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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Recent News: Carnival Glass
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Where there's smoke there's fire damageCentral Kentucky News, March 1st
There is some R.S. Prussia and carnival glass pieces that I'd love to try and save. How do I clean them ... or can I? I think that a couple of victorian velvet chairs were in this fire as they smell smokey but they look clean. We'll do alright as the...Read more
Glass and Antique Show returns to RosenbergFort Bend Herald, February 19th
The show features American made glassware and antiques from 1880-1970, including pattern glass, carnival glass, American brilliant cut glass, depression glass, and American art pottery. Guests will find a variety of companies at the show, including...Read more
Ira “Ike” AdamsonAlbany Democrat Herald, February 11th
Their collections included rocks, carnival glass, baseball cards, miniature tea sets, vinyl records, and many other things that caught their eye. Ike had a story for almost every piece he collected, and would often recollect not only the person he...Read more
The Houston Glass Show & Sale and The Best Little Antique Show in Texas set ...Fortbendstar.com, February 11th
We have two buildings filled with top quality merchandise. The show features American made glassware and antiques from 1880-1970. This includes Pattern Glass, Carnival Glass, American Brilliant Cut Glass, Depression Glass, and American Art Pottery...Read more
Antique specialty dishes fetch decadent pricesHeraldNet, February 5th
Some serving pieces used in the 19th century are no longer needed or made. Victorian table settings were very elaborate — lace or other fancy cloths, at least six or seven special dishes for every course, like a service plate, then fish, soup, dinner...Read more
Altrusa Antique Show and Sale set to start FridayGadsden Times, February 2nd
and porcelains, linens and other items. Among the most collected items include old Avon bottles; Hull pottery; coins, currency and stamps; milk glass; Roseville glass; carnival glass; McCoy pottery; Depression glass; Nippon china; dolls; and...Read more
Signal Corps Toolbox has decorative valueOcala, January 31st
I assume you paid $100 for it because you liked it enough to pay the price. The bowl was likely made in America after World War II. It is a Carnival glass type, but not from the original era. Several American glass companies re-issued Carnival glass in...Read more
Heart of America Carnival Glass Association AuctionMaine Antique Digest, August 14th
A glass bell made as a 1912 souvenir for the Portland, Oregon, convention of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPOE)was the key item at the Heart of America Carnival Glass Association convention sale on May 3, selling for $11,000 (no buyer's ...Read more