Antiques: Swankyswigs – A Sip of the Past

Written By: MJ Sullivan

The year was 1933. As a nation, we were four years into what would become known as the Great Depression. This reality caused thrifty homemakers all over America to be concerned about saving money any way they could. Attempting to appeal to this frugal mindset, Kraft Foods, famous for their cheese products, decided to launch a campaign to package cheese spreads in reusable drinking glasses. After preliminary testing and market analysis, the name chosen by the company for these glasses was “Swankyswig.” Although the glasses are sometimes referred to as Swanky-swig or Swanky Swig, the official name is Swankyswig.

The tiny tumblers are found in a variety of sizes, with dimensions varying slightly depending on year of issue. Today these charming collectibles are most often found in antiques venues.

The first glasses, released in 1933, had hand-painted black and red bands. After this initial year of production, the diminutive cuties were decorated using a silkscreen process. The glasses were manufactured by the Hazel Atlas Company, which partnered with Kraft through much of their decades-long campaign. Their marketing plan was so successful that it continued through most of the 20th century. They have even released patterns as recently as 2003 (the Stars and Stripes and Hearts and Stripes patterns).

Many people remember the small, colorful glasses being used to serve juice during the middle of the last century. Those memorable Swankyswigs were decorated with images such as circles, dots, cornflowers, tulips, jonquils, sailboats and forget-me-nots, to name a few. 

Produced in shades of red, orange, green, light and dark blue, black, brown and yellow, they were sure to brighten any mealtime or gathering. 

Kraft’s marketing strategy proved to be so successful in the United States that they also produced lines in Canada and Australia. The Canadian production included wildlife, galleon and sports themes. 

Popular Australian glasses featured Disneyland and Pinocchio designs, which are highly prized by today’s collectors.

Swankyswigs are considered predecessors of the character glasses that became popular in the middle of the last century. Those glasses contained products such as jelly and peanut butter. According to the folks at www.thesprucecrafts.com, in 1953, Welch’s introduced a series of glasses that contained jelly and that featured characters from the popular Howdy Doody Show. A single glass depicting one of the six scenes from this series now sells for about $75. Welch’s Flintstone Series glasses sell in a similar price range. Limited-release Howdy Doody prototype glasses can bring as much as several hundred dollars. Other successful campaigns that featured specialty glasses include McDonald’s Muppet Capers, Arby’s B.C. Ice Age, Hardee’s Smurfs and Pizza Hut’s Flintstones. However, these examples are merely the tip of the character glass-collecting iceberg. 

Cynthia Hillman of Roswell, past president of the Peach State Depression Glass Club (PSDGC) in Marietta, remembers seeing Swankyswigs used as orange juice glasses in her family home when she was growing up. She recalls that the glasses were originally filled with cheese spread and sealed with metal lids. Hillman, who has been collecting Depression glass since the 1980s, offers some tips for anyone interested in finding out about Swankyswigs. “If I were just starting out, I would go online to eBay and look at the completed listings for Swankyswigs. That would give me an idea of what the glasses actually sell for. Then I would study the listings to learn what they look like and see what might interest me. Next I would look for them in places like flea markets, garage sales and antiques stores. After all, the fun part is the hunt.” 

She says that Swankyswigs are perfect for young collectors because they are small, colorful and sometimes whimsical in design. They are also reasonably priced — often only $3 or $4 dollars each. To learn more, she invites everyone to visit the annual PSDGC’s show and sale at the Cobb County Civic Center in Marietta on July 27 and 28. Details can be found online at www.psdgc.com.

When caring for your Swankyswigs, it is best to wash them by hand. Never put them, or any vintage glass, in the dishwasher. Dishwater temperatures and harsh detergents may cause the designs to peel and lead to fading and discoloration. 

To shop online, visit eBay and Etsy. Also visit www.pinterest.com/jaynemoreland/swanky-swigs to view Jayne’s impressive collection. Other resources include the National Depression Glass Association and the book Swankyswigs by Mark and Sheila Moore.

Swankyswigs: As much fun to collect as they are to use. Happy Hunting.   

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