By Peg Carmack Short - Produced by Jill Leslie Haack - Photography by Jessie - Walker Styled by Aurelia Joyce Pace
Toes were tapping to Wee Bonnie Baker as she crooned, "Oh, Johnny! Oh!" Moviegoers were sighing over Clark Gable as the dashing Rhett Butler. And for bobby-soxers, mismatching shoes and socks was all the rage. But in 1940, while Americans were attempting to appear hard at play, the threat of war was looming on the horizon, and tensions were running high. With the country in the last throws of the Great Depression, product manufacturers, movie theaters, and gas stations continued to lure customers with premiums that promised "wonderful gifts" and "extraordinary value." A few coupons and $1.69 entitled a homemaker to a "beautiful 36-piece dinner set," which, in the 1960s, would come to be known as Depression glass.

Manufactured in cheerful colors with jaunty shapes, flirty '40s dishes, such as Moderntone Platonite, were designed to help weary housewives forget their depression-time woes. No wonder that today's collectors continue to be drawn to this playful dinnerware. For many, it strikes the cord of memory. "Nostalgia is an important factor with many collectors," says Chicagoland antiques dealer, George Hurney of the Glass Connection. Long gone are depression-era connotations. Instead, collectors remember a pastel sherbet just like the one grandma used to serve special treats.

Early Depression glass was usually clear and pastel-colored, and it was first introduced in the mid-1920s by Fostoria Glass Company. Fostoria's glassware was expensive, but its popularity spurred the manufacture of similar pieces by companies who produced a cheaper glass through a process called tank molding. Though this glass was often flawed or had bubbles, the process made it affordable for the masses. By the 1930s, many of these manufacturers were starting to produce opaque forms of glassware. But it wasn't until 1940 that the Hazel Atlas Glass Company introduced Moderntone Platonite, an opaque version of one of their clear patterns, known simply as Moderntone. Platonite was first produced in white, then in pastel shades of blue, green, pink, and yellow.

A bargain in its own era, Moderntone Platonite continues to have the same appeal today. According to Hurney, "other forms of Depression glass are probably 2 to 3 times higher priced than these." Pieces of white Moderntone may be purchased for as little as $2.50, with pastels starting at $4.50. A Chicago area collector shares that she has even found pieces for as little as 50 cents at garage sales. In fact, part of her joy in collecting Moderntone is its affordability. "I started out thinking I wanted to collect elegant cups and saucers, but everything I wanted cost $200 to $250," she says. "I switched to Moderntone because I liked collecting something that I could afford to buy a lot of." Despite this resurgence of interest in Moderntone, it is still reasonably available. Gene Florence, an expert in all forms of Depression glass, and author of Collectible Glassware of the '40s, '50s, and '60s says in his book that he was able to gather "at least 4,000 pieces of Platonite," attesting to its availability. Hurney suggests that if you have any difficulty finding pieces, Moderntone can be located through mail-order newspapers, such as the Daze, that specialize in antiques and collectibles. The internet has also become a good source for finding Depression glass, including Moderntone. But one collector shares that for her, "Part of the joy in collecting is the thrill of the hunt." She prefers finding "a piece here and there-in secondhand stores and flea markets." In her experience, yellow is the easiest color to find, with berry and cereal bowls being the most difficult pieces to locate. She collects both the pastel hues and the deeper colors of orange, gold, and teal. Other collectors of Moderntone Platonite prefer the white trimmed in red or blue; although these pieces are much more scarce.

Whatever their color preferences and reasons for collecting Moderntone Platonite, most collectors find that learning about the history of their pieces becomes an important part of their enjoyment. A collector in Glencoe, Illinois, says "I like researching the pieces I collect and seeing how they fit into the fabric of our era. For example, did you know that the sherbet was invented when Jell-O became popular? They needed something to serve it in."

Hurney agrees that "talking and listening to other collectors is part of the fun." He and his wife glean some of their information through clubs such as the '20s, '30s, '40s Society, in LaGrange, Illinois. Books, too, remain an important source of information. Many general books are available on Depression glass, but it is sometimes possible to locate books on a specific pattern or even the company of manufacture. Shows devoted to depression-era glassware, are also excellent sources of information.

Although Moderntone, like other forms of depression dinnerware, remains less valuable than the more elegant forms of glass, collectors agree the true value is in the eye of the beholder. Whether they are drawn by the color and playfulness of the pattern or a reminiscence, all agree it's a way to capture a bit of history and experience the joy of what was once "hard-times glassware." .

Articles included here are copyrighted by Peg Carmack Short and may not be copied in full or part without written permission of the author.

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