In the late 1920s, new technology allowed manufacturers to produce appealing glassware with little expense and with no handwork. In fact, this glassware, known as Depression glass, was so cheap and easy-to-make that in the '30s it was given away as a promotional item with almost any purchase, from oatmeal to gasoline. This was fortunate timing, as most Americans were suffering in the Depression and unable to afford fine glassware or real china dinnerware.
However, despite the blow to the economy, a few glass companies continued producing high-quality glassware, usually made with some handwork by skilled craftspeople. This glassware, known as elegant glass, was still expensive, sold in high-end stores, and treasured by its owners.
Like vintage Depression glassware, most elegant glass featured intricate, pretty designs on its surfaces, usually of flowers or tree branches. The distinction between the two is in how they were made. Patterns on elegant glass were usually etched, meaning the design was recessed. The glass was coated with wax, and a design was drawn into the wax. Then the glass got an acid treatment, which ate away the surface of the glass not covered in wax. Depression glass, however, was mass-produced using molds, which were etched with acid themselves. This means the pattern was raised rather than inset, what's known as "mold etched."
Vintage elegant glass, also called "good glass," is often hand-pressed, hand-molded, or hand-blown, and frequently features hand-finished bases. Elegant glass is made of high-quality glass, has fewer visible seams, and lacks the little bobbles and wrinkles found in pieces of Depression glass. Extra steps made the difference. For example, after a piece was shaped, it was inserted back into a "glory hole" for fire polishing, which gave it a high gloss. Most elegant glass was clear, a.k.a. crystal, but some of it was pastel colored and translucent.
Top elegant-glass companies of the era included the Cambridge Class Company, A.H. Heisey & Company, Fostoria Glass Company, and Imperial Glass Corporation. In 1936, Imperial created its most successful elegant-glass line, Candlewick, which was inspired by a Colonial needlework technique known as candlewicking. The design featured little clear glass beads around the top of each crystal piece.
While Candlewick was a hugely popular dinnerware pattern, it faced serious competition from Cambridge's Rosepoint and Fostoria's American line. That geometric pattern, resembling a series of protruding cubes, was first produced in 1915 and had one of the longest runs in U.S. glassmaking history.