Carnival Glass is a form of pressed or moulded glassware that is famous for its metallic sheen and variety of shapes and patterns.
A Brief History of Carnival Glass
The style was originally designed to resemble more expensive brands of glassware, such as Tiffany and Loetz. Over the years, Carnival Glass has been known by several names, such as Aurora Glass, Dope Glass, Rainbow Glass, Taffeta Glass and even ‘Poor Man’s Tiffany’.
The original name for Carnival Glass was Iridill, named after the metallic salts that were applied to the glassware as it was removed, still hot, from the mould, which in turn was responsible for giving it an iridescent finish. It was originally produced in 1908 by the Fenton Art Glass Company and was particularly popular with low-income families for its expensive look.
In its first two decades, Carnival Glass was extremely popular and was subsequently produced in huge amounts. Following the peak of its popularity in the late 1920s, it began to decline and by the 1950s the only way that Fenton was able to sell it was to carnivals as prizes, hence its most recent name.
In recent years, Carnival Glass has seen a resurgence in popularity, with Fenton even restarting production at one point, until its eventual closure in 2007.
A Collector’s Guide
Carnival Glass has become extremely popular in collecting circles and as such can sell extremely well at auction. Auctions of both individual pieces and sets of Carnival Glass have a large presence on eBay, though there are also a number of specialist sites online dedicated to collectors of Carnival Glass.
David Doty’s Carnival Glass Website, run by the author of ‘A Field Guide to Carnival Glass’ (ISBN: 1570800510) would be an ideal place for both new and seasoned collectors to visit. This site features information and numerous articles on Carnival Glass, but perhaps of even more interest, it lists pricing trends for various styles of Carnival Glass over the past 16 years. This alone makes it a valuable resource for collectors wishing to ensure that they are not overpaying for a piece at auction. Another website that features both information and a pricing guide is Carnival Glass 101.
There are a number of national and international organisations dedicated to collectors of Carnival Glass, such as Just Glass, a general information site, which would be worth a visit to new collectors looking to find out more information about Carnival Glass.
The International Carnival Glass Association, Inc is an organisation dedicated to enthusiasts and collectors world-wide. Collectors interested in organisations local to them may wish to consider the Carnival Glass Society UK, Carnival Glass Org. or the Carnival Glass Collectors Association of Australia. The latter site, in particular, includes hyperlinks to several notable national Carnival Glass collectors’ sites from other countries around the world as well as clubs local to a number of US States.
Carnival Glass at Auction
As has been mentioned earlier, eBay is a popular hosting site for auctions of Carnival Glass. Similarly popular sites are Heritage Auctions and Antique Trader. There are also a number of specialist Carnival Glass auction sites, where sales are frequent and popular, such as Seeck Auctions and the Jim Wroda Auction Service.
In May 2005, Heritage Auctions held a number of sales of Carnival Glass with a variety of final sale prices. The following auctions closed on 20/05/2005.
The lowest value piece was a set of 14 items, all of which featured different designs and colours. As the set was mismatched, the final sale price was just $57.75 - matching sets tend to fetch higher prices even with fewer pieces. Some examples of this were a four piece set of drinking vessels, which sold for $71.70 and a set of 6 tumblers and a pitcher, which were bought for $143.40.
Sets such as these tend to be fairly popular at auction, with lots such as a ‘Maple Leaf’ style water jug and six tumbler set, which sold for $167.30 and a similar ‘Marigold Crackle’ water jug and six tumblers, which sold for $227.05.
These prices are to be expected for pieces in these particular styles and colours. ‘Marigold’ Carnival Glass in particular was extremely popular in the 1920s and subsequently produced in large amounts. As a result of this, the auction value of pieces in this colour today tends to be fairly low due to its abundance.
Rarer pieces can fetch significantly higher prices. On 29/01/2011, the Jim Wroda Auction Service held a sale of an ‘Ice Blue Grape and Cable’ 8 piece punch set, which was bought for $12,000. On 02/10/2010, Antique Trader sold a similar ‘Acorn Burr’ 8 piece punch set for $14,000.
On 19/05/2003, an eBay auction of a Northwood ‘Strawberry’ plate, which had an opening bid of just $5, closed with an astounding final sale price of $16,237.65, which may be one of the highest prices ever paid for a single piece of Carnival Glass. There are, however, some complete sets that have raised even higher values at auction. On 29/01/2011, the Jim Wroda Auction Service held a sale for a ‘White Acorn Burr’ 8 piece punch set, which reached a staggering final price of $21,500.
Despite a waning popularity in the mid-part of the 20th Century, Carnival Glass has seen a massive resurgence in collector’s circles. The huge range of values for pieces, even those in good condition, means that collecting Carnival Glass is a widely accessible hobby and one that can be extremely satisfying.