Updated: Oct 23
A large part of the fascination with antique malls is the underlying excitement of finding long-forgotten treasures or a buried memento of value. Antique glass is a popular item to collect. Most pieces can still be used, or they look great displayed on shelves or in a cabinet.
Antique glass is beautiful, and some pieces are still valuable. Since most of the fun is in the hunt, there are certain types of glass antiques to keep an eye out for. There are at least five types of antique glass that are worth the hunt, either for their value or beauty, and you will have a great time finding them in your local antique mall.
5 Types of Antique Glass
1. Depression glass
2. Milk glass
3. Carnival glass
4. Fenton glass
5. Mid-century glass
1. Depression glass was produced following the financial crisis of 1929.
Recently, we saw our modern distilleries turn to producing hand sanitizer, and designers began producing masks during the pandemic. Glassmakers of the 1920s also had to pivot their production because they could not continue to produce their labor-intensive crystal designs. During the Great Depression, glassmakers turned to a cheaper molded product, making the depression glass we know today.
Depression glass was produced in an array of colors – pink, pale blue, green, amber – and some less-common colors, like canary, cobalt blue, red, white (milk glass), and a florescent uranium glass that glows in UV light. In addition to kitchenware, other items were also produced from so-called depression glass.
Other Depression Glass Items:
In addition to being sold commercially to businesses, grocery stores and gas stations would use the antique glass as a reward or free gift for loyal customers. Depression glass could be found by the piece in oatmeal boxes, encouraging shoppers to go back each week to collect a new surprise. Though makers of clear glass products said the depression glass fad would never last, the antique glass remains a popular collectible to this day.
Depression Glass Versus Carnival Glass – What’s the Difference?
Understanding the difference between depression glass and carnival glass is as important as knowing the difference between antique versus vintage! Carnival glass typically has an iridescent appearance. Depression glass tends to be one color rather than multi-colored. Depression glass can also be white, which, in this case, is considered a color.
Depression glass was manufactured from the 1920s to the 1950s, while carnival glass was made as early as 1900. Both types of antique glass are considered collector’s items and are highly sought-after.
Tips for Buying Depression Glass at Your Local Antique Mall
Look carefully at the condition of the piece of depression glass. If you see cracks or clouding, you may need to let that be someone else’s treasure. Damage from daily use is not a big deal if it is not to the degree of permanent etching from a dishwasher, for example. Being able to see it in person at your local antique store is a great way to evaluate the condition of the antique glass you may add to your collection.
Educate yourself about reproductions. Because of the popularity of depression glass, it has been reproduced many times. The reproductions may be pretty, but they are not worth anything. If the coloring looks muddy or the piece is in perfect condition, you may want to ask the seller to verify the glass antique’s authenticity.
2. Milk glass is a popular collectible dating from the late 1800s through the 1980s.
Milk glass is primarily white glass that was initially produced as an affordable alternative to fine China. The antique glass was also produced in other colors, such as soft jade, pale pink, powder blue, and black. Vintage milk glass is opaque. The transparency of the glass is what differentiates it from other glass antiques like depression glass or carnival glass.
Characteristics to Look for in Milk Glass:
When exploring your local antique mall for milk glass, keep in mind that not all antique glass is valuable. Milk glass is an evolving market and can be found priced anywhere from $5 to $30 for a single piece. The age, quality, and condition of the glass antiques make a difference when it comes to resale value.
The design of milk glass depends on the era. Victorian designs with decorative enamel can sell for more money, while the farmhouse style with its simpler style can also be sold for a higher price. On the other hand, Avon produced a large quantity of milk glass, and it is not worth much.
Tips for Buying Milk Glass at Your Local Antique Mall
Milk glass was only made in certain styles. If you see a full set of white glass dinner plates, this is not milk glass. Milk glass was only used to create decorative items like vases, dresser trinkets, pitchers, cake stands, and covered dishes. It can still be an authentic milk glass antique if you find sets like punch bowls, teacups, or dessert dishes.
Home upgrades made of milk glass exist in homes built before 1950. It is not uncommon to find a milk glass doorknob or cabinet knob from an older home. You might also find vintage milk glass lamps and light fixtures with a simple hobnail pattern. These milk glass designs weren’t as popular as clear glass, but they do exist, and you may come across a vendor who is knowledgeable about these glass antiques.
3. Carnival glass was first produced as a cheap alternative to upscale glassware.
Around 1908, carnival glass was produced as an affordable alternative to the expensive blown iridescent glass produced by Tiffany & Company of New York. This antique glass is pressed or blown and produced in myriad colors, patterns, and shapes. Its characteristic iridescent, rainbow-like appearance on the surface is created by metallic salts sprayed on the surface while the glass is still very hot.
