Some collectibles are meant to be looked at but never touched. For vintage barware enthusiasts, however, using their finds is almost as fun as hunting them down.
“I’m not really a fan of tchotchkes that sit on a shelf,” says Elizabeth Plotz, 34, owner of South Shore Vintage in Patchogue. “I like things that are functional as well as pretty.”
Plotz has owned her Patchogue store two years but has sold her wares online since 2012. She says that the midcentury modern designs she carries are her most popular items, and that millennials in particular are drawn to the funky designs, high quality and unusual shapes. “Some modern companies like Target try to replicate the vintage look,” she says. “But the quality isn’t the same.”
Elizabeth Sweigart, 28, who has co-owned The Times Vintage in Greenport with father, Michael Sweigart, 61, since 2013, says that vintage barware is now more popular than ever. “It’s becoming very collectible,” she says. “It really right now might be its peak in popularity and collectability, particularly 1960s and 1970s stuff.”
So what does “vintage” mean? “Vintage simply means any item that is 20 years or older, and antique is 100 years or older,” said Kate Pearce, 33, owner of Huntington-based online store katepearcevintage.com. Pearce, whose shop has been open since 2015, sells both vintage and antique barware, but her main focus is on midcentury pieces, with some '70s and '80s art deco thrown in. “Antique items are becoming less desirable for both collectors and decorators,” she says. “Midcentury is now all the rage.”
What to watch for
You don’t have be an expert to start your own vintage barware collection. But it’s helpful to be able to tell the truly collectible items from the things that are just fun. “There’s some stuff that’s very collectible, like glassware made by Federal Glass,” says Plotz, referring to the Ohio company that produced the etched glass in the 20th century. “And Imperial Glass is collectible, and very expensive.” Plotz says products from the Imperial Glassware Corporation, another Ohio company that began manufacturing glass at the turn of the last century, can cost as much as $30 per glass, and sets of six can run upward of $200, even as much as $500.
Other sought-after brands include Culver and Valencia by Culver patterned glassware, Fred Press glassware, and Georges Briard. “Collectors are more interested in the name-brand stuff,” says Sweigart. “It’s like getting a designer handbag.” But other collectors are more interested in design than provenance. Sweigart says metallic items are especially popular during the holidays. “Anything that’s glitzy sells,” she says.
Note that the most valuable pieces come in complete sets. “It’s harder to sell a set of three or five than it is to sell a set of four,” says Pearce. “Odd numbers are less valuable.”
Vintage or reproduction?
So how can you tell if a piece is actually vintage? For starters, vintage glassware can also weigh more, or show signs of gentle wear, such as a patina or a slight film. And a lot of it is smaller in scale than modern pieces. “And if the glass has a seam on the side, then it’s mass produced, and not handblown,” says Plotz.
Also look for modern branding. “Most things that are reissue have a brand name or company name like Pottery Barn stamped on the bottom of them,” says Sweigart. “With a lot of vintage glassware, there’s no label or indication of who made it.”
Hand-painting is another possible tell. “Vintage barware was often hand-painted, and if you look closely it’s usually quite easy to tell the difference between that and a mass-produced pattern,” says Pearce, who adds that those with imperfections are part of the charm.
Where to find it
Dealers spend years looking for the perfect pieces, so don’t expect to amass an entire collection in one trip. Be patient and be prepared to spend a little more. “You’re gonna spend a lot of time looking if you go to the Salvation Army, because you might find only 3 glasses there, and I like sets of 4 or more,” says Plotz. “It’s harder to find it in thrift shops, because people mishandle them.” Plotz, who mostly finds her wares at estate sales where it’s often in good condition, says the hunt is part of the process.
Even with the hit or miss of Salvation Army or local thrift stores, they can still be terrific sources, especially for lower-priced items, Pearce says. “I find pieces at my local thrift all the time, and the best part is that thrift stores are usually less knowledgeable about these pieces than estate sale companies, so you can often score them for far less,” she says.
Resale shops such as Plotz’s, are also a good bet for sourcing vintage barware, but buyers should be prepared to pay a little more for these curated collections. Plotz, who specializes in midcentury pieces, sells everything from stemware and cocktail glasses. Prices range from $24 for ice buckets and $40 for a set of six basic glasses to $48 for a seven-piece silvered decanter set.
Some store owners, such as Sweigart, specialize in later eras. Her collection of mostly 1960s and 1970s glassware ranges in price from $30 to $40 for four pieces to $65 for an eight-piece set, or $95 for a set with a carrier. She even has a real Tiki bar priced at $1,600. “The Tiki bar is expensive, because it’s rare and it’s hard to find,” says Sweigart.
Pearce specializes in 1950s- and 1960s-era items, and prices at her online store can range from under $20 to more than $100 for special sets and collections. “I collect vintage barware because it’s fun, and they’re great conversation starters for a holiday get-together or an intimate dinner party,” says Pearce. “They make such great conversation pieces and display items.” She also collects for her husband. “He’s not as into the vintage as I am, but he’s a whiskey drinker and likes the barware. So now he likes when I go estate sales. And there is nothing more fun than heading to an estate sale or your local thrift not knowing what you will find.”
Where to buy vintage barware
South Shore Vintage, 76 North Ocean Ave., Patchogue, 631-475-1940, southshorevintage.com
The Times Vintage, 429 Main St., Greenport, 631-477-6455, timesvintage.com
Kate Pearce Vintage, katepearcevintage.com
More vintage sources on Long Island, click Newsday.com/home
Hand wash only! “I’ve broken some vintage glassware by just washing it,” says Pearce. “And many pieces are hand-painted, so they must be hand-washed , and the less often the pieces are washed, the better.” And never use the dishwasher. “The dishwasher can fade the glass, and you can get hard water staining and film on the inside that you can’t get off,” says Plotz, who uses a gentle sponge with a mild soap, like blue Dawn, and says that Bar Keepers Friend or even lemons can help keep glassware clean.
Everyday or special occasion? Pearce says that certain extra-delicate pieces should be reserved for special occasion use, or used purely for decoration. “But a lot of the less valuable and delicate, or less rare pieces, we use daily,” says Pearce.
Store with care. Plotz has two china cabinets and a rack for her stemware, so glasses stay safe from her two dogs. And Pearce, who also stores her most prized possessions in china cabinets, says it’s important to keep vintage ware protected from the elements. “But I do have fun with certain pieces that are more sturdy,” says Pearce. “I’ll put them out on bar carts, and I even have decanters styled on my fireplace.”
Safety first. “There are certain things that people used in the past that aren’t used today, such as lead paint, or just lead in general,” said Pearce. “That can be found on some vintage china, so it’s important to be mindful of that.” She says that for those pieces, it’s fine to buy them as long as you intend to use them for display only. Also check for chips, and be careful about flaking metallic finishes on decorated glassware. Make sure the material is food safe. “If you’re getting into aluminum cups, maybe it’s not the best material to be drinking out of,” says Sweigart.