Glass collectors share enthusiasm at national convention - The only All-American glass collectible

by Leigh Elmore

The wealth of America's premier glass collectors was on display and for sale last month when the National Depression Glass Association (NDGA) held its annual convention in Kansas City, hosted this year by the Heart of America Glass Collectors.

(photos by Leigh Elmore)

Thirty-two of the nation's top glass dealers set up shop inside the KCI Expo Center in a sparkling assemblage of colors and shapes that dazzled the eye.

And hundreds of glass enthusiasts from the region had descended on the event by 11 a.m. on Saturday, July 11, the first day of the annual convention.

"The true collector will come here to buy glass," said Betty Buersmeyer, a dealer from Pacific, MO and board member of NDGA. "When they come to this convention they know what they are seeing is the real thing. Nowhere else can they find the concentration of pieces and some really rare items too. Customers know that," she said.

Customer Wendy Wilcox, of St. Joseph, who was adding to her collection of Fairfax, backed up her comment. "This is one of the nicest shows that I've been to," she said.

This Kellogg's display shows how many Depression Glass pieces were distributed as product premiums. Offered by Bob and Pam Franscella, Gurnee, IL.

John Fields of Independence, MO was co-chair of the 41st NDGA annual convention along with David Hollingshead of Kansas City, KS.

Like many collectors, Fields said he got into glass because of a family connection. "My mother-in-law gave her collection of Royal Ruby dishes to my wife, Dovie, and I. I decided to expand on it, and what do you know, I was hooked," he said. "I've collected and sold ever since.

"I've started so many personal collections along the way, both of Elegant and Depression Glass. There are just so many different patterns that were made during the Depression era. People can come here and learn so much. A lot of collectors are looking to complete their sets or to find representations of many different patterns," Fields said.

Co-chair Hollingshead started attending auctions as a student. "I found some pink Depression Glass and thought, 'My mother would like that,' and that got me into it," he said. The hobby helped to pay his way through college as Hollingshead continued to haunt auctions and sell his found items to dealers at a profit. "I still do that today," he said. "People today seem to want to use their glass rather than put it up in a cupboard to look at," he said noting one of the ways the glass-collecting world has changed over the years.

A variety of Depression Glass accessory items: Green Swirl sandwich plate, salt, pepper, sugar, creamer and Blue Mayfair pitcher from Enid and Len Waska of Flatonia, TX.


Looking for younger collectors

It has changed in other ways too, say NDGA members. Pam Meyer of the Dallas area remarked that much like challenges in other areas of the antique and vintage trade, attracting younger people to the fold continues to be daunting. "Our older members are selling their collections," said Meyer, a NDGA board member since the 1990s and who is also involved with the association's national museum in Wellington, KS.

"We are trying to get younger folks involved especially at the museum" Meyer said. "Part of our mission is to educate as well as preserve," she said.

An unusual clock by McKee Glass, from
the collection of Glen and Barbara McRoberts of Carrollton, TX.

One dealer who is consciously marketing her
glass toward a younger audience is Sandra Bridwell-Walker of Newcomerstown, OH, where she owns The Glass Chalet. Her inventory
consists of colored wrinkled glass primarily manufactured in the 1950s by the Seneca, Morgantown and Bryce companies. Many younger customers at vintage shops are looking for mid-century modern items.

"All of them are wrinkled and more rustic than fancier inside glasses," she said of her inventory. "These are designed to go with 1950s china patterns." Her personal collection consists of Seneca's Driftwood designs, which come in 17 colors. "I also collect other things, but glass really hooked me.

"I participate in probably 14 shows a year, this being the biggest," Bridwell-
Walker said. "I always find something that I've never seen before at every show." And her advice to collectors just getting into the game: "Collect what talks to you. It doesn't matter what it's worth or what it's going to be worth. Do it for fun."

Happy collectors attending the 41st annual NDGA Convention in Kansas City. From left: Donna Sickle, Deana Hendrix and June Harrison, all from Richmond, MO.

More than a glass show

Dealer Leegh Wyse and her husband, Mike, made the 1,900-mile trek from Albany, OR along with their pet Pomeranian, Indiana, to be at the convention. She's been collecting since 1975 and selling since 1995. She had some heftily priced glass statuettes in the four figures.

"My grandmother got me into this," Wyse said. "She made my mother go to the movies just so she could bring home a piece of glass. Theaters always advertised what item was to be given away. My mom called it junk.

A rare green statuette by Cambridge Glass offered by Leegh Wyse, L&M Glassware, Albany, OR.

