When Depression-era American housewives bought a jar of soft cheese spread from Kraft, they got more than just the cheese. The decorative containers known as Swanky Swig glasses were decorated with colorful images.
After they were emptied, they were still attractive and useful.
Spokane’s Dakota Smith started collecting Swanky Swigs in the 1980s.
“A woman from Walla Walla who owns an antique shop thought that I would be interested in the history,” Smith says. “She showed me what to look for and how to run my finger on the inside to feel the ‘ridges’ of an original glass.”
Smith was hooked.
“I started to look around when I went into antique stores and found that I would end up having to explain each time what I was looking for, and once in a while they would have one in a cupboard in the back room,” Smith says. “I was lucky then because most people didn’t know what they were, so I was buying them for 25 to 50 cents each.
Smith says that was a steal, considering some of those glasses sell for up to $45 and higher now.
At first, Smith looked for pairs of glasses.
“I started to try and find pairs thinking that it would be cute to have matching juice glasses, and then it turned into a quest to try and complete a set,” she says. “They were hard to find!”
Smith had managed to put six complete sets together when she moved to the island of St. Thomas. Four months later she lost everything she’d taken with her to Hurricane Marilyn.
“Thank goodness I still had my belongings back in Washington state, but I lost one of my favorite swigs,” Smith says. “It was a 1930’s ‘Cherrie Swig’ and to this day I have not found one to replace it. I have never even seen one listed on eBay.”
When Smith moved to Spokane in 2004, she brought with her a collection of more than 60 glasses.
Her partner, Tom Pettoello, built display cases to hold some of her collection.
“I find my swigs in antique stores, and Tom and I go to the antique show at the fairgrounds twice a year,” Smith says. “He hunts for baseball items, and I am always on the lookout for that last glass to complete a set.”
Smith never knows where the next great find will be.
“Yard sales and eBay are other sources, and I am still searching for that ‘Cherrie’ glass I lost in ‘95,” she says.
Smith specifically collects Howdy Doody and Davy Crockett glasses.
“The bottom of the Howdy Doody glasses have the characters’ faces embossed, and they were used as sugar cookie presses.”
Smith doesn’t leave anything to chance. She typed 3-by-5 cards listing the glasses she’s searching for. Smith and Pettoello carry the cards with them wherever they go.
For Smith, the real Swanky Swig prize is one with local significance.
“I would love to find an original lid with Bing Crosby on it because of his ties with Spokane,” she says. “Bing had a radio show that was sponsored by the Kraft Co. on Thursday nights.”