Large quantities of the antique glass were produced in the more popular colors, which make the lesser produced colors more valuable. Carnival glass was distributed through retail outlets, like general stores and department stores, but got its name from being given away as prizes at carnivals or fairs. In its heyday, carnival glass was affordable to the middle class and is still favored as a collectible glass antique today.
Most Common Carnival Glass Colors to Collect:
Carnival glass is a highly sought-after collectible. Certain pieces made in a more common color are worth relatively little, but other rare items can command thousands of dollars. Carnival glass is frequently found in antique malls and remains a hot item for collectors.
Tips for Buying Carnival Glass at Your Local Antique Mall
Look carefully at each piece of carnival glass to see if any factors exist to help determine the value. Carnival glass was so popular in its time that some manufacturers continued to produce it until the 21st century. Pieces made before 1940 are most valuable, but it is difficult to determine the age of each piece of antique glass. Be aware of limited-quantity pieces and focus on finding those.
The color and pattern of the carnival glass can help identify if it is a rare piece and even the manufacturer. Some of the more valuable colors are cherry red, black amethyst, and ice green. Take note of the iridescent quality of the antique glass to be sure there are no worn or uneven sections.
4. Collecting Fenton glass can still be a good investment.
Vintage Fenton glass was produced for over 100 years in West Virginia. At one time, Fenton was the largest supplier of colored glass in the country. Glassware, especially clear, is not selling these days, but picking up a more elaborate Fenton glass piece like a lamp, pitcher, or glass set may still bring you money in the future.
Collectible Fenton Glass:
Silver crest pattern
The Fenton Glass Company entered the market in 1908 with their version of carnival glass, also called “poor man’s Tiffany.” Initially marked with paper labels, it is now difficult to identify true Fenton glass. It wasn’t until 1970 that they began molding their logo into their glass products.
The quality of Fenton glass makes it a popular collector’s item. Because of its beautiful colors, shapes, and styles, Fenton glass remains one of the more desirable styles of antique glass in antique malls. It may not be a fast seller, but it is reliable, so be prepared to enjoy these pieces for as long as you choose to keep them in your glass antique collection.
Tips for Buying Fenton Glass at Your Local Antique Mall
Browse through a Fenton glass catalog before you begin your hunt. There are many reproductions of Fenton glass on the market. It may be difficult to tell an original without being familiar with true Fenton glass shapes and colors.
Take notice of the Fenton glass bases and edges. Original Fenton glass edges are smooth, ruffled, crimped, or bracketed. They also often have a flat or collared surface and could have spatula feet.
5. Mid-century glass is the hottest collectible antique glass on the market today.
Mid-century glass refers to the different types of glass made from the 1940s through the 1970s, ranging from Fire King kitchenware to milk glass dinnerware. There were many pieces of art glass made during this period. As Danish-Modern furniture became more popular (and began what we now call midcentury modern design), home accessories followed suit in design style.
Styles of Mid-Century Glass:
Scandinavian mid-century glass
Italian mid-century glass
American mid-century glass
English mid-century glass
Each of the mid-century glassmakers has design details that are uniquely their own. Scandinavian glassmakers favored less bright colors with finishes ranging from matte to smooth and highly polished. Italian designs are colorful and in highly desirable shapes and forms. American and English glassmakers had subtle décor patterns of their own that are recognized by experienced antique glass collectors today.
Tips for Buying Mid-century Glass at Your Local Antique Mall
Mid-century glass can be both utilitarian and decorative. This antique glass is very popular with collectors and can be difficult to identify by the maker. Depending on your desire for a colorful piece or clean Scandinavian design, your search can be challenging yet rewarding when working with knowledgeable vendors. Think about what would best complement your home and work from there.
Mid-century glass tends to be affordable. There are not too many pieces that you will find that are unique one-offs or creations by a master glassmaker that drive a higher price. Mid-century glass is available at a variety of price points and offers statement pieces that you can build the rest of your design around.
Why Should I Collect Antique Glass?
There are two reasons you should collect antique glass – it is beautiful, and it can be exceptionally valuable. You can start your collecting experience by consulting an identification and price guide. This will help educate you about the types of antique glass that are available, the general price you can expect to pay, and the potential resale value of those glass antiques.
Or you can enjoy afternoons meandering through your local antique mall and making joyful discoveries of antique glass that you simply find pretty. Whether you are starting an antique glass collection or adding to it, your local antique mall is an establishment you can trust. The vendors will be very familiar with the different types of antique glass and provide knowledgeable guidance regarding the value and origin if known.
Antique glass falls under the same shopping rule as any treasure you seek – if you love it, buy it. You can always find the ideal spot in your home for the antique glass vase or pitcher you found at your favorite antique mall. Collecting glass antiques can be a fulfilling and lucrative past-time if you want to spend some time becoming more knowledgeable about the different types of antique glass.
Ask some of your favorite antique mall vendors – they will encourage you to spend more time wandering through the past. Sometimes the best way to learn is from history.