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Collecting Mania: Caring For Crystal Stemware & Depression Glass

Updated on May 29, 2010

Crystal Stemware

Whether quartz crystal harbors healing properties or a crystal ball can reveal the future is open to debate. But everyone agrees that lead crystal on a dining room table has the power to transform an everyday setting into the extraordinary.

More than 300 years ago, an Englishman named George Ravenscroft experimented with a new ingredient in the glass-making process: lead oxide. He discovered that lead causes light rays to bend, giving glass brilliance and resonance. Ever since, crystal has found a place among heirloom silver and fine china.

Fine crystal requires a bit more care than ordinary glass, in part because it's much more porous. That means it absorbs tastes and odors. It's also much more delicate. The key to maintaining its sparkle is using kid gloves - or more literally, rubber gloves - because automatic dishwashing is not recommended.

High temperatures and abrasive cleaners are enemies of fragile glassware. Even nonabrasive cleaning liquids can actually "bake in" during the drying cycle. And if those aren't enough reasons to head for the kitchen sink, sooner or later your machine is bound to break a stem or two. Here's a safer way to wash your crystal:

  • When washing crystal, line the sink with a thick dish towel or washcloth. And remember the rubber gloves. It allows you to use hotter water, which cleans better and helps glass dry faster. Be sure to use a gentle soap, not a detergent. Rinse thoroughly and invert on a towel to dry.
  • For problem stains on a wine decanter or flower vase, Waterford Crystal recommends swirling a handful of uncooked rice in a solution of warm water and either lemon juice or vinegar to remove any films. For stubborn stains, soak in warm water with a denture-cleaning tablet.
  • Sick glass occurs when minerals in the water start eating away at the crystal. Unfortunately, a bad case can permanently scar the piece. If you catch the problem early, try mixing a thin paste of baking powder and water and rubbing it onto the glass. Rinse well and dry with a soft cloth.
  • Never soak crystal figurines, candlesticks and other fine items. Simply dust regularly with a light glass cleaner to maintain their brilliance. Some experts recommend wearing white cotton gloves while cleaning to prevent smudges and fingerprints.

Perhaps not everyone is ready to undertake the white glove treatment, but a little extra care will keep fine crystal glassware in your future.

Depression Glass

During the bleak economic times that gave Depression glass its name, plates, goblets, and creamers were pretty, plentiful, and cheap. Pieces were freely given away as promotional gifts, with a bonus plate in a flour sack or a glass handed out with movie ticket or gasoline fill-up. Adding to the set simply meant an inexpensive run down to the five-and-dime store. Depression glass is still pretty, but today, it's also highly coveted and in some cases handsomely priced. Whether your collection is in regular use or just on display, here's how to keep it safe and sparkling:

  • Many experts discourage dishwasher use because excessive heat can cause cracks. Instead, line the bottom of a sink with a towel to protect glass from breaking or chipping. Use warm - not hot - water and an extremely gentle soap.
  • Soak dusty or dirty glassware in a sudsy solution, but first check for any evidence that lids, knobs, or handles may have been glued - pre-World War II glues were not waterproof.
  • Never scrub Depressionware with an abrasive cleaner or steel wool. It creates scratches and can weaken the glass.
  • Toss a lemon peel in your rinse water. It cuts grease and makes the glass shine.
  • Dry with a linen towel to prevent lint from accumulating on items.
  • Always store glasses upright. Storing them upside down for long periods of time can create a musty smell.
  • For pieces used for display only, dust regularly.

Collectors should keep in mind that because Depression glass was mass-produced, many pieces have imperfections from the factory. This is one of the best things about collecting this glass as it has a personality of its own.

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