If the glass exhibited in this year’s Three Rivers Depression Era Glass Society show and sale could talk, it might tell tales from more than a century ago, through the Great Depression, and on into the “Mad Men” era.
Scheduled for March 2-3 at the Quality Inn in New Kensington, the 42nd annual event will feature a special exhibit from the Tiffin Glass Museum in Tiffin, Ohio.
American glassware from the 1880s to art deco to the Depression era, and pottery, will be available for purchase.
On Sunday, free glass identification is available with admission, two items per person from noon to 2 p.m.
Glassware, barware always popular draws
Society president Leora Leasure of Eighty Four, Washington County, expects 25 glass and pottery dealers, both from the region and tri-state area and from as far as Minnesota and Iowa, along with a local club members’ booth, this year.
“There will be a lot of vases, plates, water sets,” she says.
“Depression Era glass itself was machine made. At the time it was a very inexpensive way for a homemaker to have a pretty table in hard times,” Leasure says.
The other side of that coin is the elegant glassware from the era.
While one generation may be looking to fill in a set a grandparent owned, or replace a broken piece or two, younger people are looking more for a decorative display piece, Leasure says.
“And barware — decanters, shakers — never goes out of style,” she adds.
Region’s history, highlights
“There were so many glass factories in southwestern Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia,” Leasure notes, with readily available river and railroad transportation systems.
This year’s special exhibit will be on Tiffin Glass made in Tiffin, Ohio, and locally in Glassport, as a part of the United States Glass Co.
According to glass society history, the U.S. Glass Company absorbed Duncan and Miller of Washington, Pa., in 1955, continuing to make their designs until manufacturing ceased in 1980. The final owners then sold off old inventory until all operations ceased in 1984.
Paul Coffman, docent and archivist with the Tiffin Glass Museum, and Tiffin Glass Collectors Club president, will attend the show as well.
Collectors will be familiar with the Swedish Optic, Empress and Fantasy lines of Tiffin glass, he says.
A former professional firefighter and Tiffin native, Coffman says he previously performed fire inspections for the glass factory, and knew many of its employees.
“I wouldn’t call myself an expert. My main interest in Tiffin U.S.A. is the history part of it — how it was made, who made it,” he says.
“A lot of what you will be seeing as part of the Swedish Optic line would have been produced in Glassport,” Coffman says.
A disastrous storm destroyed that factory in 1963.
Coffman jokes that most formal dinnerware settings these days consists of a “Styrofoam plate and a red Solo cup.”
A change to more casual dining settings contributed to the demise of glass production, he believes, along with a change in tariffs on imported glass in the 1950s.
Among Tiffin’s famous glassware owners were American actress Grace
Kelly and Elvis Presley, he says.
“I know of people who buy very nice Tiffin glassware for the holidays. Others, like myself, have pieces sitting in (cases) and wonder what we will do with it when we are older,” he says, laughing.
Coffman is fascinated by the process of glass production, and can explain some of the chemistry involved.
He will bring copies of books written about Tiffin glass for those interested in learning more about it.
Most collectors like a certain kind of glass, Coffman says.
Leasure suggests that newcomers who may feel “overwhelmed” walk around the show a few times to try to narrow down their interests.
“I tell people, ‘Buy glass that you like.’ … You will never regret a piece that you buy, but you will regret walking away from a piece you wanted to buy,” Coffman says.
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-836-5401, email@example.com or via Twitter .