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Collecting Victorian Glassware: Reproduction or Antique?

In this article, we look at one of the most enduring, popular collectibles: glassware. It is often hard to distinguish between antique glass and reproductions from antique molds. Even Depression glass, not yet a century old, is already being reproduced en masse for antique lovers. Reproductions are usually much less expensive than their original counterparts, and are appropriate for practical use rather than as mere display items on a shelf. If you are planning to purchase vintage style glassware, you need to know what exactly what you're buying so you won't be duped into paying top dollar for an item that you assume is the real thing. The following are a few important hints to keep in mind when looking at collectible glass.

Know your pattern. If you are collecting a certain pattern, make sure that you know which pieces have been reproduced. In general, manufacturers of reproduction glass do not reproduce the entire set of original pieces. In addition, reproduced pieces are often in colors that are slightly different from their original shades. The more you know about the original set and the reproductions, the better you will be able to distinguish them. Finally, a word of caution: Although there are extremely knowledgeable antiques dealers, there are also many store owners who do not specialize in glass. Therefore, don't count on your antiques dealer to discern whether their amethyst glass Dahlia pitcher (featured at right) is the original Dugan or the L.G. Wright reproduction. Always do your own research first.

Look for distinguishing marks. Glassmakers imprint their trademarks on their pieces, and if you can distinguish which glassmaker has produced the piece, you may be able to tell if you are buying a reproduction or an original antique. Many glassmakers' trademarks have also evolved over time, so you can often estimate a ballpark period when the item was manufactured.

Ask questions. Although this point seems basic and sellers may not be glass experts, they may be able to give you hints and clues as to where the glass came from. Did it come from an estate? Was any restoration done to the piece? Was the condition flawless? Thoughtful questions may not provide a conclusive answer as to whether the item is an antique versus a reproduction, but may offer you insights that will lead you to the right determination.

Finally, consult other sources. There are many good books and guides available that can give you a well-rounded understanding of antiques and their counterpart reproductions. Alternatively, when all else fails, you may want to bring the piece in for an appraisal. Find a reputable appraiser who specializes in glass, and he or she should be able to give you a reasonable estimate of the item's age and where it came from.