Early American Pattern Glass

Early American pattern glass (EAPG) collecting is a niche with dedicated followers.

The beautiful glass comes from the period from 1850 to 1910, which is why pattern glass is also sometimes called Victorian glass, most of it having been made in the Victorian era. Later, in the 1930s and ’40s, pressed glass dishes were made and referred to as Depression Era Glass.

Prior to pattern glass, only the rich could afford the fancier blown glass dishes. But the start of glass factories allowed the lower classes to access their own cheaper glass dishes, instead of wood or tin dishes. Manufacturers used cast-iron molds and patented patterns to create the dishes.

A beautiful vintage clear candy dish.

A beautiful vintage clear candy dish.

There are somewhere around 1300 glass patterns, though it’s hard to know exactly how many are really out there – the number could be as high as 3000.

Most of the glass was made in sets, where each piece had the same pattern and color to tie it all together. One curious pattern in these sets was the inclusion of celery vases. During the time these were made, poorer people could rarely afford celery, making the popular inclusion of celery vases in sets a confusing one. As EAPG collector Elaine Henderson says, “Nobody can figure out why almost every pattern with more than a table set has a celery vase.”

Learning about collecting EAPG takes time and practice, including the art of identifying between the originals and the reproductions. One technique for finding legitimate vintage glass is putting a clear piece under a black light – if it doesn’t glow yellow, it’s a reproduction. However, if it does glow yellow, then it could be either old or new.

(By Sheila Sund on Flickr)

(By Sheila Sund on Flickr)

A fairly recent practice of creating “sun purple” glass has swept the nation, appalling pattern glass collectors who say that this practice destroys the value of the glass pieces. Making “sun purple” dishes entails putting the glass in sunlight, turning the glass a light purple color when a material in the glass called manganese reacts to the ultraviolet rays. Coloring these dishes in such a way became a trend for a while, but collectors are getting the word out that the process ruins the value and original color of pieces. Contrary to popular belief, the process is irreversible, therefore destroying pieces that are quickly becoming more & more rare.

Next time you go to an antique store, keep your eyes peeled — there may be a rare vintage glass piece just waiting to be picked up.

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