7 Things You Need To Know About...Carnival Glass
In our latest guide, we take a look at the colorful and highly collectible world of Carnival Glass. Looking for tips on how to get started? Here are seven things you need to know...
A Brief History
Carnival Glass is a colorful, low cost style of glassware produced in the U.S during the early 20th century, as manufacturers attempted to replicate the finish of 19th century Art Glass by companies such as Tiffany and Loetz.
Originaly called Iridill, after the metallic salts that gave the glass it's iridescent finish, it was first produced in 1908 by the Fenton Art Glass Company in West Virginia.
Many other manufacturers followed suit, including Northwood, Imperial, Westmoreland, Dugan/Diamond, Millersburg, Cambridge and U.S. Glass, and it became highly popular due to its relatively inexpensive cost.
However, by the late 1940s the glass had fallen out of fashion and companies struggled to get rid of their huge remaining stocks.
Pieces lines shelves in dime stores across the U.S, and much was sold in bulk to be used as prizes in travelling carnivals – hence the term 'Carnival Glass', which first came into use in the 1950s.
Today the enormous variety of styles and colors produced makes Carnival Glass highly collectible. With pieces ranging in price from a few dollars to tens of thousands of dollars, it's also an accessible hobby no matter how deep your pockets are.
Manufacturers to know
If you're just starting out, there are a few major manufacturers to look out for that produced pieces during the 'golden age' of Carnival Glass, from around 1905 until the 1940s.
The Fenton Art Glass Company opened in Williamstown, West Virginia in 1907, and was the original and most prolific manufacturer of Carnival Glass in the U.S until its closure in 2011.
In total Fenton produced pieces in more than 150 patterns, offering collectors an almost endless combination of styles, pieces and colors to seek out.
Older pieces are often unmarked, but in 1970 the company began to add their logo to the bottom of their 'Original Formula' Carnival Glass pieces to distinguish them older vintage pieces, and it appears on every piece made after 1974.
Patterns and colors include:
- Waterlily and Cattails - marigold, blue opal, amethyst and green
- Butterfly and Berries - blue, amethyst, marigold, green, red, teal and lavender
- Peacock Tail - marigold, lavender, blue, green, peach opal and amethyst
- Ribbon Tie - blue, amethyst, marigold, green, lavender, sapphire blue and red
- Wreath of Roses - blue, amethyst, green and marigold
- Diamond and Rib - amethyst, marigold, teal, white, green and blue
The Millersburg Glass company was established in 1909 by John W. Fenton, former President of Fenton Art Glass, who left to start his own company in Millersburg, Ohio.
The company produced crystal and iridescent carnival glass for several months, before developing a new technique which produced a high-gloss finish known as ‘radium’.
Millersburg carnival glass is highly popular with collectors for two reasons – the pieces are of an exceptional quality, and were only produced for two short years between 1909 and 1911.
One of the most important factors for collectors is that none of the Millersburg patterns have ever been reproduced by modern companies, meaning that every piece can be easily verified as authentic.
Patterns and colors include:
- Acorn - amethyst, green, and marigold
- Diamonds - amethyst, marigold, green and teal
- Fleur de Lis - amethyst, green, and marigold
- Hobnail - amethyst, blue, green and marigold
- Morning Glory - in amethyst and marigold
The H. Northwood Company was established in 1902 in Wheeling, West Virginia by the English glassmaker Harry Northwood.
The company began making its own line of Carnival glass in 1908, and continued until it finally closed down in 1925, producing innovative patterns and a line of signature colours which separated it from a number of its competitors.
All carnival glass produced by Northwood will feature their trademark circled ‘N’. Many of their designs were copied by other manufacturers, and are reproduced to this day by some companies, but reproductions rarely feature the copied trademark.
Patterns and colors include:
- Acorn Burr - amethyst/purple, green, lime green, marigold, aqua opal, ice blue and ice green.
- Embroidered Mums - amethyst/purple, aqua, aqua-opal, blue, electric blue, green, lime green, ice green, marigold and white
- Good Luck - available in every colour
- Grape & Cable - available in every colour
Dugan & Diamond
The Dugan Glass Company was founded in 1904 by Thomas Dugan, the cousin of English glassmaker Harry Northwood, founder of the renowned company H. Northwood.
The company began to manufacture carnival glass in 1909, updating their older moulds with the iridescent treatment. They later created new designs, and developed the peach opalescent treatment for which they are now well known.
In 1915 the company was sold to the Diamond Glassware Co, and continued to produce Carnival Glass until 1931 when a fire swept through the factory destroying much of the stock, and many offices.
Patterns and colors include:
- Farmyard - marigold, purple, white, blue and peach opal
- Fishscale and beads - purple, white and marigold
- Constellation - white, marigold and purple
- Many fruits - marigold, purple, white and blue
What to Collect
Starting any new collection can be a little daunting, and when it comes to Carnival Glass that's especially true.
