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Depression glass can be distressing, if not depressingly confusing.

Although a distinct kind of glassware from around 80 years ago, this stuff includes or resembles several other kinds of glass from about the same time.

Collectors not only have all this to sort through, but also newly made fake or reproduction wares in "the Depression era style." It's enough to make a person drop a cup. But here's a guide to help see through the differences.

Uranium glass. Green- or yellow-colored glass is apt to have a low level of actual uranium in it as a coloring agent, not enough to make a bomb.

Also called Vaseline glass (resembling the vague lime color of Vaseline petroleum jelly), it glows a bright fluorescent green under an ultraviolet or black light.

Collectors shine an ultraviolet light to see if a piece of glass is authentic uranium, or just to make it glow in an ooky-alien sort of way. The effect is such a favorite that some people collect nothing but glass of this one kind.

The Vaseline Glass Collectors Inc. website ( offers a page of photos that show how the glass lights up, with assurances that it's "not harmful."

Milk glass. The opposite of a strange glow, this opaque white glass was a European invention centuries ago. Even mass-produced in the Depression years, it set an elegant table -- or at least, everything appeared to match.

Carnival glass. The name comes from the popularity of this iridescent glassware as a carnival game prize even before the Depression. The metallic finish gives it a gaudy, multicolored shine.

People called it rainbow glass, too, and bought it just for being pretty. Not only were hopes dim, homes also had dimmer lighting back then. Any little sparkly thing helped brighten up a place.

Elegant glass. Fancier than Depression glass -- but it might take an expert to tell the difference -- elegant glass came from department and jewelry stores as a budget-minded yet stylish alternative to fine china.

It was called bridal glass, as well, as brides registered for this type of glassware in hopes of collecting a whole set. If she got the works, cake platter and all, the new missus generally saved this array strictly for Sunday dinners.

The person with a cupboard full of elegant glass was apt to sneer at carnival glass as "poor man's Tiffany." But she kept everything. She took especially good care of her Depression era glass cups and saucers that came as give-aways in oatmeal boxes.

The Depression taught people never to toss anything -- a big reason why Great-Grandmother's glassware survived to be treasured in today's collections.

Style on 02/21/2016

Print Headline: From uranium to carnival, Depression-era glass glows

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