Dear Helaine and Joe: I know my sister-in-law had this decanter and four glasses for more than 40 years and that she got the set from her mother-in-law. It has no markings. Any information would be appreciated. — L.C., Syracuse, New York
Dear L.C.: The Imperial Glass Co. began making glassware in Bellaire, Ohio, in 1904. The first lines were not very prestigious; the firm specialized in making inexpensive jelly jars, lamp shades and tumblers to be used in hotels, as well as other mundane and utilitarian items.
By 1909, however, it had moved up a bit and was making hand-blown art glass and a variety of pressed carnival glass objects such as the wine set owned by L.C. It is thought by many that Imperial made some of the best carnival glass, and it made more patterns than any company other than Fenton.
Over the years, Imperial prospered. Starting in the 1940s, it began acquiring the molds of important glass companies that had gone out of business, such as Heisey and Cambridge.
In 1951 Imperial started marking wares with an "I" superimposed through the middle of a "G." This lasted until the early 1970s, when Lenox bought the company and added an "L" to this monogram. The company went out of business in 1984, and some items made in that year are marked with an "N" over an "I" for "New Imperial." During the "I-G" period, a lot of carnival glass was made, but current collectors are far more interested in the earlier unmarked wares such as the examples owned by L.C.
The pattern on this set is known as "Imperial Grape," and along with Fenton's "Grape and Cable" and "Vintage" patterns, it was probably introduced in the early 20th century to compete with Northwood's famous and highly successful "Grape and Cable" design. "Imperial Grape" can be found in a variety of colors that include marigold, two shades of green, amethyst, clambroth smoke and iridized milk glass.
The value of any piece of "Imperial Grape" depends on whether it is marked (remember, in this case unmarked is better, and this is rarely the case), the color of the base glass and the shape of the piece itself. The rarest shape in this pattern is the spittoon, and in green it is worth around $2,500 at retail, but in marigold, the price drops to half that figure.
It is hard to tell from the photographs, but we believe that the color of the base glass in L.C.'s set is amethyst. If this is the case, the insurance replacement value of the decanter is about $300, and each of the wine glasses is worth about $60. This means that taken individually, the pieces of this set (the decanter and four wine glasses) are worth roughly $540.
But in antiques and collectibles, sets are always worth more than the sum of their parts. Therefore, L.C. should value her five-piece grouping at between $650 and $750.
Helaine Fendelman is feature editor at Country Living magazine, and Joe Rosson writes about antiques at The Knoxville News Sentinel in Tennessee. Questions can by mailed to them at P.O. Box 12208, Knoxville, TN 37912-0208.