Carnival glass, or inexpensively made glassware treated to have an iridescent sheen, has captivated collectors for years. Its eye-catching multicolor shimmer, often resembling oil on water, seems to change colors when viewed at different angles. Over the years, it's been dubbed "Taffeta," "Cinderella," and "Poor Man's Tiffany," as it gave the average housewife the ability to adorn her home with fancy vases and decorative bowls.
In 1907, Fenton Glass Company of Williamston, West Virginia, produced the first carnival glass, a style it referred to as "iridescent ware." Fenton called its first line Iridill and labeled it "Venetian Art." The idea was to mass-produce a beautiful product that could compete with the expensive, iridescent art glass made by Tiffany and Steuben.
This new kind of glass did not catch on in the way brothers Frank and John Fenton had hoped, but other manufacturers followed in Fenton's footsteps, employing the same iridization techniques, also called doping. The process involved spraying a pressed glass piece with metallic salts when it was hot from the mold and then re-firing it. Even though carnival glass was made in molds, it was often hand-finished by artisans—those piece are more sought-after today.
In 1908, Harry Northwood's glass company introduced its own iridescent ware called "Golden Iris," which was known for its marigold color. Dugan and Imperial glass companies soon jumped on the bandwagon. Millersburg only produced carnival glass for two years, but today its version is considered some of the finest.
Since iridescent ware was so cheaply made, most consumers didn't see it as quality glass and refused to pay top dollar for it. As its value plummeted, iridescent ware was soon being given away as prizes a carnivals, where midway winners could go home with shimmering vases, pitchers, goblets, tureens, or candy bowls.
This new market for carnival glass was a boon for Fenton, which produced iridescent ware in 150 patterns up until the late 1920s. Carnival glass was sold for mere pennies at five-and-dimes, and it could be bought in lots at minimal cost. For this reason, it was also given away as promotions at movie theaters and in grocery stories. For example, Imperial struck lucrative deals with companies like Woolsworth's and Quaker Oats.
In total, there are around 2,000 different patterns of carnival glass. Fenton's earliest patterns included Waterlily and Cattails, Vintage, Butterfly and Berries, Peacock Tail, R...
Dugan started out making carnival glass with molds they already had—vase patterns like Target and Wide Rib, Quill, Honeycomb, Jeweled Heart, Vineyard, and Pulled Loop—but soon they made patterns specifically for iridescent ware, like Farmyard, Christmas Compote, Heavy Iris, and Roundup.
With so much competition, glass companies distinguished themselves by developing their own unique carnival treatments. In most pieces of carnival glass, the main color of the piece was usually named for the base color before the glass was treated. Northwood’s marigold, which featured an orangish treatment on a clear base, was an exception to this rule. Northwood also developed distinctive carnival colors in amethyst, cobalt blue, and green, as well as in pastels, ice blue and ice green, and white.
Dugan, meanwhile, figured out how to create yet another brand of orange. The company began with a basic marigold spray, but it applied the color to glass made with bone ash, creating a peach opalescent color. Millersberg excelled in a particularly bright and shiny form of iridescent glass it called radium. Imperial made its mark with its purple and helios colors—the latter being a silvery treatment on greenish glass—as well as smoke, which was a gray treatment applied to clear glass. And Fenton was known for its vivid red, especially in the early '20s.
One early version of carnival glass known as Vaseline or uranium glass was produced by spraying uranium salts on a piece. These pieces can be identified today by their green luminescence in UV light.
Cambridge, U.S. Glass, Westmoreland, Fostoria, Jenkins, McKee, and Higbee also produced their own versions of carnival glass, and it was manufactured all over the globe, in places like England, Scandinavia, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Australia, Argentina, and Mexico.
By 1925, carnival glass started to fall out of favor with Americans, and many U.S. glass companies quit producing it during the Great Depression. European glass makers continued to produce it until the 1940s. Sometime after World War II, this once-dismissed iridescent ware was dubbed carnival glass, and it became collectible.
Later in the 20th century, glass companies began to produce iridescent glass again, although these second-generation pieces do not interest collectors. The most sought-after carnival glass pieces are from the heyday of carnival glass, which was 1907-1930. Thus, collectors should be wary of these reproductions, which mimic the original carnival glass patterns and colors.
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Activities, events abound in BoonvilleRome Sentinel, July 25th
They came up with things like this red and brown carnival glass (red from 1903 and brown from the 1930s). People would pitch a penny, nickel or a dime into the glass and if the coin stayed, they won that as their prize. Sometimes they would stick...Read more
I grew up at Presque Isle Lighthouse: Loretta BrandonGoErie.com, July 24th
On a sideboard, my mother's carnival glass gave the room added interest. On the buffet, instead of the crocheted doilies, the traditional bowl and candlesticks rested on a beaver skin and two muskrat skins. No wonder I have eclectic decorating tastes...Read more
Indoor flea market filled with a 'bit of everything' [Tyler Morning Telegraph ...Businessweek, July 21st
Now, he runs the business in Whitehouse that his mother started more than three years ago. Mrs. Parker said she loves looking for old linens, furniture and dishes, including blue and white porcelain China, carnival glass and Depression and Vaseline ware...Read more
Stylish storage ideas for shelves and cabinetsChicago Daily Herald, July 12th
You may also have an assortment of cobalt blue dishes or vintage carnival glass items that would be set off by an accent color. Floor-standing storage pieces range from consoles to hutches to china cabinets. Often there is an open top part to a...Read more
Patriotic symbols popular with collectorsLas Vegas Review-Journal, July 12th
I have seen a few different markings on items on eBay. A: Fenton was founded in 1905 in Martins Ferry, Ohio. The company is known for its carnival glass made from 1907 to 1920. Most Fenton glass is marked “Fenton,” but some other marks also were used...Read more
John Sewell's This Old ThingWindsor Star (blog), July 11th
Q: I picked up this lovely carnival glass bowl at a thrift store in Mitchell, Ont., for $5. There is a 3-D effect on the interior of the bowl and under the outer edge. The picture inside the bowl has two windmills, a fisherman in a boat, trees, and a...Read more
Cabinet features brass inlayWaterloo Record, July 11th
Q. I picked up this lovely carnival glass bowl at a thrift store in Mitchell, Ont., for $5. There is a 3D effect on the interior of the bowl and under the outer edge. The picture inside the bowl has two windmills, a fisherman in a boat, trees, and a...Read more
Patriotic folk artWashington Observer Reporter, July 3rd
The company is known for its carnival glass made between 1907 and 1920. Most Fenton glass is marked “Fenton,” but some other marks also were used. Pieces marked with an “F” in an oval were made from molds bought from other glass companies. Pieces ...Read more