Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Use It

While enjoying a vodka tonic with some of my drinking friends, I asked Rick, who owns an antique mall, if anyone was buying depression glass. He immediately dashed my hopes of making a killing by shaking his head no and basically telling me one can not give it away.

"Use it", he suggested, "at the prices it commands now, if you break a piece, a replacement is easy to find and is cheaper than buying new at Target."

Thus some of the hundred pieces of Queen Mary depression glass I got from family, bought at malls or on Ebay is seeing the light of day, freed from its wrappers and boxes after being stored in various places since 2004.

Depression glass was made in huge quantities during the 1930's and early 40's. Cheaply pressed rather than hand cut, it was literally given away in soap and cereal boxes or sold for a few cents at the local 5 and dime. It was that generation's Corelle. If you had better china or glass, the glass that came in a bag of cornmeal was rarely used for holidays or family gatherings. Some, who suffered a loss or reduction of income, were embarrassed to have the stuff, not being able to cope with the reality of buying their dishware at Woolworth's instead of Macy's. The Depression Generation is well known for keeping everything as you never knew when you were not going to have the money for new, thus surviving depression glass is relatively plentiful.

Queen Mary 6in Bowl:

In the 1990's, at the height of the collector's boom, the stuff was selling like hotcakes. I paid thousands for what I bought and also made some by reselling some I got as bargains. I bought a mint condition, pink Queen Mary butter dish for $10 and sold it a week later on Ebay for $250. I sold it as I had two already. I sold the others off when I needed money back in my dark days. But most I kept, once displayed when I had space and then consigned to boxes when I didn't.

At noon today, I ate my soup and salad from a recently unpacked pink Queen Mary bowl and a small crystal plate. I marveled at the elegance of it; the glass is delicate pink or clear, bright crystal. As you can see, Queen Mary is a ribbed, prismatic pattern, austere but sleekly stylish, very art deco. Well made, the glass is thick and sturdy, with few flaws. A few years ago, I served a dinner for 8 people using my Queen Mary, the pink and crystal glass on a black table cloth. It was hard to believe that this was once cheap, everyday tableware. It was the most spectacular table I have ever set.

As I sipped my soup (ok, slurped it) I wondered where that bowl had been. Was it bought at Woolworth's or S.S. Kresge? Was it a prize at the bottom of a bag of flour? Was it a fixture at a Christmas dinner? Was it a present? Where did it come from? Why has it survived in pristine shape since at least 1937?

Whatever its story, it must feel good to be useful again; that is if one truly believes that a glass bowl can have feelings. A relic from a hardscrabble time that a couple of generations later is an elegant reminder of when even cheap things were made to last and made with pride.

No comments: