When the local Depression Glass Society hosts the National Depression Glass Association convention Saturday and Sunday at Kenner’s Pontchartrain Center, the organizers will have a few surprises up their collective sleeves.
Not to worry. The expected dazzling array of rainbow-hued glass objects will be on view and available for purchase, but it turns out the event isn’t a glass-only affair.
“Pottery is also part of what we include under the umbrella of Depression glass, as long as it was made in the United States and around the time of the Great Depression,” explained Brenda Reilly, a collector of a wide range of Depression glass and pottery. “It’s one reason we have lectures tied in with the show. We want people to learn about it so they can find something they like.”
Lectures, which are free with the $8 admission to the show, are presented both days. Saturday’s talks include English hobnail glass at 11 a.m.; Jadeite at 12:30 p.m.; and Paden City etched glass at 2 p.m. Sunday’s talks provide insights into Harlequin pottery at noon, and Weil Ware pottery at 2 p.m.
If you’ve never heard of Harlequin, George Dansker can remedy that problem. Over the years, he became intrigued by his friend Jack Belsom’s varied collection and decided to do a little research. In time, Dansker developed an encyclopedic knowledge of the pottery.
“Have you ever heard of Fiesta ware? Harlequin was made by the same manufacturer and in the same colors — with a few exceptions,” he explained. “The difference is that Harlequin was commissioned especially for Woolworth’s and it was shaped differently — more angular. Plus Fiesta tends to be a little clunky. Harlequin is thinner.”
Both Harlequin and Fiesta ware were made by Homer Loughlin Co. in West Virginia and designed by Fredrick Hurten Rhead, a well-known Arts and Crafts designer from Staffordshire, England. Production began on both lines in 1936 and continued for decades — until 1964 for Harlequin and 1973 for Fiesta.
Fiesta was revived in 1986 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its introduction to the market and remains in production. A similar revival of Harlequin — to celebrate Woolworth’s 100th birthday — occurred in 1979, but its production span was short-lived and ended in 1983.
Meanwhile, hundreds of potteries in California were joining the craze for American-designed and produced ceramics. The California Figurine Company, in Los Angeles, was one of an estimated 600 potteries in California alone. When the plant was bought by Max Weil in 1946, its name changed to “Weil of California” and production of several lines of its dinnerware began. Weil had worked for one of the “Big Five” ceramics manufacturers and had witnessed the popularity of tableware.
“The boom in California lasted into the 1960s because of post-war needs to furnish homes and to have dinnerware for feeding the growing family,” Reilly said. “But when cheaper imports started coming in the ‘60s, the bottom really fell out of the American pottery industry.”
Weil Ware — plates, bowls and other tableware made by Weil of California — captured Reilly’s imagination when a vendor at the 2001 Depression glass convention had an entire luncheon set for sale.
“When you see it in person, it jumps at you,” Reilly said. “It’s just so different and so simple with its rounded edges on square plates.”
Weil Ware patterns include Bamboo, Ming Tree, Malay Mango, Rose, Blossom and a few more. The set that Reilly has is in the Rose pattern on a celadon background. Adding to the 40 to 50 pieces in her collection has proven difficult.
“I don’t know what it is — maybe Weil Ware just never made it over the Rocky Mountains to get this far east, because it seems to be impossible to find anything in thrift shops,” said Reilly. “If I want a piece, I have to buy it on eBay and it’s expensive to ship because it’s so dense.”
Belson, on the other hand, has had little trouble finding pieces of Harlequin, which was made in West Virginia.
“I guess I have about 500 pieces now and a few of the animal figurines that Harlequin made. Finding pieces did not used to be hard, but now I find fewer and fewer,” said Belsom. “Of course, I am always looking for that extremely rare piece.”
Dansker accompanied Belsom when he was on the hunt for such a find a while back. And there it was, the Holy Grail of Harlequin collectors: a piece of Harlequin that had been dipped accidentally in a short-lived Fiesta color and somehow avoided being thrown in the trash.
“The note on it told us to call a phone number if we wanted to find out the price, but I was so excited that my hand was shaking so hard I couldn’t get the coin to go into the slot of the pay phone,” said Dansker. “That piece was worth more than my life!”
Depression Glass Show
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday
11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Pontchartrain Center
4545 Williams Blvd, Kenner
INFO: (504) 444-7486, (504) 858-5986, facebook.com/NDGAGlassShow