Have you ever wondered how to identify your antique and vintage glassware? After I inherited a small batch of antique glassware from my grandmother, I was inspired to start a collection of my own vintage pieces.
My curiosity was sparked by these beautiful pieces! What were they used for, when were they made, and what is the history behind these treasures?
Here is some information about the history, types, and styles of antique and vintage glassware in our vintage candle collection, plus some tips for identifying, dating, and valuing pieces.
The History of American Glassware
The history of American glassware dates back to the 1800s. Originally, glassware was a luxury and status symbol in American homes in the 19th-century Victorian era. This glassware was often hand-pressed or hand-blown.
Then in the late 19th century, machine-made glassware gave way to more affordable glassware for the average American family!
Types & Styles of Antique & Vintage Glass
At the turn of the 20th century, there were more than 500 glass manufacturers in the United States. These companies were turning out everyday pieces that would later become collector’s items.
Some of the most collectible types & styles of antique and vintage glassware include Depression Glass, Carnival Glass, Milk Glass, Moonstone, Hobnail Glass, and Jadeite. One of the most popular styles of antique glass was a Hen on Nest, also known as Animal Dishes because of the variety of animals they come in.
#1: Depression Glass
Depression Glass came on the scene with a bang at a time when Americans needed a colorful pick-me-up! Depression Glass is colored glassware in a variety of patterns that were made during the Depression & post-Depression era (typically ranging from 1929 to 1940s.)
It was an affordable *bright spot* in American homes during the dark days of this time period. Each piece cost around 5-10 cents and the glassware was often packed in cereal boxes or flour bags, and even given away at local movie theaters, gas stations, and grocery stores!
#2: Carnival Glass
Carnival Glass has a shiny, iridescent sheen & was produced in a variety of colors & styles. It was originally called “Iridill” by the Fenton Art Glass Company when it was introduced at the turn of the 20th century.
It was marketed to a high-end audience with an expensive price tag. But it turned out that this iridescent glassware didn’t appeal to the high-end market and sales were low.
Thus, it earned the name “Carnival Glass” because it was eventually given as Carnival prizes in the early 1900s! It has since become highly collectible and you can find an array of Carnival glassware in candy dishes, teacups, pitchers, goblets, and more.
#3: Milk Glass
Milk Glass is opaque glass, usually WHITE and resembling white porcelain. Most people don’t know that Milk Glass was also produced in pink, green, black, and other colors.
Milk Glass was produced by almost every glass manufacturer in the 20th century in an endless variety of shapes, styles, and patterns. The popularity of Milk Glass dates back to the 17th century and continues to this day.
Jadeite is a form of Milk Glass in varying opaque shades of Jade green. The Anchor Hocking Glass Company popularized Jadeite in the 1940s under the Fire King brand. Jadeite was often used as restaurant ware because of its extreme durability, often even ovenproof!
Interestingly, some people credit Martha Stewart with the resurgence in popularity of Jadeite. She made public her extensive collection on TV and in her magazine in the 1990s. The search for Jadeite soared and so did the prices! Today, Jadeite continues to be a popular and VALUABLE collectible!
#5: Slag Glass
Slag Glass is glassware with a swirled or marbled effect. This type of glassware was originally created in the late 1800s using “Silicate Slag” (which is an ingredient that forms in Iron Ore as it cools.)
The SLAG was mixed with the glass in its molten state to create this marbled effect. Over time, other methods were discovered to create this effect in glassware, but the name “Slag Glass” remained.
#6: Moonstone or Opalescent Glass
The first pieces of antique glassware that I acquired came to me from my grandmother… a set of Moonstone jewelry dishes and a couple of perfume flasks. They are treasures to me!
Moonstone (also known as Opalescent glassware) is clear or colored glassware with an ombre effect that blends into white opalescence. In the 1940s, The Anchor Hocking Glass company released a popular style of clear Moonstone glassware in a Hobnail pattern, which has become highly collectible!
Hobnail Glass is characterized by its pattern of raised knobs or studs. Originally produced in the Victorian era, this early form of this glassware was known as “Dew Drop” glass, made in vessels such as lemonade pitchers with matching glasses.
Then in the 1930s, the Fenton Art Glass Company introduced their collection of Hobnail, first in translucent colors, then white Milk Glass. Hobnail is now one of the most highly sought-after styles of antique glass!
#8: Hen on Nest Candy or Trinket Dish or “HON”
Many of us grew up with these Hen on Nest Candy Dishes in our homes, or we remember them from Grandma’s china cabinet! They are also known as “HON” Dishes, Trinket Dishes, or Animal Dishes since they were also produced in the shape of bunnies, ducks, horses, cats… I’ve even had a LION!
Hen on Nest candy dishes date all the way back to the 18th century and was a costly import from England for the wealthy to use for their trinkets! When machine-made “pressed glass” came on the scene in the US in the late 1800s (that’s glass poured into molds by machine), the number of HON dishes being produced by a vast number of manufacturers exploded!
