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    

So Unusual!! Northwood Carnival Glass Bowl Good Luck Horse Shoe Whip AntiqueNorthwood Tree Trunk (elephant Foot) Funeral VaseNorthwood Good Luck Antique Carnival Art Glass Ruffled Bowl~very Rare Ice Blue!Northwood Acorn Burrs Antique Carnival Glass Complete 7 Piece Water Set~purple!Northwood Blue Opalescent Spanish Lace (opaline Brocade) Water PitcherOld Fenton Outstanding Marigold Little Fishes Carnival Glass Master Bowl Wow!Antique Nortthwood's "alaska" Vaseline (canary) Opalescent Sugar Bowl With LidNorthwood Tree Trunk Amethyst Carnival Glass Vase Huge Color!!!Fenton Orange Tree Antique Carnival Glass Complete 8 Piece Punch Set~marigold!Elec Blue!! Fenton Flowers Carnival Glass Rose Bowl Iridescent Vase AntiqueRare ~ Carnival Glass Fenton Acorn Amber Opal Ruffled 7" Bowl ~ Gorgeous!Northwood Grape & Cable Antique Carnival Glass Ftd Fruit Bowl~scarce Blue~superbScarce ~ Fenton Holly Ruffled Hat ~ Red ~ Carnival Glass ~ Beautiful!Millersburg Holly Antique Carnival Glass Ics Bowl~purple~radium & Spectacular!Antique Nortthwood's "alaska" Blue (aqua) Opalescent Water PitcherBeautiful Northwood Carnival Glass Vase ~ Tree Trunk ~ Amethyst Fenton Awesome Super Rare Blue Carnival Heart & Vine Plate Stunning Color!!Beautiful Northwood Carnival Glass Compote Footed Bowl Blossomtime AmethystCool Rustic Variant! Fenton Carnival Glass Midsized Iridescent Art Vase MarigoldNorthwood Drapery Antique Carnival Art Glass Vase~ice Green~very Beautiful! Old Imperial Electric Purple Hobstar Carnival Glass Footed Compote Stunning! Nw Outstanding Marigold Peacock At The Fountain Carnval Glass Punch Bowl & BaseDugan Lattice & Points Antique Carnival Art Glass Vase~very Scarce Blue~beauty!Antique Northwood Good Luck Fiery Amethyst Carnival Glass Bowl Dark Blue CrimpedOne Of A Kind Whimsy Fenton Lions In Green Carnival Domed Foot Bowl Ooak RareNice! Antique Imperial 474 Mayflower Carnival Glass Tumbler Iridescent AmethystFenton Cherry Chain Antique Carnival Art Glass Plate~blue~exceptional Color! Fenton Awesome Very Rare Green Carnival Glass Dragon & Lotus Stunning Color!Fenton Holly Plate - BlueFenton Rustic Antique Carnival Art Glass Mid-sized Vase~4 1/8" Base~amethyst! Northwood Grape & Cable Antique Carnival Art Glass Plate~electric Purple~superb!Wow Neat!!! Fenton Blue Carnival Glass Persian Medallion Bowl Iridescent AntiqueAntique Northwood 1903 Purple Slag Glass Ocean Shell Pattern Compote Dish BowlFenton Persian Medallion Antique Carnival Art Glass Cre Master Bowl~green!!! Northwood Fruits & Flowers Antique Carnival Glass Two Handled Bon Bon~ice Green!Northwood Wishbone Antique Carnival Art Glass Tri-corner Plate~purple~gorgeous!Stunning Very Rare Color Carnival Millersburg Green Little Stars Bowl Stunner! Giddyup!! Fenton Horse Medallion Margiold Carnival Glass Ics Bowl Antique ArtVintage Northwood Carnival Imperial Glass Electric Purple Bowl,3 Footed,10.5"x5"Scarce ~ Northwood Raspberry 7 Pc Water Set ~ Purple ~ Carnival Glass ~ Pretty!Northwood ~stippled~ Three Fruits Antique Carnival Glass Plate~blue~a Beauty! Northwood Grape & Cable Antique Carnival Glass Ftd Fruit Bowl~marigold~sharp!Northwood Carnival Glass Three Fruits Patterned Amethyst 9" Plate Sawtooth Rare Amethyst Carnival Glass 11" Imperial Grape Ice Cream Bowl Great ColorNorthwood Howard Furniture Four Pillars Green Carnival Glass Vase Wow!!!Dugan/national Circled Scroll Green Opalescent Mster Berry BowlAntique Nortthwood's "grapevine Cluster" Blue (aqua) Opalescent Vase -fantastic!Antique Nortthwood's "drapery" Blue Opalescent Butter Dish With LidHot Colors! Dragon Lotus Fenton Carnival Glass Bowl Amethyst Iridescent AntiqueMillersburg Fleur De Lis Antique Carnival Glass Dome Ftd 3/1 Edge Bowl~marigold!Scarce Old Imperial Carnival Electric Purple Shell & Sand BowlVintage Blue Carnival Glass 2 Pc Covered Butter Dish- Indiana??- Grapes /vinesBeautiful Northwood Carnival Glass Vase ~ Diamond Point ~ AmethystVintage Fenton 10" Green Carnival Glass Vase In The Rustic PatternNorthwood Marigold Lustre Flute Candy Dish Bowl & Iridescent Carnival Glass Vase Beautiful ~ Carnival Glass - Imperial Amethyst Pansy / Arcs 9" Ruffled BowlScarce ~ Red Fenton Blackberry Open Edge ~ 2 Sides Up Basket ~ Beautiful!10 1/4" Northwood Amethyst Carnival Glass Tree Trunk Swung Vase Fabulous ColorDugan Four Flowers Amethyst Purple Carnival Glass 8 Ruffled 10" Bowl - C. 1930'sGreen! Carnival Glass Northwood Fruits Flowers Bon Bon Antique Iridescent Bowl