Vintage Glassware Shopping and Care Guide

“Everything that we need has been made already, you just gotta go look for it,” says Bottle Bacchanal owner Beth Hughes, whose wine shop also sells vintage barware and glassware. It’s a philosophy driving a number of new bars, restaurants and shops to exclusively stock secondhand drinkware.

From browsing thrift shops to scouring online marketplaces, there have never been more ways to find secondhand pieces for your home bar, too. Whether it’s a classic coupe or a one-of-a-kind specialty glass, an antique item from another era can be the perfect finishing touch to just about any cocktail. 

Here, where to find the best pieces, what to consider while shopping and how to care for your new (old) home bar staples.

Even with seemingly endless quantities of vintage items available on Etsy, eBay and Instagram pages, which can be great places to look, in-person shopping is the preferred method by industry pros, because it allows for quick, easy quality control (fading, leave it; intact engraving, buy it). Victoria Vergason, owner of The Hour Shop, a Virginia store that stocks more than 10,000 vintage cocktail-related pieces, says she sources her inventory from flea markets, estate sales and auction houses.

Hughes, who favors estate sales, recommends signing up for local estate sale newsletters to be alerted of opportunities to shop. Preview photos of the estates can help determine whether a sale may have good finds—even if the images don’t include glassware pictures, the maintenance of the home and other items can be indicators of quality.

But, buyer beware: “Unfortunately, the internet is full of incorrect information that is often perpetuated,” says Vergason. Asking questions about potential purchases and consulting with glass museum websites can help with authentication, she says.

Vergason, who primarily sources 20th-century glassware, searches for specific designers, whose signatures she’s come to recognize. Familiarizing oneself with the particular features of a given designer can aid in online searching and indicate the quality of pieces that bear those characteristics. Among the designer work featured in The Hour Shop, for example, are Dorothy Thorpe’s sterling-overlaid goblets and Collins glasses, etched and amber pieces from Japanese maker Sasaki Glass, and colorful, marbled glass by Italian designer Carlo Moretti.

Even without such extensive knowledge, the casual vintage shopper can find something exciting, too. At Hi-Lo Club in San Francisco, a bar that exclusively uses secondhand glassware for its cocktails, partner Justin Mulford calls the bar’s collection “lost and found” pieces. Not necessarily antique, and not necessarily meant for cocktails, the oddities range from dessert bowls to drinking glasses with nostalgic inscriptions like “Prom ’78.” Sourced from thrift shops and even friends of the bar, the mismatched selection adds to the story of the drinks and the bar’s atmosphere.

When mixing and matching, however, consider the volume of each glass, says Jason Shechtman, founder of Courtland Club, a cocktail bar in Providence, Rhode Island, inspired by the 1940s social clubs that used to occupy the bar’s building. It can be difficult to ensure that drinks are split evenly across vintage glasses of differing sizes, so he recommends looking for a pair or set of four glasses when possible.

Vergason notes that “condition is everything”; understanding the wear on an item before purchasing is important. While some pieces can be restored—even severely tarnished silver elements can be shined, for example—faded or chipped glassware cannot be fixed. Also, cloudiness in glassware is irreversible; look for clear glass with unfaded patterns and etching. 

To make the most of antique pieces, hand-washing is best. Glassware with platinum or silver rims and embellishments can be polished—Vergason recommends Wright’s Silver Cream—and rinsed with warm water. Avoid stacking vintage glasses when storing, so as not to damage their rims.

Most importantly, with any heritage piece, “treat it with respect,” says Hughes. “A lot of these glasses have been around for 40 to 50 years, and you don’t want to be the one to break them.”

On Etsy: Find colorful Depression glass from VintageGlassCarnival, shop for funky stemware (think frosted flutes and zigzag ’tini glasses) from ShopDotonEtsy, and mix and match pieces or select a curated set from DotnBettys

On Instagram: sells complete sets of glassware in a range of formats, cordial to Collins, while the account @shoprosemaryhome showcases its unique pieces sourced from around the world. 

Elsewhere online: Sort through Chairish’s vintage barware by style—Art Deco, midcentury modern and minimalist are among the many options—or head to Vergason’s The Hour Shop for quality pieces categorized by type or country of origin.

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