With their eye-catching shades and an attractive array of shapes and designs, antique glassware is highly decorative – a reminder of the impressive craftsmanship from decades past. While some passionate collectors purchase antique pieces only for display, others dare to maintain them for everyday use.
Finding treasures amongst antique glassware is bliss for glass collectors. Moreover, particular markings make the treasure hunt more fun, mysterious, and exciting. Each unique piece of glass that you find has some hidden mysteries that will intrigue. Even professional collectors may get stumped when trying to identify some glassware. Therefore, familiarizing yourself with the common features of antique glassware is a great idea when forming or selling a collection.
What Is Antique Glassware?
Antique glassware refers to a rich array of decorative and practical objects created during the late 1800s. There are different types of antique glassware, including glass cups, plates, vases, and bowls. The oldest form of antique glassware was cut glass which was invented about 2000 years ago.
Glassware which was made between the late 19th century to the mid 20th century is categorized as the pinnacle of glassmaking. Thus, this has is a desirable era to form a collection from.
The rule is simple when it comes to antiques – an object is antique if it is more than 100 years old.
As a collector and passionate about these special items, you may want to look for antique glassware for display purposes or use them carefully for serving and cooking. The range of designs and patterns is broad, from simple and minimalist to affordable or extravagant glassware types.
If you don’t know where to start, this guide compiles all the signs that make glassware valuable and the designs that are worth collecting.
Identifying Valuable Antique Glassware
Let’s look at the most important aspects regarding your antique glassware.
Crystal Or Antique Glass?
Before you begin more detailed research regarding the particularities of glassware, such as details and patterns, you should take a moment to determine whether you found antique glass or crystal items.
Crystal is a glass made with lead oxide, which lends more sparkle, shine, and weight to an item. These are the easiest methods to determine if your old glassware is made of crystal:
- Tap the glass gently; the crystal should sound like a bell;
- Pay attention to the patterns and cuts; Crystal has sharp edges;
- Hold the object up to the light or front of a window; if you notice a prism effect, you might be dealing with crystal;
On the other hand, antique glass tends to be lighter weight. By looking carefully, you may discover some little clues that a glass item is more than 100 years old. So pay attention to:
- Pontil marks: blown glass, mainly, has this pontil mark right on the bottom, with a circular shape;
- Irregularities and bubbles: lots of antique glassware items come with these tiny bubbles and other imperfections, which are part of their charm. You need to look very closely to find these signs;
- Patina: old glass has this unique patina of use and time; this might show in tiny flakes, small chips, or minor scratches;
Look For Antique Glass Markings
Although lots of antique glassware pieces may not be marked, many of them come with specific markings. These are the most common identification signs on glass pieces older than 100 years:
Turn the glass piece upside down to find the mark on the bottom. Sometimes, the glass trademark can be displayed on the side. Sometimes, marks can fade over time, so you might need to use a magnifying glass or loupe to check these marks.
Other markings that may appear on antique glassware offering clues about their age are:
- Pontil marks (usually on the bottom of the glass)
- Mold marks (indicate the piece was manufactured using a mold. Items made from the same mold will present similar lines and imperfections)
- Bubbles are found within the glass, hinting as to how the glass was made. This mark is an excellent indicator of the type of glass and its age.
Factors Affecting Antique Glass Value
The value of antique glassware may be affected by multiple factors. Here are the essential ones:
- Condition (a piece with lots of cracks, chips, cracks, and other damage is usually worth less than a similar one in perfect condition);
- Age (glassware older than 100 years is more valuable)
- Rarity (if there are lots of glassware with similar colors, designs, and patterns, then they might not be worth so much money because they are more common)
- Type (larger items like fruit bowls tend to be more valuable than smaller items like shot glasses)
- Pattern (a unique pattern will be more valuable than a classic one).
- Beauty (this is a subjective element so that each person would evaluate them differently).
This video explains all these factors.
Types of Antique and Vintage Glassware
If you want to collect outstanding glassware models, look for these unique types:
Art glassware was firstly developed in the early 1900s by glassmakers who wanted to create something different to more traditional pieces that had come before. Their work was mainly handmade and included vases, bottles, and bowls.
Lively colors were the main characteristics of these items, and nature-inspired designs too. Art glassware included beautiful pieces from Tiffany, Quetzal, Steuben, or Durand. Collectors became interested in these valuable objects mainly during the 50s and 60s.
The Fenton Glass Company first developed this type of glassware in 1907. Their primary purpose was to offer a cheaper option to Tiffany’s Favrile Glass and become the main award for winning carnival games.
Carnival glass was in high demand from the 50s when people began appreciating its decorative properties. The main particularity of this antique glassware is the colorful sheen, displaying different colors based on the angle they are viewed from. Additionally, the value of these collectibles depends on their size, type, time of production, and how well they have been maintained.
The most valuable pieces are complete sets, bigger objects, and those models manufactured before the 40s. Remember that marigold-colored pieces and ice green ones are more valuable (they might be worth thousands of dollars).
Crystal glassware is quite similar to regular glass. However, its quality is better and made partially from lead. Wealthy people were the first to use these pieces to serve food and drinks in the 19th century. Nowadays, crystal glassware from that period is desirable as antique pieces.
Due to the lead material used in their production, crystal glassware is much more durable, weighs more, and is smoother than typical glass. Crystal also reflects light beautifully and produces a prism of colors. Check the sound to ensure the crystal is authentic, and expect to hear the “ping” sound.
Major manufacturers normally leave their signature or name on the bottom of their products to make them easily identifiable.
