Uranium glass is an interesting hot item on the antique market. Widespread production of uranium glassware in the United States ended in the 1970s, and few uranium glass products manufactured today are more likely art installations or small beads and marbles. Real vintage pressed, enameled, and blown uranium glassware can be a valuable find!
While good-conditioned pieces of uranium glassware can sell for anywhere from $10 to $50, determining a piece or set’s exact value requires assessment of its age, history, rarity, and condition. An individual cup and saucer may sell for $25, while a rare glass lamp covering can go for $600.
But how can you tell how much an individual piece is worth? Are some worth more than others? What makes a piece valuable or common?
How Is Price Determined?
The price of uranium glass is determined by a few factors: age, rarity, history, and condition. There is much variety within the category of uranium glass itself, including different finishes, color concentrations, and percentage of uranium used in the item. The manufacturer of a uranium glass piece can also affect its value.
The age of a piece is the most obvious factor in determining antiques, but it is not the only one. For instance, let’s say a specific style of uranium glass serving dish was especially popular, so much so that finding one in good condition is easy to do today, that item may be valued for less, even though it might be older than some other pieces. This factor is what we call rarity.
History is also an important factor to consider. Knowing the manufacturer of a piece also helps with determining value. Not only can knowledge of the manufacturer help to determine rarity, age, quality, and an item’s original value, knowing more about the history of the individual piece can also increase its value. A set of enameled uranium glass tumblers might be purchased for more if ownership by someone significant in that field of art can be proven.
Condition is perhaps the most obvious feature in determining an antique’s value. Not only do collectors look for items that are in good condition, but glassware or figurines that have managed to retain their quality without restoration or repairs can also be even more valuable to potential buyers for their originality. Things such as scratches, chips, and other defects can greatly decrease the value of a uranium glass piece, especially as the use of broken or chipped glassware can be harmful.
But of course, the price of antiques will always vary depending on the current trends and fashions within the market. If you are looking at value for uranium glass items to determine if you can get a lot of money for their sale, do some research first. Is the local or online market particularly flooded with options at the moment? Is your uranium glass piece better priced or of better condition than what is already out there? Don’t sell yourself (or your uranium glass) short.
Does the Amount of Uranium in the Glass Change its Value?
While uranium glassware does register as radioactive on a Geiger counter, the uranium within it is very minimal. Most uranium glass items— the more commonly manufactured were figurines, tableware, vases, jewelry, and chandeliers— only contain a small amount of uranium. Each piece only contained around 2% or less uranium by weight, which is a very small amount, though some earlier manufactured objects could contain up to 25% uranium by weight.
However, that much uranium is nothing to get your hopes or fears up. The United States Nuclear Regulation Commission has determined that the radiation from uranium glass is negligible, being no more harmful to people than the average background radiation we experience from day to day.
Furthermore, the uranium present in uranium glass is not pure— far from it in fact— making the value of the uranium on its own virtually nonexistent. While one could technically remove the trace amounts of uranium present from the glass, the process would be incredibly difficult, wildly unsafe, and laughably expensive, rendering what little impure uranium collected more trouble than it’s worth.
The uranium oxide used in uranium glass was used only as pigmentation, producing a wide variety of colors from citron, canary, rubina verde, and yellow-green, as well as for its fluorescent qualities. This mysterious, mildly radioactive material is best left where it is, safe behind glass.
How Much is my Uranium Glassware Worth?
Though it was once quite popular in the late 1880s through the 1950s, uranium glass is more in the market of collector’s items and family heirlooms these days. Uranium glass was originally so popular due to its oddly slick appearance and texture, as well as its signature greenish hue and its ability to glow under blacklight. Today, its value comes from its significance to people in decades past.
So how can you determine how valuable grandma’s old uranium glass decanter is worth? First, there is always the good-old-fashioned DIY (do it yourself) method, where you research items similar to your own in style and quality to find their prices. Ideally, you’d get a good-sized sample from sellers and average their prices for a roundhouse estimate to start at.
This can be done through person-to-person websites like eBay, Etsy, and Facebook Market Place, or through using a tool called a price guide. A price guide is a list of antique items, each piece’s information, how much it sold for, and when. You can find price guides on many antique dealer’s websites, as well as some credible auction houses.
You can also find a professional antique appraiser, someone with extensive knowledge of the history of a certain group of items, such as uranium glass, as well as knowledge of the current market. Some auction houses have in-house appraisers who will assess the value of items for you. Other times, you can use a website like this one to find a qualified appraiser and receive an estimate of value. ValueMyStuff charges $10 per appraisal, while WorthPoint, a similar company, charges start at $30.