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 florescent 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).
Popular colors vary by region. In South Florida, Fiore says collectors prefer the light pinks, greens and yellows because they go with many of the decorating themes in this steamy climate. In other areas, amber and milk glass is popular.
"Milk glass is hugely popular in the Midwest, but you can't give it away here," he says.
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 high-quality American glass sold at department and jewelry stores. Much elegant glass was molded and some was acid-etched with floral and other patterns.
Many collectors specialize, and Fiore is no different. His obsession is the American pattern by Fostoria Glass Co. (1916-1986). He has more than 425 pieces in this cubic design. In addition, he has about 60 pieces in Jeannette Glass Co.'s Cube or Cubist pattern, an inexpensive copy of the American that was made in the late `20s.
One of his prized pieces is a pink Jeannette water pitcher. Originally he saw it at his first glass show at the North Miami Armory six years ago, but he wasn't willing to pay the $250 asking price. Instead he bought pink salt and peppershakers for about $30. But he never forgot the pink water pitcher. Each time he went to a show, a shop or a yard sale, he looked for another one. He finally found it again in October in Galveston, Texas, and paid only $125 for it.
One of his most expensive pieces is a footed bowl by Fostoria designer George Sakier. The price: $250. One of his best buys was a 1950s glass centerpiece from the Tiffin Glass Co. He bought it in an antique store for $25 and he estimates it's worth $250-$300. Both of these pieces are dichromatic, changing color from pale blue to lavender under different light.
If he could own the Holy Grail of glass, what would it be?
He, 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.
"Finding an `affordable' piece of Ruba Rombic would be a monumental achievement in my collection," he says. "Everyone always says when you go out it's the joy of the hunt. But it's really the joy of the find. Hunting gets old. It's a wonderful feeling when you finally found it and is part of your collection."