Interesting fact: The most expensive pieces come from the American Brilliant period, so you are lucky if you find these kinds of specimens in good condition with rare designs.
Depression glassware was produced during the Great Depression (which started in 1929) and intended as a low-cost glass option. Thanks to the affordable costs, people used these pieces daily to serve their guests and beautify their living areas.
The best element of depression glassware is its multitude of colors, patterns, and sizes. You can easily spot them due to the geometric form, opalescent trim, and etched designs. The cheapest models may have some flaws, which will not necessarily decrease their price. Instead, it will be easier for collectors to recognize these types.
The most valuable items are the best-maintained ones, with green and pink shades. Jeanette Bottle Works was a prominent maker of depression glass.
Take a look at this beautiful collection of depression glass items.
While some companies moved their manufacturing to cheaper glassware during the Depression, other brands focused on high-end products which were much more expensive. These particular pieces were called elegant glassware and were produced by talented craftspeople.
Elegant glassware comes in lots of different designs and colors. However, the production was slightly different and more complex, making them more costly. A complete set of dinnerware in excellent condition might be worth thousands of dollars. Look for companies like Imperial Glass Corporation and Fostoria Glass Company for the best quality and highest value today.
This glassware model is stunning.
These pieces are more affordable than elegant glassware, and they have been popular choices for the kitchen. Jadeite, Delphite, Fire King, and Platonite are glass types used for making kitchen glassware.
One of the antique glassware types dating back to the 40s and 50s is milk glassware. Also called opaque glass, milk glass served as a cheaper competitor for European and China glass. Though the name suggests this glassware is only available in white, milk glassware comes in many other shades.
The most valuable pieces of milk glassware are famous as “old milk glass,” which were made during the mid-19th and the early 20th century. Some old milk glassware pieces might feature different patterns such as animals.
How To Value Antique Glassware
If you think you might have a genuine piece of antique glassware, it’s time to value it. These collection specimens often might not have any logo, signature, or mark to indicate their age and authenticity. Nevertheless, there are other simple ways to identify them.
How To Value Antique Glassware By Yourself
- One of the first signs that might indicate glassware is antique is chips. However, these flaws might lessen the value of a piece of glassware. You can gauge the age of chips by how they feel. The new ones will be sharper, while the old chips are often smoother at the edges having been worn over time.
- On the other hand, cracks are more difficult to notice, and you might need to take the glassware into the sunlight to check for hairline fissures.
- Flakes are also a good indicator of an old piece of glassware. Flakes are small, flat, thin pieces of glass which have chipped off the item.
- You can identify rough spots quickly by running your finger along the base or rim of a goblet or drinking glass.
- Scratches are also a pertinent indicator of age, and you can mostly notice them at the bottom of an antique piece.
- Straw marks like these here are irregularities on old glass you may see on the side of your glassware.
If you still don’t have any clue about the authenticity of your glassware, you can take some photos and upload them on Google Images. The search engine will immediately return you pictures with similar objects.
Even if you feel like a pro at the process of valuing glassware, it is never a bad idea to enhance your knowledge. These valuable resources will help you identify antique glassware:
If you find marks or logos that are unfamiliar to you, use some identification guides such as:
- Carnival Glass
- Bottle Makers and Their Marks
- Art Glass: Identification & Price Guide
- Collectible Drinking Glasses: Identification & Values
How To Value Antique Glassware Professionally
Usually, antique glass markings are the best way to solve the mystery of old glass pieces’ authenticity. However, consulting different guides and books might be an overwhelming activity.
Instead, you can head over to the nearest antique store and ask for a professional opinion. Experts will check all the undersides or markings you have not noticed and gather the necessary information to uncover the mystery. Bear in mind they may charge for this service.
Where To Buy Pieces to Collect
Collecting antique glassware can be a wonderful hobby; however, there are few trustworthy sources you can rely on. One of the best places to shop for treasures includes antique stores, thrift stores, and flea markets.
If you don’t have time and energy to pass by classic antique fairs, don’t worry, as most dealers have moved their activity online. Keep an eye on the mainstream online markets like:
eBay is an excellent online auction site for buying vintage and antique glassware. Thanks to many sellers, you have multiple options for buying. Check “Top Rated Sellers” and apply relevant filters regarding the material (crystal or glass), brand, production style, and era.
Etsy is a versatile online marketplace with lots of sellers and undiscovered treasures. However, it is more likely to find vintage glassware than antique specimens. To ensure their authenticity, select the “sort by customers review” filter, then check the top offers for reputable sellers.
Good to know: Antique pieces are unique, so don’t be fooled by those who promise replicas or “antique style” pieces.
Amazon is usually the top market for brand new items. Ones labelled with “like new” have been owned by someone before you. Nevertheless, if you just want to have nice glassware to suit your home design, you can buy some antique replicas. This set is quite elegant.
Q: Can unmarked glass be genuinely antique?
A: Finding unmarked glass is quite normal. The oldest pieces of glass don’t have any markings, so you’d instead search for scratches, chips, or cracks on the bottom.
Q: What are acid badges?
A: A maker’s mark can often be displayed in the form of acid badges, a type of branding for glass using acid to etch the pattern.
Q: Which is the most usual type of registration mark?
A: There are all kinds of marks. For instance, pieces of glassware from the 1800s have registration numbers, while earlier specimens have a diamond symbol to attest the registration of the model.
Q: I can’t find the artist’s signature on any of my antiques. Should I worry?
A: Artists used to sign engraved glass pieces, so they could be pretty well hidden in the pattern. Consequently, the signature became part of the design and may even have faded away (if there was one). However, not all pieces were signed by the artist and manufactured pieces were unsigned.