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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Birthday gifts evolve with time, age and prioritiesAurora News Register, January 21st
Each year I presented her a new carnival glass collector plate. There was also the usual going out for birthday suppers, a movie and if I remember even one time a surprise party. But, a surprise party was soon scrapped from future birthday lists as too...Read more
Lancaster County Police Log: Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015LancasterOnline, January 21st
ADAMSTOWN: Stephanie Newell Minor, 39, of Monkton, Maryland, was charged with stealing four carnival glass tumblers valued at $140 at Heritage Antique Center, 2750 N. Reading Road, Dec. 4. She faces a felony charge due to previous theft arrests...Read more
Houston Glass and Antique Show & Sale set for Feb. 20-22Fort Bend Herald, January 14th
Two buildings will be filled with merchandise from dealers from 12 states, featuring 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
Windsor-type rocker looks to be child-sizeOcala, January 13th
I was thinking they could be carnival china, like carnival glass, because of the pearlescent cast to it. — P.B., Gainesville. A: I think your two cups and saucers were made in the Staffordshire district of England between World War I and World War II...Read more
Ferne SchroederLa Crosse Tribune, January 12th
She was a member of St. John's Ev. Lutheran Church in Kendall and of International Carnival Glass Association, both of which Carl and Ferne were very active in. Ferne was preceded in death by her parents; and her husband on Nov. 4, 2012, Carl. Funeral ...Read more
Millersburg Glass Association AuctionMaine Antique Digest, January 10th
Marigold is probably the most prevalent color in carnival glass. A treatment applied to the glass rather than an actual color mixed into the glass cullet, marigold was popular at the turn of the 19th/20th century because the light yellow hue showed...Read more
Tobacco cabinet has odd historyHeraldNet, January 8th
Carnival glass fruit bowl, Peacock at the Fountain, ruffled edge, Renninger blue, $800. Window cornice, neoclassical, giltwood, pediment, masque, anthemia surround, 18 x 74 inches, $920. A. Walter figurine, two brown mice, yellow rocky base, pate de...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