What’s hot in this year’s antique glassware market is a matter of taste

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According to Jeffrey S. Evans, co-owner and auctioneer at Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates in Mt. Crawford, Va., the glass market is recovering from tough market conditions. “Over the last year, glass fared about the same as other areas of antiques. Prices of smalls were off 20 to 40 percent because of the recession,” he said. “Like the real estate market, glass experienced a bubble of unrealistically high prices. The higher a bubble goes without a correction, the farther down it goes before it stabilizes.”

While the recession slowed the glass market, it certainly didn’t destroy it. “People still want to collect,” Evans commented. But the glass market relies on discretionary income, so it is price sensitive. As prices have dropped to a more realistic level, auction sales have increased and there has been a substantial pickup in sales at shows, although there are fewer shows. Evans doesn’t think the drop in the number of shows is necessarily a bad thing as long as total sales are increasing. The trend could be beneficial, as fewer shows mean lower expenses and less time on the road for both dealers and collectors.

Evans was surprised that he didn’t see dumping of collections during the recession. Apparently most collectors had enough of a financial reserve that they weren’t forced to liquidate. The lower volume of auction consignments throughout the antiques industry over the last year reinforces the general view that collectors are holding their collections until prices are more favorable. Further evidence of this trend is that when Evans sees complete collections come to auction, they are a result of natural attrition due to collectors dying or retiring from their hobby, not frantic collectors selling to pay off debts.

The average age of glass collectors continues to increase. According to Evans, glass collectors typically begin collecting after their children leave home, when they have more time and disposable income. Because people are having children later, they begin collecting later. “We don’t see many 45- or 50-year-olds that have large collections or extensive knowledge and experience,” he said.

Younger collectors tend to gravitate toward blown glass and bottles while older collectors favor pressed and pattern glass. Those who buy to decorate look for pieces that go with their furniture or make good accent pieces. Some who buy glass to use only become collectors after they stumble across a piece they like and then begin adding more pieces to complete a set. Cake stands are popular pieces for both using and decorating.

Warman's Depression Glass

Evans doesn’t see any particularly dominant decorating trends, probably because today’s collectors tend to be eclectic and decorate according to their own individual tastes.

Glass collecting is less regional than it used to be. While New England and the upper Midwest dominated the glass market in past decades, interest in glass collecting has spread more evenly across the country, primarily because of the Internet and the much broader exposure it gives glass. Much of the antique glass being sold online from collectors who are downsizing or dying off is being sold in the South and on the West Coast, creating a more even distribution nationally.

Fakes and reproductions are still a concern in the glass-collecting field, but there haven’t been any especially new or major increases, perhaps because the recession has made it less profitable. Even irradiated purple glass, probably the most significant counterfeit in recent years, has seen a decline. Purple glass is very desirable and can bring high prices, so counterfeiters developed a technique to turn glass from clear to purple by exposing it to radiation.

Natural sun-purpled glass (also known as sun-colored amethyst or SCA) and irradiated glass are similar, but sun-purpled glass changes color gradually over a long period of time and is fairly light in color, sometimes just a strong tint. Irradiated purple, on the other hand, is much deeper in color and the color change occurs as soon as the object is zapped. In both instances, the molecules of the manganese or selenium (substances used to render glass colorless) are affected by radiation: small doses from the sun and large doses in a radiation chamber.

Both irradiated glass and sun-purpled glass can be turned back to colorless by heating it in a kiln-type oven (household ovens can’t produce enough heat). Sun-colored glass is easy to spot because the light amethyst color is not a tone originally produced by glassmakers. The darker irradiated purple, however, is very close to the original amethyst color, which is where the big problem arises. The amount of irradiated glass being introduced into the market has decreased, but a large amount is still circulating, so collectors need to be alert for these fakes.

According to Evans, “reattributions” have significantly impacted the glass market in the 21st century. As more accurate historical information has emerged, researchers have been able to correct previously incorrect descriptions. The ages have generally been accurate, but the place of manufacture is sometimes wrong. Typically, a piece that was thought to have been manufactured in the United States has been determined to have been made in Europe. Unlike fakes, which are intended to deceive, the original attributions were simply sincere errors based on incomplete information.

This article was originally published in Antique Trader

Evans gets quite a bit of business from collectors outside the United States. Canadians, for example, buy a lot of goblets and colored candleholders. He has other buyers from Australia, Germany, and Israel, many of whom are repeat customers. The foreign market seems to be driven by the availability of certain items not found in their markets and by attractive prices of pieces not in demand here. For example, some foreign customers like clear, pattern glass whale oil lamps that Americans have little interest in.

Evans believes the glass market will continue a slow but steady re-emergence from the recession, and he is optimistic about its future. He agrees, though, with the prevailing advice that collectors should buy the best quality they can afford and that they should buy what they like rather than buying for investment. That way they will enjoy what they own regardless of what the economy does. No one can be sure what the long-term trends will be are any more than investors can predict the stock market with certainty. One thing is sure, though: glass can add a touch of beauty and elegance to anyone’s home and bring years of pleasure to their owners.

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