These dishes were produced by all of the major glass companies in an innumerable amount of sizes, patterns, styles, and colors. They were used as candy dishes, trinket dishes, serving dishes, salt cellars, and kitchen decor. These cherished hens on Nest Dishes have maintained their popularity through the centuries!
Popular Brands of Antique and Vintage Glass
As mentioned, the US was home to hundreds of glass manufacturers from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s. But a few of these companies stood out above the others, made a name for themselves in the industry, producing thousands, if not millions, of everyday glassware that made its way into the hearts and homes of Americans.
Three of these glass manufacturers include the Fenton Art Glass Company, the Westmoreland Glass Company, and Anchor Hocking Glass.
The Fenton Art Glass Company
The Fenton Art Glass Company was a front-runner in the glass-making industry throughout the 20th century. Starting with the debut of Carnival Glass in 1907, they went on to produce many other types of glassware such as Opalescent Moonstone, Milk Glass, Hobnail and more.
Sadly, the Fenton Art Glass Company closed its doors in the early 2000s and with it, came the end of an era.
The Westmoreland Glass Company
The Westmoreland Glass Company was born in the late 1800s, first in Ohio, then Pennsylvania. They became known for their extensive and impressive production of Milk Glass, starting in the 1920s, including the hugely popular Hen on Nest candy dishes!
Sadly, the Westmoreland Glass Company closed its doors just a few days before its 100th anniversary in 1984. But their Milk Glass and other collectibles continue to live on in homes across America!
The Anchor Hocking Glass Company was founded in 1905 in Ohio. The Anchor Hocking Glass Corporation became famous for their product line named “FireKing”, a collection of durable and oven-safe kitchenware. “FireKing” produced their supremely popular Jadeite collection in the 1940s, one of the most popular glass collectibles today!
Indiana Glass Company
The Indiana Glass Company was a leader in glass manufacturing from 1907 until 2002. They were known for their production of Depression Glass, Carnival and were a prolific producer of the popular Hen on Nest candy dishes. Their iconic 7” Hen on Nest candy dish retained the same basic appearance from the 1930s to the late 1990s!
Tips for Identifying, Dating and Collecting Antique Glass
When looking to date your antique glassware it’s important to consider a few key factors.
First, check the glass for any trademarks or logos. Some pieces even include signatures or easily recognizable symbols! Mostly, markings can be found on the bottom of the glass, but sometimes you can find them on the side. Older glassware might have markings that have faded over time, so grab a magnifying glass & inspect the piece in a well-lit area.
What Antique Glass Markings Mean
There are several types of markings that can help you to identify and date your antique glass. As stated above, most markings will be located on the bottom. Identifiers, such as embossed markings, can be found on the side.
When trying to date your glassware you can look on the bottom for Pontil marks or Mold lines as those will help you determine whether the glass was hand-blown or manufactured.
Below are the four main identifiable markings for antique glassware: embossed markings, maker’s mark, pontil marks and mold lines.
- Embossed marks are typically on the side of the glass and include the name of its contents or the manufacturer’s name. The glass may display the words “cough syrup” and/or the name of the company that made the cough syrup.
- On the bottom of the glassware a Maker’s Mark consisting of numbers, symbols or names can be found. The numbers and symbols correspond to a specific manufacturer
- Pontil Marks are circular marks also found on the bottom of the glass. This means the glass was hand-blown. A Pontil mark is left when the blowing tube (or “pontil”) is broken off from the glass.
- Mold lines are seams located on the sides of the glassware and are left by the machines that manufactured them or the molds they were manufactured in. Glassware shifted from hand-blown to machine-made during the late 19th century.
How Markings Affect Antique Glassware Value
Markings on glassware can help affect their value! Typically, glassware with pontil marks is considered more valuable because they are older and handmade.
Scarcity is another factor that will affect the value of your antique glass. Bottles that are rare are going to yield a higher profit due to their low availability.
The weight of an item, its color, quality and any marking or flaws will also aid in determining how valuable your antique glassware is.
Next time you’re browsing an antique shop (or thrift store!), be sure to use your new antique and vintage glassware-identifying skills to help you buy!
Look for markings, tap & hold the glass for weight/quality and keep your eyes peeled for rare depression glass colors, like pink. While not all glassware may be worth something monetarily, it will always be a great addition to any tablescape or home display.
Be sure to check out our line of antique glassware candles to start growing your vintage glassware collection! We look forward to seeing your pieces!
Kimber Smith is the creative founder of The Outer Banks Candle Company. With a degree in art, she has dabbled in many art forms from oil painting to calligraphy to furniture refinishing. And when she’s not busy making candles or managing the high energy (chaos) of life with five kids, she enjoys writing about the journey of it all!