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.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

David Doty's Carnival Glass Website

David Doty's Carnival Glass Website

David Doty's incredible, comprehensive and colorful Carnival Glass reference site, with over 1,600 pages and 4,000 … [read review or visit site]

Pattern Glass School

Pattern Glass School

If you need schooling on Victorian-era pressed glass tableware aka EAPG (Early American Pattern Glass) aka Pattern … [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Northwood Grape & Cable Antique Carnival Art Glass Hatpin Holder~purple~super!Rare Unusual Color Millersburg Peacock & Urn Carnival Glass Flared Berry BowlGorgeous Set Of 3 Vintage Carnival Glass Punch Cup/s Pattern UnknownWestmoreland Carnival Glass Carolina DogwoodImperial Carnival Glass 10" Crimped Rim Bowl , Cherries Smoke Iridescent Ig MarkNice Vtg Fenton Amber Art Glass Diamond Quilt Basket Candy Dish Early 70'sMillersburg Many Stars Antique Carnival Glass Ruffled Bowl~purple~radium & SuperNorthwood Acorn Burrs Antique Carnival Art Glass~complete~8 Pc Punch Set~green!Fenton Holly Antique Carnival Art Glass Jack In The Pulpit Shaped Hat~cherry RedGorgeous Northwood Aqua Opal Diamond Point Vase. Lots Of Opal!!Rare Green Garland!! Fenton Carnival Glass Rose Bowl Iridescent Vase AntiqueHtf Red Reverse Amberina! Fenton Dragon Lotus Carnival Glass Bowl Antique ArtGorgeous Northwood Emerald Green? Pce Peacock On The Fence BowlNorthwood Chicken Rooster Carnival Glass Ruffle Bowl B828 PbNorthwood Grape & Cable Antique Carnival Glass~tankard~water Pitcher~purple!Neon Green! Northwood Fruits & Flowers Carnival Glass Bon Bon Antique Bowl ArtBeautiful Millersburg Green Hobnail Swirl Vase. Northwood Peacocks Antique Carnival Art Glass Plate~ice Green~pastel Beauty!Fenton Concord Antique Carnival Art Glass ~green~rare & Very Beautiful!Gorgeous Northwood Midsize Green Tree Trunk Vase.Northwood Carnival Glass Electric Blue Harvest Poppy Compote Wow!Northwood Strawberry Antique Carnival Art Glass Pce Bowl~electric Purple! Wow!Antique Fenton Carnival Glass Red Amberina Holly Leaf & Berry Bowl 9 1/4" RareBeautiful Millersburg Marigold Hobnail Swirl VaseNorthwood Rose Show Carnival Glass Bowl, Aqua OpalBeautiful Millersburg Whirling Leaves Green Tri-corner Crimped Edge BowlMarked Northwood Grape And Cable Bowl In PurpleWow!!! Gorgeous Northwood Green Emerald?good Luck Ruffled Bowl.Carnival Super Whimsical Northwood Spittoon Shaped Top Tornado Vase In MarigoldCool Boggy Bayou!! Fenton Carnival Glass Squatty Vase Antique Iridescent ArtWow!! Gorgeous Northwood Ics White Poppy Show Plate!! Beautiful!!Scarce Fenton Ten Mums Carnival Glass Tankard Water Pitcher, Marigold1920's Imperial Glass Iridescent Amethyst Vase 5" ExcellentCarnival Fantastic Electric Blue Northwood Fruit And Flowers Handled Bon BonVintage Dreibus Parfait Sweets Northwood Carnival Glass Advertising DishStunning Northwood Aqua Opal Stippl Three Fruits Medallion 3 Footed Ruffle BowlGorgeous Fenton Green Concord Grape Carnival Glass Bowl - Three And One Edge!Scarce Northwood Grape And Cable Carnival Glass 7 Piece Berry Set, AmethystBeautiful Northwood Peacock On The Fence Marigold With Pink Pce PlateGorgeous Northwood Blue Stippled Three Fruits Plate. Electric Colors Super Dark Green Carnival Glass Peacocks On The Fence, Pce Bowl, NrGorgeous Dugan Amethyst/purple Fanciful PlateOutstanding Electric Blue Northwood Tree Trunk Vase -- Wow!Fenton Holly Antique Carnival Art Glass Plate~marigold~extraordinarily BeautifulCarnival Super Electric Blue Dragon And Lotus Ice Cream Bowls You Will Ever SeeStunning Northwood Dark Marigold Good Luck Plate Lots Of Pink Northwood Peacock And Urn Sauce Dish - Ice BlueNorthwood Rose Show Antique Carnival Glass Plate~blue~exceptionally Gorgeous!Millersburg Rosalind Antique Carnival Collar Based Ruffled Bowl~9" Size~green!Beautiful Fenton Blue Orange Tree Loving Cup!!Dugan Grapevine Lattice Antique Carnival Glass Low Ruffled Plate~purple~lovely!Beautiful Northwood Grape & Cable Amethyst/purple Large Center Piece Bowl.Northwood Outstanding White Stippled Three Fruits Carnival Glass Bowl GorgeousNorthwood Nippon Carnival Glass Bowl, Electric PurpleGorgeous Northwood Pce Blue Good Luck BowlImperial Shells & Sand Antique Carnival Glass Deep Ruffled Bowl~purple~fabulous Beautiful Northwood Grape And Cable Amethyst/ Purple Hatpin HolderCambridge Green Inverted Fan And Feather Cracker Jar Gorgeous Northwood Amethyst Grape And Cable Large Dresser TrayColors! Fenton Iris Amethyst Carnival Glass Vase Compote Iridescent Art Antique