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    

Northwood Tornado Antique Carnival Art Glass Large Vase~very Scarce Green! Dugan Formal Antique Carnival Art Glass Hatpin Holder Or Vase~marigold~a Beauty!Rare Northwood Sapphire Blue Ruffled Good Luck Bowl - Super Carnival GlassNorthwood Peacocks Antique Carnival Art Glass Plate~green~stunningly Beautiful!Northwood “wishbone” Pce Electric Purple Carnival Glass Bowl - Superb!Northwood Strawberry Antique Carnival Glass Plate~purple~outstanding IridescenceScarce Imperial Heavy Grape Carnival Glass Chop Plate, Electric PurpleAqua Opal Singing Birds Carnival Glass Mug By Northwood, Nr, Low Starting BidMillersburg Isaac Benesch Antique Carnival Art Glass Advertising Bowl~purple!Imperial Carnival Glass Amethyst 10 ¼” “ripple” Vase – Finest I’ve Ever Seen!Northwood Carnival Grape & Cable Amethyst Cologne BottleShowstopper! Northwood Peacock Fence Carnival Glass Plate Antique Iridescent ArtFenton Mikado Antique Carnival Art Glass Large Round Flared Compote~marigold!Deep Green Pce! Northwood Wishbone Carnival Glass Bowl Iridescent Iris AntiqueNorthwood Peacock At The Fountain Antique Carnival Glass Spooner~electric PurpleNorthwood Acorn Burrs Antique Carnival Glass Complete 7 Piece Water Set~purple!Northwood Grape & Cable Antique Carnival Art Glass Pin Tray~purple~exceptional!Millersburg Amethyst Iridescent Carnival Glass Zigzag Crimped Bowl. N/rDugan Brooklyn Bridge Antique Carnival Glass Advertising Bowl~marigold~superb!Carnival Millersburg Swirl Hobnail Purple RosebowlCarnival Gorgeous Blue Captive Rose Three In One Edged BowlGreat Marigold Poinsettia & Lattice Carnival Glass Ftd. Bowl By NorthwoodRare Blue Fenton Carnival Glass "peacock & Grape" 9½" Plate W/ Colar FootNorthwood Purple Raspberry CompoteBeautiful! Northwood Carnival Glass Iridescent Ice Blue Heart & Flowers CompoteA Great Example Of An Ice Green Peacocks On The Fence Carnival Glass Plate, NrKiller Northwood Grape And Cable Pce Bowl, Electric Purple - Carnival GlassCarnival Very Scarce Vaseline Stippled Estate Vase By DuganWow! Amethyst Northwood Carnival Glass Bowl Good Luck Horse Shoe Whip FlowersNorthwood ~stippled~ Peacocks Antique Carnival Art Glass Pce Bowl~blue~a Beauty!Northwood Carnival Glass Green "raspberry" 9 Inch Water Pitcher~beautiful Color~Westmoreland Estate Antique Carnival Art Glass Bud Vase~smoke~extremely Scarce!Vintage Beautiful Carnberry Opalescent Fenton Basket Swirl HandleNorthwood Antique Carnival Art Glass Corn Vase~plain Base~ice Green~superb!Carnival Super Rare Color Of Tangerine On This Fine Rib VaseNorthwood Thin Rib Antique Carnival Art Glass Vase~purple~super Rich & Gorgeous!Carnival Womderful Pair Of Northwood Tree Trunk Vases. Green And MarigoldFantastic ~ Scarce Red Fenton Holly Hat 2 Sides Up ~ Carnival Glass ~ Beautiful Millersburg Cherries!! Amethyst Carnival Glass Butter Dish Bowl Antique HangingMillersburg Purple Fleur De Lis Round Carnival Glass Bowl, NrNorthwood "rose Show" White Carnival Glass PlateCarnival Glass Small Orange Pink Flower Vase N MarkNorthwood Peacocks Antique Carnival Art Glass Ruffled Bowl~very Scarce Ice Blue!Rare Stippled!! Northwood Strawberry Carnival Glass Plate Iridescent AntiqueDugan Fishscale & Beads Antique Carnival Art Glass Ruffled Bowl~purple~beautifulNorthwood Strawberry Antique Carnival Art Glass Plate~purple~spectacular!Northwood Spectacular Peacocks Plate--------ice GreenAqua Opal Three Fruits Medallion Ftd. Carnival Glass Bowl, NrTri Corner Millersburg Whirling Leaves Marigold Carnival Glass Bowl, NrNorthwood Grape & Cable Antique Carnival Art Glass Plate~electric Purple~super!Millersburg Round 10" Hanging Cherries Carnival Glass Bowl, Great Example NrWow Huge!! Imperial Poppy Show Carnival Glass Vase Art Iridescent Vintage GreenPrincess Carnival Glass Lamp - Vintage - Us Glass - Black Amst.Northwood Stippled Electric Blue Peacocks On The Fence Carnival Glass Plate Dugan Wishbone And Spade Carnival Glass, Electric Purple 10 3/4" Chop PlateNorthwood Fruits & Flowers Antique Carnival Mid-sized Ruffled Bowl~electric BlueCarnival Very Interesting Red Grape And Cable Ruffled Bowl Uniridized InteriorA Spectacular Marigold Peacocks On The Fence Carnival Glass Plate, NrVintage Blue Iridescent Carnival Glass Bowl Candy Dish With Lid L.e. SmithNorthwood Squatty Marigold Tree Trunk Vase Amethyst 6-1/4" Tall