"The glass place settings were only for Sundays
at grandma's, but we eat of them every day now," Wyse said. "But this is a great traveling show for people to shop for a piece of Americana. We hold the convention in a different state every year."

As a matter of note the 42nd National Depression Glass Association convention will be held in Tiffin, OH, in the heart of the American glass-making region.

Attendees may end up with more than a bagful of glass. Cynthia Hillman of Marietta, GA represented the Peach State Depression Glass Club.

"I've formed life-long friendships with fellow collectors who I've met at the conventions. It's
been a blast," Hillman said. "I've gotten to meet
all kinds of people, men and women, and have made some wonderful friends."

Her enthusiasm embraces glassware in general. "This was the first machine-made glass in the U.S.," she said. "Warts and all; you can see the seam marks, bubbles and the color can be
varying. Now we love those warts!"


What is Depression Glass?

Although the "Depression" years extended from late 1929 up to the start of World War II, the term "Depression Glass" refers to American-manufactured transparent glassware that was made from the early to mid-1920s through the end of World War II.

According to David Adams in an article he wrote for the National Depression Glass Association website, "We generally use the term 'Depression Glass' to describe colored, transparent glassware made at that time. Of course, the companies also manufactured a good deal of clear crystal glassware during the same period. This is also considered Depression Glass."

A display of "true" Depression Glass at the NDGA 41st

Some patterns continued to be produced into the 1950s and even later. And some glass made during the period was opaque, and some glass was decorated with gold, platinum or even colored enamel. "The most distinguishing thing about Depression Glass is really the time of manufacture," Adams noted.

"Many of the patterns of what we call Depression Glass were distributed as promotional items during the lean years," Adams states. "Glass items would appear in soap or cereal boxes, or might be given away at a local movie theater or gas station to encourage patrons."

Depression Glass was made exclusively by American manufacturers located primarily in the Ohio River Valley of the United States, where access to raw materials (silica rich sand) and natural gas made manufacturing inexpensive in the first half of the 20th century. More than 20 manufacturers made more than 100 patterns, and entire dinner sets were made in some patterns. Common colors are clear (crystal), pink, pale blue, green, and amber. Less common colors include yellow (canary), ultramarine, jadeite (opaque pale green), delphite (opaque pale blue), cobalt blue, red (ruby & royal ruby), black, amethyst, monax, and white (milk glass).

The glass of this period is generally divided between true "Depression" glass and "Elegant" glass. The "Elegant" glass was manufactured by a relatively small number of companies, known as "hand" houses, because a great deal of hand finishing was done to the glass after it was removed from the mold. The companies which manufactured true "Depression" glass would add little to no hand finishing or treatments to the glass once it was came out of the mold, according to Adams.

"It should be noted that machine-made, mass-produced glassware was not intended to be perfect. There are many flaws to be found in Depression Glass such as bubbles, inclusions, straw marks, slightly irregular shapes, variations in color; all may be present, which should not diminish the value of the piece," according to Christine Nagy of the NDGA.

When Depression Glass enthusiasts refer to the whole field of patterns, they often say "Adam to Windsor." This term refers to the machine-made glass patterns, as opposed to the "Elegant" patterns. Adam and Windsor are both names of patterns. Adam to Windsor is simply a shorthand way of saying the piece fits into the category of true Depression Glass.

The National Glass Museum

A Fenton elephant decanter set, one of the most rare items in the museum's collection.

One of the country's most comprehensive collections of American-made glassware of the Depression era can be found at the National Glass Museum, operated by the National Depression Glass Association in Wellington, KS, 30 miles south of Wichita. Ever since the association was formed in 1974 in Springfield, MO, it sought space to display its national collection. That dream came true in 2012 with the availability of an affordable rental building in Wellington.

Sarah VanDalsem of Tulsa, OK is the acquisitions chair for the museum. She said that the National Glass Museum maintains a good representation of U.S. glassmakers with items dating from the mid 19th century to late 20th century.

Sarah VanDalsem of the National Glass Museum in Wellington, KS

"The collection helps visitors see the progress of styles and manufacturing techniques, plus it reflects the styles of the day," VanDalsem said.

She is always on the lookout for representative pieces to add to the collection and noted that the museum accepts donations of glass pieces to process into its inventory.

And as a not-for-profit operation it also accepts monetary donations.

Find out more at NDGA National Glass Museum, 
117 S. Washington St.
Wellington, KS

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Leigh Elmore can be contacted at

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