Jonathan Fuhrman of the Michigan Depression Glass Society has been collecting glass for almost two decades. He began after he attended his first Michigan Depression Glass Society show because he wanted to learn more about some pieces he inherited from his grandmother.
We asked him to tell us about the upcoming Michigan Depression Glass Society show that's taking place at the Ford Community Performing Arts Center in Dearborn on Novembers 2nd and 3rd…
1. What is the Michigan Depression Glass Society?
The Michigan Depression Glass Society is a collector group of over 200 members with an interest in the collecting, preserving, and educating of the public about vintage American-made glassware. The club was founded in 1972 and is one of the oldest glass collecting clubs in the country. I joined in 2001, while still in high school.
Michigan Depression Glass Society holds meetings in Livonia, Michigan at the Civic Park Senior Center on the first Monday of most months. These meetings are typically attended by 90 members. Guests are always welcome. In addition to being an opportunity to buy from, sell to, or network with fellow collectors over coffee and treats, the meetings have two key elements: The first is the presentation of a table setting where a member sets a table with a pattern they collect. Attendees learn about the history of the glass company who made it, how the member started their collection, which pieces are the most difficult to find and valuable, etc. The second half of the meeting consists of a themed educational program centered on a particular topic. It could be glass manufactured by a certain company, glass of a certain color, or a particular item (candy dishes, vases, mayo sets, etc.)
2. What is happening at the annual show on November 2nd and 3rd?
The Michigan Depression Glass Society’s 47th annual show takes place November 2nd & 3rd at the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center in Dearborn. Twenty-four dealers from eleven states fill a 15,000 square foot room with vintage glassware for sale. Everything in the room is American-made before 1970. You’ll find everything for the home here from fine tableware to set a formal dinner party, to practical vintage kitchenware to mix up your favorite cookies in.
Each dealer brings shelving units for their tables that are several tiers tall. So in addition to almost 1,000 linear feet of tables, the glass is stacked three feet in the air. The room absolutely sparkles with every color of the rainbow! First-timers are always amazed as they enter the room. Even if you don’t collect glass, this is a visually breathtaking experience.
The show attracts a variety of people including advanced glass collectors, people who like to entertain and are looking for vintage barware or tableware to enhance their parties, home decorators who want a few accent pieces for a client like retro vases, to someone who might have inherited a couple pieces from their grandparents and want to learn more about the glass. The latter was me and how I got hooked.
3. Tell us about the theme of this year's event.
In addition to dealers selling glass at the event, the club creates an elaborate themed display. We’ve done everything from creating a picnic in the park complete with a mirrored stream that displayed glass swans, to re-creating storefronts on Woodward Avenue. This year, we’re taking a Michigan Road Trip. Over a dozen Michigan cities will be represented with different glass-themed vignettes. For example, Kalamazoo was well-known for their celery bogs, so we’re honoring them with a display of glass celery vases. Yes, celery vases. These glass manufacturers made a piece for every food item you could possibly think of serving. Chelsea will pay homage to the home of Jiffy baking mixes with a vintage kitchen display – mixing bowls, measuring cups, a breakfast table, etc.
4. For somebody attending the show for the first time, what do they need to know?
Much of the glass falls into two categories:
Depression glass refers to less expensive mass-produced machine-made glassware. Right around the time of the Great Depression, advancements were made in glass manufacturing that allowed companies to quickly produce large quantities of glassware, which were previously only able to be produced one at a time by hand. Unfortunately, when the depression hit, there wasn’t much of a customer-base to buy this stuff. So rather than selling to consumers, these companies struck deals with businesses. They sold their glass in bulk as a premium item that would be given away with products. You could find a creamer in a container of oatmeal, a sherbet dish in a bag of flour, or a plate at a movie theater. This encouraged brand loyalty – consumers had to keep buying the same brand so they could collect a full set of dishes.
Elegant glass refers to higher end glassware of the period, which continued to be hand-blown and created one at a time. While these companies struggled through the depression, they had their hay-day in the late 30s into the 50s and 60s. Companies like Cambridge, Fostoria, and Heisey had large plants that employed thousands of workers to produce glassware for department stores like JL Hudson. All of this glassware was completely hand-made – from the blowing of the goblet to the acid-etching process to decorate some of the pieces.
You don’t need to know ANYTHING about glass to enjoy this show. Just walk around and be amazed. To me, the room feels like some sort of immersive and interactive art display. It is absolutely surreal.
5. What determines the value of vintage glassware?
You’ll see glass at our show from $5 to extremely rare pieces for $5,000. There is something for every taste and every budget.
Value is determined by:
- Color: Many patterns were produced in several colors, and some are harder to find than others. The same cup and saucer in one pattern could be worth $15 in pink, but $45 in blue.
- Condition: Collectors are mostly looking for “mint” condition pieces. Chips to the rims of goblets or severe scratching to plates will significantly lower the value.
- Quality: Generally speaking, the prices on elegant glassware are higher than depression glass. There is simply less of it, and it was a lot more expensive to manufacturer.
- Region: We are extremely lucky to live in the Midwest. Much of this glassware was produced in Ohio and neighboring states, which means it is plentiful here and prices are the lowest you’ll find in the country. If you go shopping for glass along the West Coast, I would say prices are usually about 25% higher. There just isn’t as much out that way.
There are some great glassware reference books published by a variety of authors that help determine values. Looking at sold auctions on eBay is also a good way to see what things are currently selling for.
The Michigan Depression Glass Society Show
November 2nd & 3rd
Ford Community Performing Arts Center