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.
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
David Doty's Carnival Glass Website
Pattern Glass School
Clubs & Associations
- Carnival Glass Collectors Association of Australia
- Early American Pattern Glass Society
- National Cambridge Collectors, Inc.
Other Great Reference Sites
Most watched eBay auctions
Recent News: Carnival Glass
Source: Google News
Wanderlust finds home in PortsmouthSeacoastonline.com, December 10th
Wanderlust also carries a wide selection of exquisite papers from Florence, Italy. The relatively small shop is filled with such delights, Wivell said. The merchandise is always changing. There is Carnival glass, gilt framed, ornate mirrors, a full...Read more
American Mirror: Deborah Soloman's Distorting Carnival Glass View of Norman ...Huffington Post, December 9th
This is a life seen through a distorting carnival glass mirror; one that replaces facts with a kind of Mad Hatter Freudianism that permeates the pages of what I found to be a truly shameless book. The Rockwell I knew was a decent, hardworking, modest...Read more
Antique Valuation Roadshow in Victor HarborVictor Harbor Times, November 27th
The day will feature guest speakers Anne Blanchard on carnival glass at 11am, Peter Roberts on antiques at 1.15pm, and Graham Parry of Victor Harbor Antique Centre on interesting collections and collectors at 2pm. Entry to the event is $7 and the cost...Read more
Low lifeSpectator.co.uk, November 20th
Puff, puff, pass. The beer garden at the back of the pub was empty, save one woman sitting alone at a table contemplating a pint glass. It was Saturday night, early, already dark. I placed my carnival glass of Kirin Ichiban on the table next to hers...Read more
New business in Bastrop is preserving history one piece at a timeAustin American-Statesman, November 20th
Forever Love Antiques buys, sells and trades antiques, collectables and vintage items from Carnival glass to silk paintings. “I love learning about the history of every piece,” Krueger said. “The best part about my job is to hear my guests' stories...Read more
Enameled metal pieces from China date back to 17th centuryHeraldNet, November 17th
Normandie was the only iridescent Depression glass made during the 1930s and is sometimes mistakenly listed as a Carnival glass pattern called "Bouquet & Lattice." Iridescent glass is made by spraying a molded glass piece with metallic salts and then ...Read more
Belle family selling extensive glass collectionCharleston Gazette, November 15th
Among the pieces in the collection are iridescent carnival glass and opalescent hobnail glass made by Fenton Glass, Hummel figurines, Royal Doulton china, Dresden porcelain and pieces by Fostoria and Blenko. Richmond said his mother rarely used punch ...Read more
Save the Dates: More than 1500 pieces of Fenton art glass to be sold in 2014Antique Trader, November 14th
The June 14 auction will feature rare Fenton Carnival glass, while the April 26 and July 26 auctions will feature other Fenton glass from throughout the factory's 106 years of history. Complete information regarding the specific glass items in each...Read more