Depression glass and silk flowers.
From Wikipedia: “Depression glass is clear or colored translucent glassware that was distributed free, or at low cost, in the United States and Canada around the time of the Great Depression. The Quaker Oats Company, and other food manufacturers and distributors, put a piece of glassware in boxes of food, as an incentive to purchase. Movie theaters and businesses would hand out a piece simply for coming in the door.”
You know how something always goes wrong at a wedding? Well, we lucked out because our little disaster was very minor and happened a week before the big day. One of my co-workers was building us beautiful centerpieces based on Art Nouveau lamps. Unfortunately, her dog ate one of the molds, and then the other two melted together in her car while she was bringing them into work to show me. Re-making them just wasn’t an option.
Time to scramble! I already had some glass pieces dating from the 1930s-60s, and we were going for an art deco theme, so I ran with it. I spent several afternoons scouring the Cities’ malls and thrift stores, and collected about $700 worth of glass and silver. Three days before the wedding, my college roommate and I sat down in my living room and started throwing pieces together until we had 14 centerpieces and several small decorative pieces.
Setting up a table.
Extra pieces to decorate the other tables.
I realize that $700 on decorations isn’t exactly cheap, but these are pieces that I’m glad to keep now that the wedding is over. I’m planning to arrange many of them in the new bookshelves that R and I are planning for the living room, and much of the silver service we will keep and use for holidays and other fancy occasions. The glass is highly collectible, and so if we ever decide we want to get rid of it, we’ll be able to E-Bay it and come close to breaking even.
The world of antique glass is both deep and wide, and it can be a little daunting to get started. For me, I adhered to a few clear rules that helped me limit my palette a little and put together a cohesive look. Here are my tips for creating a stunning visual display with depression glass:
1: Do your research! Spend some time Googling and on E-Bay, Etsy, and other vintage retailers. Knowing what’s out there will help you make some preliminary decisions and give you a good idea of what you can expect things to cost. You’ll learn the proper names of the pieces you like, so you can ask the folks staffing the antique stores for help finding things.
2: Limit your color palette. Depression glass comes in a few common colors: blue, red, green, pale pink, yellow, purple, and clear. There is a lot of variation within these palettes, depending on date, manufacturer, and pattern. For our wedding, I used ruby red, clear, and black/black amethyst. There were a few exceptions – Indiana Cranberry Flash (which comes in a combination of a magenta accent on clear glass) and a couple of amberine pieces (an ombre fading from yellow to dark red). I knew ahead of time from my research that I wanted to look for some of these variations, and when I found them I used them separately from the other reds because I knew they wouldn’t match.
3: Add some bling. In this case, I chose silver accessories to reflect and offset the colors of the glass. Buying metal can be a lot of work – both because it tends to be pricy and also because it requires a lot of elbow grease to get it clean and shining again. A little can go a long way, if you’re thoughtful about where you use it.
4: Create levels. For centerpieces, I picked out one large vase or dish per table, and then chose smaller pieces to group around the big ones. You can either use a variety of shapes, sizes, and patterns like I did, or if you have the time and patience, you can try to find matching pieces. There’s a lot of this glass on the market, and some things are more common than others.
5: What else is going on here? Think about what you want to have in your dishes. I knew that I didn’t want to have real flowers because I didn’t want to deal with real water. We were making a fast transition from the ceremony to dinner in the venue, and having anything on the table that could spill would. I used silk and dried flowers, again in that narrow color palette, to liven up all the empty vases, glasses, and bowls. I also incorporated a few different vase fillers and table scatters for visual interest. Lastly, I added some lights. Because we got married in a theater, we weren’t allowed to have live flame (also a good idea to avoid fire because of the fake flowers). I bought battery operated tealights to tuck into votive holders and among the flowers.
Centerpiece in action!
Here are a few things to keep in mind while you’re shopping – E-Bay and Etsy have a lot of great stuff, but you’ll pay a mint in shipping. Most sellers won’t ship glass items together because they’re more likely to break, so each piece has to be shipped separately. It’s much better to hit up your local retailers for this kind of material. Go to thrift stores first! You’d be surprised at what there might be. I bought most of the silver trays and two tea sets at Goodwill, for half the price they would have been at an antique mall. At the antique stores, don’t be afraid to ask questions or have the attendants open up the locked cases for you. Ask if they have a table or a spot where you can set all your pieces out and look at the whole group, to make sure that there’s a visual flow amongst all the things you’ve chosen. Don’t be afraid to axe anything that doesn’t work.
In the end, I loved the solution of the vintage glass. It added an elegant feel to the room, shone beautifully in the light, and everyone commented on how pretty they were! They made a unique look for our wedding, and now get to be a valuable souvenir for us of the best day of our lives.