Article as it appeared in
Romantic Homes Magazine
February 2000 Issue
BY JOAN DARDIS
Collecting this pretty Depression Glass favorite is fun for February or any other time of the year.
During the mid to late 1920's, household items made of colored glass - from lampshades to candlesticks, powder boxes to tableware - came into vogue. After the Great Depression hit, this colored glassware was even more desirable because it was inexpensive to purchase. Machine made, it was simply molten glass pressed in a pattern mold, sometimes etched with acid, sometimes just a plain pressed design. Now referred to as Depression Glass, it's the delight of many collectors.
With its myriad patterns and dazzling colors, it is sought by nostalgia buffs from East to West. But like Cinderella and her glass slipper, some patterns, colors and pieces of this popular collectible can be quite elusive. The pretty American Sweetheart is one of those. Never reproduced, it's available but not easy to find in a particular piece or color. Still for many, finding that first piece may be like eating potato chips - they can't stop with just one.
Says Pennsylvania dealer and collector Edie Putanko: "Depression Glass is addictive. I started with just a few pieces and now I have five closets full." In fact, as a collectible, this ware is so popular today that Edie discusses it on television in Pittsburgh and sells not only through her shop in Bethel Park but also at shows around the country and on her web site.
"For me it's both unique and a connection to the past," says Edie. "It's so different from any glass you can pick up today. These pieces have stories connected to them, your own family or the family of someone else. People are amazed at what an attractive setting it can make and how inexpensive it can be."
And inexpensive it was, especially compared to today's prices. Distributed through dime stores, a lucky homeowner could eventually afford to buy a complete set for her table. The overall patterns covered up the lesser quality of the glass itself and many mistakes of the glass maker, plus the rainbow of colors brightened both people's lives and tables during the Depression years. Pieces of the glassware were sometimes giveaways, premiums in rolled oats, in 20-pound sacks of flour or in boxes of soap powder. On a slow night at the movie theater, it might be a prize on dish night. If you had enough money to buy a dining room set at your local furniture store, they might throw in a whole set of dishes.
"You could buy service for eight for $2.98," Edie adds. "Today, if you could find the complete set, it would be a steal at $298." Not highly regarded in it's time, Depression Glass was inexpensive enough to be treated just like the disposable paper and plastic products of today.
A word of advice to those just beginning to collect: Buy from a reputable dealer. "Try all avenues, garage sales, resale shops, auctions, antique shops, antique malls, major shows and glass clubs around the country plus sales on the Internet and through specialty publications," says collector Greg Evans. Another collector comments: "American Sweetheart can easily be found at antique shows that specialize in glass. Luncheon and salad plates as well as cups and saucers are not too expensive ($10 to $15), but I've heard of rarer pieces like the lid to the sugar bowl priced at $455. Tumblers are almost $200." Still, author Gene Florence encourages, "Keep looking - you never know what will turn up."
Now complete sets, if possible to assemble at all, may take years of patient searching. The more collectors turn up for their own tables and shelves, the fewer bowls and plates, cups and platters are available for sale. Supply and demand in collectibles is the key to how much something may be worth. For rare pieces, the sky's the limit.
"The vast majority of Depression Glass was probably bought over the counter or from the catalog at Sears or Wards," surmises Ken Grubenhoff, owner of an antique glass shop in Denver. "And American Sweetheart may have been a slightly more expensive, machine-made glass because there's no in that pattern that you see a ton of."
The mold-etched pattern of American Sweetheart is a particularly pretty pattern manufactured from 1930 to 1936 by the MacBeth-Evans Glass Company, now owned by Corning Glass Works. In her book, The Collector's Guide to Depression Glass, Marian Klamkin describes it as "a neat arrangement of a center motif of festoons, ribbons and scroll designs with smaller similar motifs surrounding the scalloped rim. Between the border motifs...are short radial lines which give the border a ruffled effect."
"It tugs at the back of my mind," Edie comments, "that the pattern of Depression glassware called American Sweetheart was named after 'America's Sweetheart', movie star Mary Pickford. Whether folklore or fact, American Sweetheart glassware is as much a darling of collectors today as Mary was the darling of the silver screen."
This pattern in light pink and also in translucent white with a slight bluish tint known as Monax was popular for complete table settings. Cherry red and cobalt blue were produced as dessert sets and serving pieces. Other variations were called "Smoke", a Monax with a smoke-shaded rim, and Cremax, an ivory opaque color. For fanciers of American Sweetheart today, blue is the most elusive; red is the next most difficult to find.
American Sweetheart collector Greg Evans of Chicago fell head over heals in love with these wonderful colors when he was just out of high school. Twenty years later he not only has a house spilling over with favored pieces but also has made the buying and selling of it his life's work. "I never buy anything I don't personally like since I never know how long I'm going to own the item," Greg says. "I change my dishes for the season and for special occasions. The colors lend as eclectic look to any table, formal or informal."
As graduate students, Ken Grubenhoff and his wife, Marti, were hooked on Depression Glass while trying to find household items within their budget. Ken assures us that most Depression Glass, even American Sweetheart, is still fairly affordable. Perhaps a dinner plate in the '30s for 4 cents might now sell for $25, but "it starts adding up if you wish to find service for eight with all the serving pieces."
In Collector's Encyclopedia of Depression Glass, writer Gene Florence concedes that American Sweetheart, as well as many other patterns, "can still be collected with patience." He adds, "Collect what you truly like. Eventually, you will be able to accumulate a set even it's only a small one."
Sometimes the rarer the treasure, the more exciting the hunt, as Wisconsin dealer J.R. Schonscheck attests. "Some pieces of American Sweetheart are very hard to find, especially sugar lids, salt and pepper shakers, iced tea tumblers and cream soup bowls. The rarest are 'lunch-box pieces', one-of-a-kind pieces glassworkers made on their lunch hours and took home in their lunch boxes to their wives."
For some, like Edie's mother, who actually set her table with this inexpensive glassware during the 1930's, it may not have had that much appeal. She once asked Edie at a special occasion, "You're not going to use those old dishes?" But to Edie, American Sweetheart is magnificent on a table. "Red or cobalt on a white cloth or Monax on a dark cloth is just gorgeous," she says. For today's avid collectors, to know Depression Glass is to love it.