Distinguishing Reproductions

by David Adams
Volume 29 No. 9 - November/December 2003

A customer wrote to me recently, asking the following question: Does depression glass have a seam in it, or is that the sign or a reproduction? The answer to the question is not a simple YES Or NO.

First of all, let me introduce two terms: "depression glass" and "elegant glass". ALL of the glassware made in America during the yeArs of the "Great Depression" can be called "Depression Glass." Author Gene Florence coined the term "elegant glass" to distinguish between companies which mass-produced low-cost glass during the depression years (which he still called "depression glass") and companies which took extra steps in the manufacturing process to produce a higher qualify glass that was never a "give away", but was sold in Jewelry and high-end department stores, even during the trying times of the Depression. This we call "elegant glass."

Much of the glassware (not stemware) made during the depression years was done via a "pressed mold" process. A glob of molten glass would be gathered on a long rod (called a "punty"), then the glob would be placed into a hot cast-iron mold. The mold could be two-part, three-part or even four-part, depending on the piece being manufactured. Once the item was formed, the mold would be opened and a worker would remove the piece using another long-handled tool called a "snap" (the glass would be around 1800 degrees when taken from the mold, so you would definitely want a long handled tool).

Now here is where you run into the difference between what we call "depression glass" end "elegant glass." Both were made in exactly the same way. But the worker carrying the piece of "depression glass" would immediately remove the piece to a "cooling lehr" (an oven where the item could cool down very slowly to room temperature, to avoid cracking).

The worker carrying a piece of whet we refer to now as "elegant glass," would take the item to either an open flame, or back to a small opening in the main furnace (called a glory hole), and "fire polish the piece, to cause he mold marks to melt and blend into the piece. The result is that the piece appears not to have any mold marks. In reality, they were there, but were polished away so that the piece appeared flawless. After the fire polishing step, then the piece would be taken to the same type of cooling lehr to allow it to cool down to room temperature.

Even today, molded pieces are produced in the exact same way. There are always mold marks initially in a pressed piece (and also in what we call "mold blown" pieces, too): It is the extra step of fire polishing that removes the visible mold marks and makes the piece appear to have no mold marks at all.

The companies that took the extra step of fire polIshing (an they did other "extra" things, too) advertised their glass a "hand made," although the more proper term would be "hand finished." There were extra steps in the manufacturing process, the ingredients were of higher quality, and the result was what we call today "Elegant glass." Companies like Fostoria, Cambridge, Heisey, Tiffin, Morgantown and Duncan & Miller were examples of the manufacturers that took those extra steps to make "elegant glass."

The companies that mass-produced very inexpensive glass during the depression era did not take those extra labor intensive steps and didn't use as high quality raw materials. Their output is what we now call "depression glass" and mold marks are often quite noticeable in their products. Examples are: Jeanette, Anchor Hocking, Indiana, Hazel-Atlas and Federal. This is the type of glass that was used in promotional give-aways during the Depression years.

Then there were companies that fall into the middle range where some output was quite elegant and other wares were closer to the quality of "depression glass." These include: Paden City, New Martinsville, Imperial and Lancaster. Some of their glass has the characteristics of "elegant," while other patterns seem to fit into the "depression" category.

So the simple answer is that all press-molded (and mold-blown) pieces have seams, but some manufacturers take the extra steps necessary to cause those seams to "disappear." So the presence or absence of a seam is of no value at all in determining if an item is a reproduction.