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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Recent News: Carnival Glass
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Truly valuable toys exist in small numbersTyler Morning Telegraph, May 25th
n Carnival glass, water pitcher, inverted strawberry pattern, tankard shape, amethyst, $575. n Sterling-silver bowl, reticulated, grapevine rim, four-footed, Bailey, Banks, & Biddle, 3 1/4 x 10 inches, $600. n Basket, Ikebana, woven bamboo, Japan, c...Read more
What's happening Sunday in the north valleyChico Enterprise-Record, May 23rd
Silver Dollar Fair: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Carnival. (no entry after 10 p.m.). 6 p.m. California sprint Car, Civil War Series at grandstand. 2357 Fair St. silverdollarfair.org. 13th annual Community Library Benefit Yard and Book Sale, Elk Creek: Downtown Elk...Read more
Kovels: Don't toss old toys before checking valueWinston-Salem Journal, May 21st
Wardrobe, ash, Eastlake, Murphy bed convertible, salesman sample, 30 x 12 inches, $375. Carnival glass, water pitcher, inverted strawberry pattern, tankard shape, amethyst, $575. Sterling-silver bowl, reticulated, grapevine rim, four-footed, Bailey...Read more
Depression glass on displayWarren Tribune Chronicle, May 17th
SPECIAL EVENT AT SUTLIFF: The Sutliff Museum located on the second floor of the Warren-Trumbull County Public Library will be showing a collection of depression and carnival glass through June. The collection features miniatures in the Jennifer pattern ...Read more
DOUG'S Q-C COLLECTIBLES Expert excites heiress over iridescent glasswareQuad City Times, May 17th
It and its variations, such as “Orange Tree and Scrolls,” and “Orange Tree Orchard,” are the most popular and prolific carnival glass patterns Fenton ever made. Production began in 1911 and continued through the early '20s. The center of the bowl has a...Read more
A Former Country Girl Catches Fire In 'The Love Object'WDIY, May 4th
But most beautiful were the little dessert dishes of carnival glass, with their orange tints and their scalloped edges." When O'Brien ranges farther into the lives of women and men, married and single, beyond the borders of Ireland, she describes...Read more
Fair weather for Eastover Heritage, Cameron Antiques and India festivalsFayetteville Observer, May 2nd
The Clevelands were shopping for colorful carnival glass items. Tom Cleveland said he had found eight pieces already. The antiques fair has been a twice-yearly tradition for the Clevelands for nearly 20 years, they said. "As long as it's not pouring...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