Bubbles, boopies and burples: How Depression glass connected me to my grandmother
Posted June 23, 2016
There was a cardboard box on my doorstep.
I didn’t know it was there. I was just going about my day, feeding kids, shuttling to appointments and distributing Popsicles. Then, with the sun nearly set, it was bedtime. We were in our jammies with our teeth brushed when my husband walked in the door and said, “This box was on our doorstep.”
I am frequently fascinated by family history — delighted by the fact that researching your family story is not the dull, flat foray into meaningless names and dates that I always thought it was. It’s a surprising and mysterious journey through time and discovery. But this box on my doorstep was something else. It was tangible and unassuming, and I was startled to have it show up so unexpectedly.
As I opened it, I saw shades of green wrapped in bubble wrap. “What is this?” I thought. There was a letter enclosed with my name on it.
A few months ago, after taking a DNA test from Ancestry.com, I reached out to a cousin listed on my results to ask her if she knew my grandmother Fleeta, who died before I was born.
My cousin Leota Thompson Phillips (“Just call me Lee!” she wrote in her letter to me) is the daughter of my grandmother’s brother, Chester Thompson. His birth name, given by my great-grandmother Arizona Moritzky, was Ellis — the namesake of my son. I’ve never met Leota, but I’ll never forget her or the box she sent.
She sent me one of the only gifts Fleeta had given her, decades ago: a set of bright, emerald-green glass goblets with a clear glass base.
“They have traveled many times from Wisconsin to Texas, to Wisconsin, back to Texas and here to Tennessee,” Leota wrote. “As they travel to your home in Utah, I hope they get there safely. I have kept them in a china cabinet for 40 years, always remembering my aunt Fleeta, your grandmother. I feel God had this all in his plan for you now to have them. Love, your distant cousin.”
At first sight, I didn’t know what the glasses were, but I thought it would be fun to have a fancy dinner and celebrate Fleeta with the goblets sometime. Maybe we would drink something bubbly, I thought.
When I showed my father the glasses, he said something about “Depression glass,” and I was hooked — here I had a mystery on my hands. What were these glasses? Where did they come from? Why were they green? I was going to find out.
I started by Googling “green Depression glass clear base,” and immediately, I saw a post on eBay of the exact same goblets I had received. That was interesting. How strange that someone else has these exact glasses, with a different story, up for auction for $60. That eBay post had the words “Anchor Hocking,” “bubble,” “boopie” and “burple.” What on earth is a burple? Was this some kind of prank?
So I Googled “bubble, boopie and burple” and found more images of the same glassware. I saw them for sale on Etsy, Pinterest and Terapeak. A listing on Terapeak said the glasses were made in the 1950s for drinking iced tea. I kept Googling and eventually found an Anchor Hocking Glass Museum website. Apparently, the company was the largest producer of Depression glass at the time, making the greatest variety of pieces. Hazel Marie Weatherman, who wrote a book about Depression-era glass in the 1970s, called the design of bubbles around the edges of the glass “boopie,” and the name stuck.
My glasses come from the third line of stemmed glasses Anchor Hocking made to go with a bubble pattern it use for plates and bowls, called Inspiration. The Inspiration glasses have a swirled, clear glass foot with alternating twisted columns of bubbles and solid glass. It was Anchor Hocking’s premium line of glasses, produced only in emerald-green, given the nickname “burple” by Weatherman, and sold in department stores rather than dime stores.
I had no idea there were so many books, publications and even a National Depression Glass Association with so much information about this little green goblet. As far as I’m concerned, that little cardboard box sitting on my step brought the best gift with it: Inspiration.
Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother Fleeta.