How to Collect Carnival Glass: Tips for Beginners
What is Carnival Glass?
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 traveling 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 pocket are.
With a keen eye it's easy to find Carnival Glass everywhere, from antique stores and specialist collectors fairs to flea markets, goodwill stores and yard sales.
Great, commonplace 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 closet rivals, making it difficult to identify a piece merely by its pattern.
More recently, original molds 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.
Here are some of the biggest American manufacturers of vintage Carnival Glass:
Fenton were the original and most prolific manufacturer of Carnival Glass in the U.S, starting in 1907 and continuing production until the early 1930s. Some of Fenton's most popular patters included:
Waterlily and Cattails – available in marigold, blue opal, amethyst and green
Butterfly and Berries – available in blue, amethyst, marigold, green, red, teal and lavender
Peacock Tail - available in marigold, lavender, blue, green, peach opal and amethyst
Ribbon Tie – available in blue, amethyst, marigold, green, lavender, sapphire blue and red
Wreath of Roses – blue, amethyst, green and marigold
Diamond and Rib – available in amethyst, marigold, teal, white, green and blue
In total Fenton produced pieces in more than 150 patterns, offering collectors an almost endless combination of styles, pieces and colors to seek out.
The company produced Carnival Glass for just two years, from 1909 until 1911, in a wide variety of patterns. Some of the most popular included:
Acorn – available in amethyst, green, and marigold
Diamonds – available in amethyst, marigold, green and teal
Fleur de Lis – available in amethyst, green, and marigold
Hobnail – available in amethyst, blue, green and marigold
Morning Glory – available in amethyst and marigold
All Millersberg pieces were made to a high quality, and to date none of thew patterns have been recreated by modern companies, meaning it's easy to find authentic vintage items.
H. Northwood made Carnival Glass from 1908 up until 1925. Popular patterns include:
Acorn Burr – aavailable in amethyst/purple, green, lime green, marigold, aqua opal, ice blue and ice green.
Embroidered Mums – available in amethyst/purple, aqua, aqua-opal, blue, electric blue, green, lime green, ice green, marigold and white
Good Luck – available in all colours
Grape & Cable – available in every colour
Authentic Northwood pieces will often (but not always) feature the company's trademark circled 'N' logo, and any pieces in red are reproductions or vintage copi - as the company ceased production before the process to make red iridescent glass was developed.
Duggan and Diamond
Duggan and Diamond was founded in 1904, and produced Carnival glass from 1909 until 1931. Popular patterns include:
Farmyard – available in marigold, purple, white, blue and peach opal
Fishscale and beads – available in purple, white and marigold
Constellation – available in white, marigold and purple
Many fruits – available in marigold, purple, white and blue