I spied this little set at a garage sale and immediately thought espresso. (For scale, the saucers are three inches in diameter and the cups just over two inches.)
But the seller quickly disabused me of that assumption, explaining that this was a vintage Akro Agate child’s tea set. Still, I wasn’t the only one with erroneous expectations. Several bystanders remarked that they too had thought espresso, with one person musing that it’s interesting how we bring 21st-century expectations to things.
And not only do we invariably apply 21st-century expectations to our interpretations of what we see or experience, but additional expectations are often in play.
Since the seller—an older, reliable-seeming, gentleman—was genuinely excited about this tea set and told me it was Akro Agate, I assumed that it was actually Akro Agate and that the entire set was Akro Agate. I didn’t examine the pieces closely because this was, after all, a large and well-attended neighborhood sale and I was with a group of people who were waiting for me. I expected that I could trust the seller’s words, and I expected that I had to make a quick decision about buying this set.
Later, at home, I quickly saw that I had two different sets. Clearly my expectations were wrong—the set was not for espresso, the pieces were not all Akro Agate, and the “set” was not really a set!
However, they were indeed vintage glass. And the price paid was still fair.
The saucers were true Akro Agate, two of them with clear marks on the bottom and all four exhibiting that swirled glass that made agate marbles so prized.
The company was founded in 1911 in Akron, Ohio, with a logo of a crow—A-kro!—flying through an “A” and holding marbles in beak and claws. (What’s not to love about this logo?!)
Akro Agate was an incredibly innovative company, developing the machinery and methods to make their unique spiral marbles that continue to be collectibles. In 1932 the company finally expanded beyond marbles and made pressed glass children’s tea sets in addition to other items.
The cups, however, had a different maker’s mark and clearly were not the same type of glass as the saucers.
These two-ringed cups were from a Little Hostess Sierra child’s tea set, made in the 1940–1950s of platonite glass by the Hazel–Atlas Glass Company. Three are pastel whereas the fourth cup is dark green; the interiors are white.
The company was formed in 1902 when Hazel Glass (1887) merged with Atlas Glass (1896) and two other companies; it eventually became the largest glass manufacturer in the U.S. (1930s until the 1950s) and one of the largest in the world. The company’s mark, “A” underneath “H,” apparently was first used in 1923.
The 1930s platonite was a type of glass that was more translucent yet stronger than milk glass; various colors could be fired on top of the white glass base.
Children’s tea sets have a long history in the western world, with the first sets designed specifically for children as early as 1687 in Germany. Since the Germans hadn’t yet figured out how to make porcelain, these first sets were made of metal, from copper and pewter to silver and gold! Once the Meissen factory opened in 1710, porcelain tea sets began to be produced for (wealthy) children. The sets became more ubiquitous after the Industrial Revolution, and European factories manufactured toy sets alongside their usual ware.
Here in the U.S., toy tea sets such as these made by Akro Agate and Hazel–Atlas were very popular during the first half of the 20th century. Hazel–Atlas excelled in making affordable tableware that we now call “depression” glass. During WW2, with no imports from Japan, Akro Agate’s children’s sets sold especially well.
After the war, however, many American companies couldn’t hold up against the influx of inexpensive imports from Japan. The 1940s also brought development of plastic items that could be cheaply produced. Akro Agate folded in 1951 and Hazel-Atlas was bought out in 1956, followed by anti-trust litigation that eventually split up the company.
Even though my expectations were all based on error, I still find this little set quite charming. Since it’s made of glass, I imagine I can safely use it, and it truly is an ideal size for
espresso — I mean having tea with my granddaughter.
–”Akro Agate glass,” Glass Encyclopedia, accessed 6/24/21.
–Decker, C. “A history of children’s tea sets,” Childs-tea-set.com.
–Emerson Creek Pottery. Tea set history: The history of the tea set, teapots, tea customs, and tea drinking.” 2016.
–”Hazel Atlas Glass Company,” Glass Bottle Marks, accessed 6/24/21.
–”Hazel-Atlas Glass Compnay,” Ohio County Public Library, accessed 6/24/21.
–”Wait, it’s not milk glass?,” Allora Vintage, 6/27/20.