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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Vintage Voice: Swanky Swig

A few weeks back I treated myself to my favorite kind of "retail therapy" ; buying a few dishes and glassware to add to my collection, and also a couple of other fave items (yet another vintage apron!). Click HERE to see that post.  And FYI: I usually don't spend a lot of money on these things; I'm always looking for deals and good prices. I'd love to be one of those people who can pop into one of those really nice upscale antique shops and buy really valuable and expensive antiques for my home, but we're not rich. We do what we can with what we have and I try to make it look good!

I had heard the term "swanky swig" before, in reference to glassware, but since I had not been a collector of that type of glassware, I didn't know much about it. Now that I have my very own set of four 'Swanky Swig' glasses, I had to read up on them!

The term 'Swanky Swig', to collectors who are purists, refers to the Depression-era juice-sized tumblers that originally held Kraft cheese spreads and were premiums distributed over the 1930s, 40s and 50s. Collectors call these little glasses "swanky swigs" in reference to the 'swanky' decals that decorate them; colorful flowers, stars, animals and the like. Swanky Swigs are the predecessor to today's character glasses, that are often premiums at many fast food restaurants, like McDonald's, Arby's and Pizza Hut.

Pepsi and Coca-Cola have also issued some popular 'character' glasses as well. Some years back, Pepsi had an ad campaign featuring commercials with Ray Charles and the slogan, "You've Got the Right Stuff, Baby!". They had glasses like these (below) made as premiums and give-aways. Although there aren't any 'characters', per se, on this glass, they are considered kind of the same thing as character glasses or swanky swigs. I used to have four of these myself; now I only have two (two of them broke a loooong time ago.) A gas station near my home used to give out these glasses free whenever you put in a certain amount of gas in your car. I think it was  7 gallons or something like that. I come across these glasses every once in awhile at antique malls; they aren't worth much as collector items go; usually I see them tagged at about $2.But you never know...maybe someday they will be worth more!

Other glasses with a similar look and from the same time period, distributed by other companies, such as Welch's, are sometimes referred to as 'swanky swigs' as well. Welch's sold jelly in juice-glass-sized jars that were also very popular. Some of the Welch's designs are today very valuable. Six scenes from the popular Howdy Doody Show held the first spot on a Welch's jelly jar in 1953. These glasses are worth about $75 each today,(in excellent condition of course). Other characters who appeared on Welch's jars are Winnie the Pooh, The Archie Comics gang, Disney characters, Dr.Seuss characters, Tom & Jerry and the Muppets.  Some character glasses are worth thousands!
I remember my siblings and I had a whole set of the Muppets character glasses from McDonald's that came out in 1980-81 when the movie, The Great Muppet Caper movie was in theatres. My favorite glass depicted the double-decker 'Happiness Hotel' bus on it ( I found a picture online; see below). Alas, we used  our Muppet glasses so much that we eventually broke all of them and nary a one remains. I come across those also from time to time in antique malls and I always look for the one with the bus on it! Several collectibles websites I have seen have these priced at $18-20 for each glass. That's quite a difference from the 49 cents they used to cost (with meal purchase) at McDonald's!

My 'Swanky Swig' glasses were labeled as being made by the Hazel-Atlas Glass Company. The company,  founded in 1902 and headquartered in Wheeling, WV,  was a large producer of machine-molded glass. By the 1930s, Hazel-Atlas had 15 plants and was the largest glass manufacturer in the world. In addition to making tremendous quantities of depression glass in many patterns, they also manufactured the white milk-glass inserts used inside zinc fruit jar lids, as well as many types of milk glass jars for cold cream and salves. They also were a large manufacturer of bottles and jars for the commercial packaging industry.

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