John Fiore admits he’s hooked.
His addiction, which began seven years ago, is taking over every horizontal surface in his 1,000-square-foot condo.
It all started innocently. Fiore, former mayor of Wilton Manors, Fla., thought going to yard sales would give him a chance to meet some of his constituents. The yard-sale idea did help him meet a lot of folks, but it also gave him something that lasted well beyond his political career.
While shaking hands and schmoozing, Fiore discovered a passion for Depression glass. His first purchase was six sherbet bowls with feet in light blue and cost about $5.
Today his first purchase is worth about $40 and his collection of Depression and elegant glass has grown to more than 1,000 pieces in every color from light pink and yellow to intense shades such as ruby, cobalt blue and forest green. They’re everywhere. On top of the wood cabinets in the newly remodeled kitchen. Stuffed into cabinets in the living room. Lining the walls of the den on special shelves near the ceiling. They have even invaded the bathroom and bedroom.
‘‘I’m a glassoholic,’’ he says.
What is the magic that hooks Fiore and others like him?
‘‘I think people like the way it reflects the light,’’ he says. ‘‘I like the color and I like looking at all the different shapes and sizes.’’
He shows off his collection with warm white fluorescent light on top of the cabinets in the kitchen. In the den, the soft glow illuminating the glass comes from strings of mini white Christmas lights.
This is standard stuff, but he saves one of his best lighting tricks to show special guests. The Vaseline glass on the shelves near the sliding glass door in the living room at first appears to be a creamy yellow.
Then Fiore enters the room, plugs in a black light and the yellow magically transforms into fluorescent green.
Actually, the glass, which can be green or yellow, glows under ultraviolet light because it contains uranium. Despite the fact it’s radioactive, collectors don’t seem to be worried.
‘‘If you apply a Geiger counter you will get a positive reading,’’ according to the Glass Encyclopedia on eBay. ‘‘If you shine an ultraviolet light onto it, you will get a fluorescent green glow. But the levels are not, so far as we all believe, in any way harmful.’’
Fiore, president of the South Florida Depression Glass Club, says this is a great hobby because it’s affordable. Prices typically range from $5 to $300. And it’s catching on since the glass was rediscovered in the ’70s.
Glass accounted for the largest number of items sold on eBay and was No. 2 in dollar values last fall, he says. It’s also one of the most common searches on the Internet, according to The Internet Antique Shop (www.tias.com).
The first step in collecting is to learn the difference between Depression glass and elegant glass.
The general term Depression glass applies to items made in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s by American companies, Fiore says. It was inexpensive machine-made glass that was given away in movie theaters. It came in soapboxes and was sold in five and dimes.
But in the ’50s, Depression glass fell out of favor for a couple of reasons. Competition came from foreign manufacturers. Plastic and aluminum, which were thought to be more modern materials, became more popular than glass.
As a result, Fiore says, most of the companies went bankrupt.
Elegant glass, on the other hand, was expensive highquality American glass sold at department and jewelry stores. Much elegant glass was molded and some was acid-etched with floral and other patterns.
Fiore, like many other collectors, would love to own a piece of Ruba Rombic, a pattern designed by Reuben Haley for the Consolidated Glass Co. This glass is rare because it was introduced in January 1928, right before the Great Depression.
Experts speculate that about 2,000 to 3,000 pieces have survived, an infinitesimal amount compared to some other patterns. The prices reflect its rarity. An elegant green perfume bottle goes for about $1,200.
‘‘Everyone always says when you go out it’s the joy of the hunt," Fiore said. "But it’s really the joy of the find. Hunting gets old. It’s a wonderful feeling when you finally found it and it’s part of your collection.’’
Advice for novice glass collectors
Book it: Before you start buying, educate yourself on what’s out there and what it costs. Some of the best informational books are ‘‘Collector’s Encyclopedia of Depression Glass’’ by Gene and Cathy Florence (Collector Books, $19.95) and ‘‘Elegant Glass: Early, Depression and Beyond’’ by Debby and Randy Coe (Schiffer, $29.95).
Common patterns: Concentrate on those you can collect — patterns such as Sharon, Windsor and Block Optic. Forget patterns such as Parrot, which is rare and can cost $2,700 for a pitcher and $1,250 for an amber butter dish.
Mine the sources: You can find Depression and elegant glass almost anywhere — antique shops, yard sales, thrift shops, swap shops, flea markets and on eBay and other Internet sites.
Be an inspector: Condition is important. Reject pieces with chips, scratches and internal cracks. Never buy cloudy glass; it’s not repairable. But don’t worry about manufacturer imperfections such as bubbles or ridges in the glass from the mold.
Know what it’s worth: Never pay more than book value. Your books will tell you typical values. Don’t pay list. Ask the seller what his best price is or if he can do better.