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A type of eminently practical recycling began in the 1870s, when companies began using reusable jars as the containers for their products (potted meat being first, soon followed by jelly and jam). Thrifty housewives appreciated this turn in marketing, and began incorporating these free jars into their own kitchen use.

Although steadily sold, it was the Depression that made these reusable jelly jars popular. Desperate to stay in business, companies became more inventive in their designs and advertising, frequently using the lids to sell other products made by the company. Tempted by the attractive gingham and flowered patterns, housewives continued to buy the products, and save the jars. Every member of the family could enjoy the rewards of this thriftiness. Children could drink out of the pretty glasses, since they were thick and unlikely to break, and were after all, free. (Kraft's Swanky Swigs line played into this use, trying to make them into acceptable party glasses for adults). Dad could use them for storing nails and bolts, making his workshop a tad more tidy. And Mother could use them for inexpensive vases for a child's bouquet or for storing buttons, spools, or the leftovers from last night's dinner.

During the 1950s, advertisers began to tie their product lines with television, whether cartoon characters or TV stars. Nursery rhymes and college fight songs were also popular, designed to create a desire for the entire line in order to complete the collection. Disney made deals with local dairies to have Mickey Mouse's face grace bottles of milk.

Collecting jelly jars is still an inexpensive hobby. Due to their inherent strength, many still exist and can be picked up for a few cents to a few dollars at garage sales and flea markets. Those wanting to concentrate on a brand may want to consider Fire-King, which began producing cottage cheese bowls in 1942. Frequently used as a promotion for gas stations or movie theaters, these depression-style glass items have a wide variety of styles. On-line auctions such as Ebay are a great place to start.

So take a nostalgic look back-were you only missing the Velma glass out of the Scooby-Doo collection, or would you like an attractive collectible to inexpensively add pizzaz to your kitchen? Either way, collecting giveaway glassware is the way to go.