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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What's happening Sunday in the north valleyChico Enterprise-Record, April 18th
Depression and carnival glass displays through April. Country Store; art, books, jewelry, toys, spices, special holiday items. Visitors Center, 10381 Midway, between Chico and Durham. 342-4359; www.patrickranchmuseum.org. Gateway Science Museum: ...Read more
Age-old craft makes ageless artStillwater News Press, April 15th
She said in the past four or five years, more kinds of raw glass have become available in the U.S. at lower prices, but before that, most glass makers used “carnival glass.” The raw glass has a higher metal content, particularly silver, where the...Read more
100 years youngCanton Daily Ledger, April 15th
She used to work as a telephone operator. She liked gardening and painting and collected Kewpie Dolls and carnival glass. Canton Daily Ledger - Canton, IL. Writer. Posted Apr. 15, 2015 at 10:44 AM. » Comment or view comments. cantondailyledger.com ...Read more
Manes: Lowell antique store proprietor knows when old is goldChicago Tribune, April 14th
Wow, I'd wager that's the Kankakee River he painted. I wish I had $295 to spare. What's this, carnival glass? "Depression glass. One of the few things that was a giveaway that ever brought any money. This unique piece is a framed hair wreath." Come again?...Read more
Two major estates will co-headline The Specialists of the South's April 25 ...ArtfixDaily, April 13th
Also offered will be English ceramics (to include an invalid feeder collection that features two World War I Red Cross examples), pitcher and bowl sets, a lovely Bohemian Kralik Martele rose bowl and vase, Carnival glass, cruet sets, Nippon, McCoy, ...Read more
Milan senior center presents workshop on Carnival GlassHeritage Newspapers, April 11th
Milan-area residents are invited to learn about Carnival Glass during a workshop set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 15, at the Milan Senior and Community Activity Center, 45 Neckel Ct. Join Dr. Steven Gregg for Carnival Glass 101. He will discuss the...Read more
Porcelain tea set made in CzechoslovakiaChicago Daily Herald, April 9th
Q. This mark is on the bottom of a carnival glass pitcher that was my grandmother's. It is purple, decorated with grapes, leaves, cables, stands about 8 inches tall, has a saw-tooth rim and a smooth handle. It is in mint condition. Someone told me the...Read more
Treasures: Amethyst bowl is a work of carnival glassBelleville News Democrat, April 6th
Starting about 1905, carnival glass was made by a number of companies, and it continues to be produced right up to the present day. Carnival glass is an iridescent pressed glass - i.e. not hand-blown - that comes in a variety of colors such as marigold...Read more