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 stateChico Enterprise-Record, June 27th
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
Duffy's retirement leaves more time for visitingHancock County Journal Pilot, June 24th
Junior and his wife, Marcia, spend a lot of their free time in retirement on the road in search of antiques. Marcia is keen on kerosene lamps, electric aladdin lamps, and carnival glass. Junior collects steering wheel knobs, shifter knobs, and balloon...Read more
What's happening Saturday in the north stateChico Enterprise-Record, June 19th
Farmers Market, Chico: 7:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Rain or shine, year-round. Second and Wall streets. EBT cards accepted to use with redeemable market script for eligible food items. 893-3276. Friday Night Live: 8:30 p.m. Summer Movies In the Park at the ...Read more
Susan K. BanisThe Missoulian, June 18th
Her artistry was revealed in any medium she explored, from excellent wood carvings and stained glass creations, to the sun reflecting through the artful placement of her multi-hued collection of carnival glass. Sue's life reflected her depth of...Read more
Harold H. LudemanLa Crosse Tribune, June 17th
He was an avid collector of carnival glass and at one time had one of the largest collections in the United States. He donated a rare Northwoods punch bowl set to the Corning Museum in Corning, N.Y., where it is on display. Harold enjoyed hunting and ...Read more
How to spot a valuable vintage item at yard salesFlipSidePA, June 11th
Glass: From carnival glass to Depression glass to the more modern Pyrex collectibles, a variety of glass and pottery can be collected. Most fine porcelain came from Europe, so it's important to look for the country it was made in on the underside...Read more
What's Happening: Local events for June 11-17Belleville News-Democrat, June 10th
Antique dealers from 11 states will sell Depression, elegant, carnival glass and early American Patter Glass. Free parking. Information: 636-257-0567, 314-750-2907, 314-894-3359, email@example.com. Grundertag/Founders Day — noon-4 p.m. Sunday, ...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