Archive for Sunday, November 17, 2002

Depression glass used for table settings

November 17, 2002


The hostess setting a Thanksgiving table in the 1930s probably used glass dishes for some of the courses. Candlesticks, berry bowls, gravy boats and serving dishes, as well as standard place settings, were made of inexpensive Depression glass.

Some dishes were of more-expensive glass made by Fenton, Cambridge or Heisey. That glass is now called "elegant" glassware.

The wealthy used an even better glassware, often European, like Waterford or Baccarat.

Depression glass was made by tank molding. It was a new method of making inexpensive glass. Silica sand, soda ash and limestone were heated in a ceramic tank. The liquid glass then went through pipes to an automated pressing mold. The lacy design was part of the pattern in the mold. The glass came out shaped like the mold and included the design. Depression glass often had many small bubbles, but the lacy look of the design helped hide flaws. The top surface of each dish was molded flat so food would not stick to it. The underside of the glass carried the design. Elegant glassware was made in a mold, and the design was acid-etched on the molded piece.

Glass of the 1930s was clear or came in many colors, including pastel pink, blue, yellow and green, or darker colors, like cobalt blue, ruby red, forest green and purple. Dinnerware designs changed by the 1940s. Heavy, plain, dark-colored glass or pottery and porcelain came into fashion. Only the very expensive European-style glasses remained popular.

I have had a 9-inch porcelain vase since the 1960s, and I'd like to learn more about it. It is copper-colored and decorated with three hand-painted fairies with wings. On the bottom is the mark "B & Co." above the word "France." There's also a handwritten signature I can't read. Can you identify the maker?

Your vase is a piece of Limoges porcelain. The mark suggests it was made by Bernardaud & Co. of Limoges, France, sometime between 1900 and 1914. Most vases and other art objects made by Bernardaud & Co. were shipped to the United States as "white wares," meaning they were plain and unpainted. American china painters decorated the porcelain once it arrived here. The vase, in excellent condition, is worth about $500.

How old are paint-by-number pictures?

There were children's sets as early as the 1920s. Paint-by-number sets were redesigned and reintroduced at the New York Toy Fair by the Palmer Paint Co. of Detroit in 1951. They soon became the rage, and there were at least 35 companies making sets. Craftint, Art Award and Picture Craft made the most-popular kits. They usually had three unpainted, numbered pictures, two paintbrushes, paint thinner and a variety of paint colors. There were also paint-by-number tin trays, purses and wastebaskets. The craze continued until the mid-1960s. Old painted pictures are now being collected, and new sets are being made.

I inherited a set of cobalt-blue glass dishes that my parents had during the Depression. They told me that movie theaters gave the dishes to women who bought tickets. I have dinner plates, dessert plates, cups, saucers, wine glasses, three sizes of tumblers and a pitcher with a clear glass handle. The pitcher and tumblers match. Each one has three bulbous sections. I would like to learn more about the dishes.

You have a set of Depression glass dishes and glasses that were probably made by more than one manufacturer. We suspect that the pitcher and tumblers were made by the Louie Glass Co. of Weston, W.Va. The company, which worked from 1926 to 1995, made several beverage sets. During the Depression, movie theaters and retail stores across the country offered glass and ceramic dishes as premiums. It was a way to drum up business during hard times. Today, these Depression glass dishes are still popular. An old cobalt-blue glass pitcher is worth about $100.

During the 1950s, my brother-in-law worked at a manufacturing plant in Minneapolis. When an old-timer who had worked there since the '20s retired, he gave my brother-in-law a large, heavy, cast-iron twine dispenser that he said had been at the plant at least as long as he had. The dispenser has a twine hole at the top, surrounded by the words "Property of the U.S. P.O. Dept." Is this worth anything?

The words on the dispenser serve as a warning. It is still legally the property of the successor to the U.S. Post Office Department. The department was formed by Congress in 1872 and continued until it became the U.S. Postal Service in 1971. The post office in Minneapolis might have provided the dispenser to the plant to wrap parcels for mailing. Or some postal employee might have taken it and given it to someone at the plant. It's worth about $75.

I have a milk bottle that has a top section that looks like a young child's head. When was this type of bottle made?

The baby-top milk bottle was the invention of Michael Pecora of Hazelton, Pa., in 1936. Milk was not homogenized at that time, and some milk bottles were made with a bulge at the top. It was designed to collect the cream that rose to the top of the milk. The Pecora Baby Top Co. was the best-known source of the baby-face bottles. Many Cream Top Co. baby-face bottles are also known. The bottles were made by several glass companies.

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