch
I'm so glad I could help, Rosie!
Personally I always leave elegant clear glass, I like milk glass and colored (particularly turquoise) milk glass, but the clear stuff just doesn't have as much appeal for me (and as you said, is difficult to photograph). I really enjoyed this post, very informative.
Love your informative posts! Makes me want to keep an eye out for some pieces now! Thanks for sharing @ TTF!
I have a small collection of Cambridge Glass. The maker's Mark is the letter C in a triangle. Just something to know when you are shopping.
I love going from link to link in your old posts; learned a bit more about elegant glass; I love the etched floral stuff like Chintz. Looking for a small 5-6″ diameter mirror to double side tape to center of a large platter with etched flowers along with a plate hanging hookup. Think it might be pretty on a wall with wallpaper and it won’t ruin the value of an old piece!