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    

Scarce Oriental Poppy Carnival Glass 7 Piece Tankard Set, Electric PurpleVintage Fenton Vaseline Opalescent Carnival Glass Dragons And Lotus Footed Bowl.Fenton Stag And Holly Carnival Glass Ruffled Bowl, Electric BlueRare Northwood Fruits And Flowers Carnival Glass Bon Bon, Ice GreenElectric Blue Northwood Carnival Glass Good Luck Low Ruffled Bowl, Thin BaseGreen And Gold Iridescent Trout Fish Scalloped Bowl, Lake, Flowers & LeavesCarnival Fantastic Purple Northwood Grape & Cable Fruit Bowl "red Iridescence"Wow!! Gorgeous Northwood Electric Blue Poinsettia & Lattice Ruffle Footed BowlMarigold Peacock At The Fountain Carnival Glass Punch Set , From Hoaga AuctionNorthwood Hearts And Flowers Carnival Glass Compote, Aqua OpalNorthwood Carnival Glass Bushel Basket, Electric BlueSpectacular Northwood "peacock And Urn" Master Ics Carnival Glass Bowl-ice GreenScarce Grape And Cable Carnival Glass Whiskey Decanter, MarigoldNorthwood Green Three Fruits Carnival Glass Ruffled Bowl~super Color & SignedNorthwood Lime/ice Green Carnival Glass Peacocks Peacocks At The Fence Plate 9"Cherry Red Fenton Carnival Glass Acorn Ics Bowl With Super Iridescence.Carnival Wonderful Northwood Marigold Grape And Cable Cologne BottleNorthwood Drapery Variant Antique Carnival Art Glass Vase~blue~super Rich! Carnival Glass Rose BowlNorthwood “wishbone” 8-ruffle Purple Carnival Glass Bowl – Nice Color ! Tornado Vase Carnival GlassFenton Carnival Glass Little Kittens Child’s Cup & Saucer ~ Marigold ~ Mint!Scarce Grape And Cable Carnival Glass Whiskey Shot Glass, MarigoldNorthwood Fruits And Flowers Carnival Glass Bowl, Electric PurpleNice Northwood Carnival 9in. Amethyst "three Fruits" Plate W/ Basketweave BackNorthwood Good Luck Antique Carnival Art Glass Ruffled Bowl~blue~gorgeous! Millersburg Carnival Glass Cherries Small Berry BowlCarnival Lovely Dugan Peach Opalescent Wishbone & Spades Master Ice Cream BowlAntique Carnival Glass Fenton Little Flowers Iridescent Green Small Bowl Dish 6"Huge Fenton Rustic Pattern Carnival Glass Vase ~ Mint ~ StunningNorthwood Grape & Cable Antique Carnival Glass Hatpin Holder~green~fantastic!Antique Fenton Orange Tree Blue Carnival Glass Loving CupWow!! Gorgeous Fenton Red Dragon And Lotus Ruffle Bowl!! A Gorgeous PieceCarnival Wonderful Northwood Marigold Grape And Cable Center Peice BowlFenton Kittens Antique Carnival Art Glass 2 Sides Up Plate~rare Blue~beautiful!Fenton Orange Tree Antique Carnival Art Glass Powder Jar~amethyst! Gorgeous!Fenton Carnival Glass Little Kittens Toothpick Holder ~ Marigold ~ Mint!Northwood Grape & Cable Whimsy / Pin Dish From Punch Cup Purple ~ MintFenton Grape & Cable Antique Carnival Ftd Fruit Bowl~with P.m. Interior~blue!Fenton Stag And Holly Carnival Glass Deep Bowl, Dark Pumpkin MarigoldAntique Rooster Amber Carnival Glass HatpinNorthwood Carnival Glass Very Dark Pumpkin Drapery Vase ~ Signed & PerfectDugan Carnival Glass 7in. Amethyst "honeycomb & Beads" Ruffled BowlAntique Northwood Thin Rib Amethyst Carnival Glass Jester's Cap VaseFenton Peacock & Urn Antique Carnival Art Glass Plate~electric Blue~spectacular!Magnificent Marigold Carnival Peacock At Urn Master Ice Cream, Beautiful & MintOutstanding Purple Imperial Ripple 11 1/2" VaseTown Pump NorthwoodRare Northwood Ice Blue Carnival Glass "grape Leaves" 9 1/4" Bowl ExcellentGreen Grape And Cable Carnival Glass Hatpin Holder, NrVintage Northwood Aqua Opal Opalescent Carnival Glass Bushel Basket !!super!!Stunning! Imperial Carnival Glass *rare Blue* Ripple Vase 2 7/8 In. Base Carnival Outstanding Signed Northwood Marigold Strawberry Plate Basketweave Ex.Antique Northwood Carnival Glass Grape Cable Amethyst Iridescent Powder Jar LidNorthwood Carnival Glass Peacock And Urn Small Ice Cream BowlVintage Cranberry Purple Iridescent Carnival Glass Dish W/ Lid Jar Flowers Fenton Orange Tree Carnival Glass Compote, MarigoldFenton Little Fishes Antique Carnival Glass Master Ftd Ruffled Bowl~marigold!Antique Carnival Glass 4 Flowers Variant Emerald Green Iridescent Bowl 10" RareCarnival Unbelievable Blue Stag And Holly Large Ruffled Bowl "super Vibrant"