It's estimated that around 2,000 different patterns were produced, in dozens of colours and hundreds of different shapes and sizes, meaning the combinations are almost endless!
Thankfully it's also one of the most popular types of collectible glassware, so there's a wealth of detailed information out there to help you along the way.
Many collectors choose to concentrate their collection of a particular manufacturer, or a specific pattern. Even within these parameters there are literally hundreds of variations, so you'll always have something different to hunt for.
As you learn more, you'll discover unusual pieces that were produced in small numbers, rare color variations, or patterns that were discontinued
Although common items can start at just a few dollars, the rarest pieces can fetch tens of thousands of dollars in mint condition!
It's also a good idea to think about where you will store and display your pieces, as this could determine what you collect.
Smaller items such as tumblers, bottles or figurines are perfect if you don't have much room, and will look great arranged on a shelf. Larger items such as plates, bowls, vases and table centrepieces make stunning display pieces,
If you want to build a purely decorative collection that looks great in your home, you could even focus on a particular color that ties in with your decor.
At the end of the day, the two most important things to remember are collect what you love, and what you can afford. The rest is up to you!
Tips for beginners
Great, commonplace Carnival Glass designs can be picked up without breaking the bank, but some collectors may later want to seek out rarer patterns in scarcer colors, with a focus on authenticity.
However, identifying pieces can be a tricky task that requires some research and expertise. Many companies never included maker's marks, or stamped them on some but not all pieces in a particular style.
Other companies simply copied the designs of their closest rivals, making it difficult to identify a piece merely by its pattern.
More recently, original moulds have been used to produce modern recreations which will look almost identical (although far less worn) than vintage pieces.
Shapes, patterns, colors, sheen and the thickness of the glass itself can all help collectors identify pieces, but it can sometimes take years of expertise to spot the difference.
The best advice for those new to the hobby is to get yourself some reference books and start reading!
Two great books to start off with are the Standard Encyclopedia of Carnival Glass by Bill Edwards and Mike Carwile, and A Field Guide to Carnival Glass by David Doty, which is out of print but well worth seeking out if you can find a copy.
Old trade and auction catalogues can also prove an invaluable source of photographs, and there are numerous websites dedicated to the subject.
Connecting with other collectors online could also be extremely helpful for beginners. Search the web for collector's sites, forums and blogs, and don't be afraid to drop other collectors a message – you'll find most people are happy to offer you advice if they can.
The iridized finish of Carnival Glass means it can often be difficult to identify the true color of a piece.
And because all the pieces were hand-finished with the metallic spray coating, you'll often find huge variances between 'identical' items, as the reflected light brings out completely different colours and tones.
However, if an item is listed as 'Marigold' it refers to the color of the glass itself, and not the surface finish. The best way to check is to hold the piece up against a strong light, and look through the base of the glass.
The most common colours you'll encounter are marigold, amethyst, green and blue, with rarer colors including lavender, smoke, ice blue, ice green, lime, black amethyst, amber and moonstone.
Red Carnival Glass is considered rare and highly sought after by collectors, as the process to produce it was only introduced in the late 1920s, and was used almost solely by Fenton.
Some manufacturers became renowned for developing their own unique colours. Dugan created the peach opal colour by treating marigold glass with an opalescent white finish, and Northwood developed new treatments to create finishes in Emerald, Azure, Florentine, Perl, and Pomona.
The value of a piece of Carnival glass depends heavily on its condition. If you want to build a collection which will hold its value in the future, it's important to buy the best quality items you can afford.
At the top end of the market, even the smallest chip or crack can knock a '0' off the end of a price. If buying in person, always inspect a piece carefully under the light and look for chips, hairline cracks, scratches and broken / missing pieces.
If you're not worried about the future value of your items, and are simply looking for pieces that displays well - or that elusive item to complete a set - then you can sometimes overlook minor imperfections.
But remember that even the smallest chips and dings can lower the price of a piece, so if you spot a fault use it to your advantage, and don't be afraid to haggle!
Where to buy Carnival Glass
With a keen eye it's easy to find Carnival Glass everywhere, from antique stores and specialist collector's fairs to flea markets, goodwill stores and yard sales.
There are several dedicated Carnival Glass auctions held in the U.S each year, and you can often find pieces listed as lots in estate sales.
If you're new to the hobby, a specialist collector's fair is the perfect place to start. You'll be able to pick up pieces from trusted sellers, gain some invaluable advice from seasoned collectors, and meet new people who share your interest.
If you're buying online from sites such as eBay, it can be a little more difficult to spot minor damage, or identify reproductions from original vintage pieces.
Always be prepared to ask the seller questions about the piece, and ask them for additional photos if you need them. If you're still unsure about the item's condition or authenticity, it's probably best to give it a miss.
There's always a next time!
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