How to Identify Vintage Glass

By Meredith Jameson
Vintage glass can be clear or made of various colors

Vintage glass items can be found in many antique stores, collectors' shows and individual collections. Glass items include vases, plates, stemware, platters, jars and dishes of assorted sizes and shapes. Because vintage glass is a wide category that includes many different glass types, patterns and colors, it can be difficult to correctly identify vintage glass. There are a few ways to learn about vintage glass and how to identify it.

Depression glass items were inexpensively made and distributed between 1929 and the early 1940s, often as prizes from companies such as cereal manufacturers or as giveaways from movie theatres. Although they were considered cheap at the time, Depression glass items are now prized as collectors' items. Depression glass colors include pink, green, blue, amber and red, while common patterns included bubbles, swirls, lace and cubes. Look at the bottom of the glass item for a manufacturer’s mark or name, which may include the Hocking Glass Company, Hazel Glass Company, or Jeannette Glass Company, among others.

Glass pieces that appear to be Depression glass due to their color but with more elaborate designs and intricate detailing are likely Elegant glass. Elegant glass was also made during the Depression but the items were hand-finished, unlike Depression glass, which was all machine made. Look for intricate patterns and etching that isn't identical in size or shape, indicating that it was done by hand. Makers of Elegant glass included Lancester Glass Company, Cambridge Glass Company and the Viking Glass Company.

Milky white or opaque glass items are called milk glass, which was also manufactured during the Depression era. The pieces may be smooth with only ruffled edges or with a raised bump pattern that looks like lace. Referred to as milk glass, these items were commonly manufactured by the Fenton Glass Company, L.E. Smith Glass Company, Duncan Glass, and the U.S. Glass Company.

Look for glass pieces that appear slightly slick and iridescent and a little yellow in color. These pieces are called Vaseline glass and contain uranium oxide, which makes the items glow florescent green when held up to a black or ultraviolet (UV) light. If you purchase Vaseline glass in a store or from another buyer, ask for verification with the UV light test.

Carnival glass items have an iridescent coating and have been pressed in a mold to form different shapes. These pieces appear slightly oily and commonly have purple or amber as a base color. The largest maker of carnival glass was Fenton Glass Company, which made a stag and holly pattern with a deer and holly leaves that was a popular feature of their Carnival glass pieces.

Purchase a reference book or borrow one from your local library that has detailed photos and information about vintage glass. Examples of such a reference book include “Collector's Encyclopedia of Depression Glass” by Gene Florence and Cathy Florence, and “Collector's Encyclopedia of American Art Glass (American Art Glass Identification and Values)” by John A. Shuman.

About the Author

Meredith Jameson writes early childhood parenting and family health articles for various online publications. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in history from San Francisco State University.