Necessity is the mother of invention…and affordable glassware.

If you've ever spotted amber tumblers or rosy saucers in your mother or grandmother's china cabinet, it's likely Depression glass—the tabletop accessory that secured its place in homes during the 1920s, continued to be produced through the '50s, and is still much-loved today.

During the Great Depression, unemployment soared and family finances tumbled, so little luxuries like fine china and expensive home goods took a backseat to the necessities. Glass manufacturers, who had long stayed in the black thanks to expensive cut crystal glass that they peddled to the affluent, could no longer count on such sales. To stay afloat and to keep employees working, they began mass-producing colorful glassware that cost far less to make and was therefore significantly more accessible to struggling families (think $2 for a 12-piece set of dinnerware).

Pink Depression Glass
Credit: skhoward

Unlike its finer crystal counterparts, which were cut and often hand-finished, Depression glass pieces were molded and featured raised patterns (of which there were more than 100). The inexpensive glassware was further distinguishable by the rainbow of colors it was available in, ranging from grassy greens to glowing ambers and petal pinks. And because of the speed at which it could be churned out, Depression glass is also marked by imperfections, like air bubbles and uneven saturation in color.

These days, the imperfections of Depression glass often contribute to its collectible charm and may reveal that a piece is the real deal, as opposed to a reproduction. While patterns and colors that were widely produced during its 30 years of production may not fetch a whole lot at market (like Anchor Hocking Glass Company's green Cameo pattern), those that were made in smaller quantities (like Hazel-Atlas Glass Company's blue Royal Lace) may sell for hundreds—a bit of poetic justice for the cheaply made (but beloved) glassware.

Of course, if the Depression glass you're most familiar with is part of your own family's collection, it's priceless. The best things in life—and the china cabinet—usually are.