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April 4, 2013

Depression-era glassware to be exhibited at Madison Place April 20-21

By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
At the Glass Show, attendees can see place-setting examples such as this collection of Depression-era glass arranged by Dorothy Alden, in memory of the late Margie Laski, a fellow member of the Great Lakes Depression Glass Club. Titled “Orchid,” in reference to Laski’s passion for the flower, the items feature intricate floral patterns and shapes. It was the Silver Award winner for Most Creative Theme at the club’s 9th Glass Olympics.

METRO DETROIT — As people go about cleaning the house this spring, they’ll be asking themselves what they should keep and what they should pitch.

The tricky part is, you never know what could become treasure. Entire hobbies arise around items that are common in one era and rare in another.

Hobbies like Depression glass, which will be featured at the 39th Annual Glass Show at Madison Place April 20-21, presented by the Great Lakes Depression Glass Club.

“We call it a ‘rainbow of glass’ — when you walk in the door, you’re immediately struck by the beauty of it all: red, green, blue, yellow, pink, purple,” said Mary Jo Piccinini, show chairperson and a resident of St. Clair Shores.

“It’s just gorgeous, and it’s an antique show where it’s all one product; it’s all glass,” she said. “So many of the companies that made them are out of business because of imports and lifestyle changes and the factories burned down, not to mention that, in today’s economy, people couldn’t afford them.”

They’re products of another era, then, and collectors are rediscovering them.

“People start to appreciate the beauty and workmanship of what is a U.S. product,” Piccinini said. “What goes around comes around, as they say.”

Madison Place — also called the United Food & Commercial Workers Hall — is at 876 Horace Brown Drive, south of 13 Mile between I-75 and John R in Madison Heights.

Show times are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 20, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 21. Admission is $5.

Depression glass has real historical significance, according to Sharon Riehl, of Sterling Heights, co-vice president of the Great Lakes Depression Glass Club.

From the 1920s through the 1960s, she explained, American companies made entire table sets of glassware in a wide variety of colors, with all sorts of patterns, from basic geometric shapes to Art Deco and other styles, depending on the decade.

Inexpensive and machine-made, they were one of the few luxuries the average person could afford during the Great Depression, and helped to pull the country out of dire straits, since their manufacturers thrived while others failed.

So-called elegant glassware was also available, such as those in upscale department stores like Hudson’s, but many people were content to get the glass that was widely available for cheap. 

Low cost aside, the glassware was literally given away at some businesses, serving as a way for gas stations, movie theaters and such to reward customers for their patronage and encourage repeat visits, since once a customer had one piece to a set, they would return to collect the rest.

Such glass was everywhere during the first half of the 20th century, but times change. The economy recovered, and the advent of TV dinners and more on-the-go lifestyles meant the family dinner as an elaborate production was the exception, not the rule.

And so the companies that made Depression glass faded away, and what was once taken for granted became something valuable. Many people sold their glassware at garage sales or pitched them altogether, not knowing they’d be valuable.

“People have a tendency, when they get something for nothing, not to value it,” Riehl said. “This glass is part of our country’s history. How many companies are there now, in this country, making this glass? There are very few.”

In addition to all of the glass on display, arranged to inspire ideas for place-setting, there will also be an educational booth with original pieces and their replicas, teaching people how to differentiate between the two so they don’t pay more than what’s owed.

Participants from the Great Lakes Depression Glass Club’s 9th Glass Olympics competition, held at their meeting March 26, will bring their entries for attendees to vote on.

Rounding it all out will be numerous vendors from across the country, so people can purchase their own glass and begin forming — or expanding — their own collections.

“They can be great conversation pieces when maybe people are going to stay overnight and you put out some green glasses and they remark how pretty they are, and you tell them, ‘Oh, those used to be released in oatmeal boxes,’” Riehl said. “For the kids, it can teach them about the Depression, how businesses had to struggle to survive, and the lengths they went to. There are history lessons, and conservations to be had.

“And it doesn’t matter whether the item collected costs a dollar or $500,” she added. “You get the same thrill of something going into your collection. I think it even lowers your blood pressure!”

The Great Lakes Depression Glass Club meets the fourth Tuesday of every month, except the months of July and August, at First United Methodist Church of Troy, located at 6363 Livernois in Troy.

Their 39th Annual Glass Show will be held at Madison Place — also called the United Food & Commercial Workers Hall — at 876 Horace Brown Drive, south of 13 Mile between I-75 and John R in Madison Heights, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 20, and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 21. Admission is $5.

For more information, visit www.depressionglassclub.com.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at akozlowski@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1104.