Dazzling, Beautiful, Lovely, and Bold: Popular Tips for Using Glassware in the 1920s and 30s

“Almost everything will look three times as delicious served on glass. You’ll think of the magic table in the fairy tale when you see the miraculous change the swift dazzle of glass makes in your own table.”

The Little Book About Glassware, 1925
Many catalogs, such as this 1944 Fostoria guide to buying and using glassware, focused on the “glisten or sparkle” of glass that cannot be easily captured by other materials. Detail from cover of CMGL 89294

It is late autumn in Corning, NY, now. The leaves have fallen, the air is growing chillier, the days are shorter, and Thanksgiving is this week! We are leaving behind the season of picnics, barbeques, and family reunions. Families and friends will gather indoors for buffets, small informal parties, and sit-down meals. Why not take some entertaining tips from the days of dainty foods and color-coordinated meals? Using some tips from the 1920s and 30s, hosts of any gender can plan a party as stylish as one designed by a 1920s “modern housewife.”

The cover illustration for The Gracious Art of Dining, 1927, features an elegant dinner party. The table is set with wine glasses, goblets, what might be finger bowls, and other glassware. Detail from cover of CMGL 95169

During this time, glass companies produced catalogs and pamphlets written mainly with young housewives and women in mind. These catalogs often contained tips and tricks for setting a table using the company’s glassware for the highest impact.

This image from Fostoria’s 1944 publication, Let Tables Glisten, shows the visual impact of a table set entirely in clear glassware. Detail from CMGL 89294

According to these early 20th-century catalogs, here are the top glassware decorating tips:

  • Match your glassware to your furniture, dishware, or the occasion.

“The hostess with a sense of fitness (her name is legion, to-day) has a glass service for each of her dinner services.  She does not dream of using gold-banded glass with brightly informal pottery; neither would she use gayly colored glass with stately china.  For her severely formal tables she uses glittering crystal, etched or cut, engraved or gold decorated.”

The Gracious Art of Dining, 1927

Sleek modern furniture matches well with plain glassware without frills, and etched and patterned glassware complements floral dishes.

Some catalogs offered advice for matching a room or one’s existing tableware to a style of glassware. Detail from CMGL 89294
  • Use color (appropriately). Some guides imply that the height of decorum requires crystal clear glass. Later catalogs embrace color, encouraging bold combinations.
The New Vogue in Dinner China, 1930, advises that green, amber, straw, or crystal glassware provide “a harmonious background for the various colors which will shortly appear upon the table in the chromatic pageantry of a ‘color for every course.’ Detail from CMGL 26691
  • Make sure your glassware (or dinnerware) complements the color of the food and drink.

“The clever hostess will plan, too, to have the color of the glass an artistic foil for the foods that she serves on the plates, or the beverages that she serves in the glasses… for the clever hostess realizes to what extent background adds to the zest and pleasure of food.”

Glass of Fashion, 1931
  • Don’t forget the decorations and centerpieces. Many guides recommend flowers:
A traditional centerpiece featuring a floral arrangement and candlesticks. Detail from CMGL 60685

“Don’t forget that glass candlesticks and bowls and vases reflect all loveliness and multiply beauty.  Candles and crystal and flowers belong together year round – They are always ‘appropriate’ and in excellent taste.”

The Little Book About Glassware, 1925

But, figurines, bowls of fruit, or dessert trays could also serve as attractive centerpieces.

This more modern take on the centerpiece features two glass figurines of cowboys and horses. Detail from CMGL 60685
  • Don’t overdo it. Planning a party, cooking dinner, and decorating take time and effort. Make your life simpler and take a tip from the 1930s by serving meals that can be prepared ahead of time and served chilled or in chafing dishes.
This table setting was designed for a home without a maid. Housewives working without domestic help may have preferred to serve meals that could be prepared in advance such as those popular in the 1930s. Illustration from The Little Book About Glassware published in 1925.  Detail from CMGL 20608
  • Decorate in a way that makes you happy! While there are plenty of guides written on how you should entertain, feel free to experiment and have fun. Use plain glassware with ornate floral dinnerware. Mix up your colors or keep it monochromatic. Mix and match your plates or glassware.
This is my table set with mismatched vintage glassware in different styles serving vintage recipes from the 1920s and 30s.

Try setting your tables with glassware and incorporating some of these vintage table-setting tips for your next get-together!

For more information about entertaining in the past, see Fashionable Food by Sylvia Lovegren. This book features not only information on food fads but also trends in cooking and entertaining and contemporary society.

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