Carnival glass refers to a distinctive type of molded glass with an iridescent coating that gives the glass an “oil-on-water” multi-colored look. An inexpensive, mass produced imitation of a popular art glass style, these pieces were often given away as prizes and premiums during the early years of the 20th century and it is from this legacy that the term carnival glass is derived. Iridization is accomplished by spraying the glass with liquid metallic salt while it’s still reasonably hot. Carnival glass is usually finished by experienced artisans. It is imbued with an iridescent sheen which reflects light and gives the glass a shimmer with a metallic tinge.
The first carnival glass was produced in 1907 in the United States by the Fenton Glass Company of Williamston, West Virginia. Its first product was called “iridescent ware.” Fenton’s first line of products was called Iridill and given the trade name Venetian Art. The company’s goal was to produce in bulk an attractive product that could challenge the pricey iridescent glass of Steuben and Tiffany. Even if the new glass product did not really catch the market’s fancy, other glass manufacturers emulated the Fenton brothers’ venture and created their own version of carnival glass, making use of the iridization method known as doping.
In 1908, the “Golden Iris” of Harry Northwood Glass Company was introduced to the market. This product line was identified by a color known as marigold. Imperial glass and Dugan companies quickly followed suit. Another company, Millersburg, manufactured carnival glass for about two years and its wares are currently regarded as some of the best.
With the production cost for carnival glass being quite low, the market did not value the glass, and consumers resisted paying a premium price. As prices dropped, these pieces began to appear as carnival prizes.
Fenton saw a new market in this development and manufactured 150 designs up to the later part of the 1920s. Carnival glass items were being sold in five-and-dime stores for pennies and also used as give-away or promotion items in grocery stores and movie houses. Imperial even had profitable deals with Quaker Oats and Woolworth’s.
Westmoreland, Cambridge, Fostoria, U.S. Glass, McKee, Jenkins and Higbee came out with their own versions of carnival glass and it was being produced around the globe from Mexico, Australia, England, Scandinavia, Argentina, Czechoslovakia and Germany.
Around 1925, Americans began to lose interest in carnival glass and a number of American glass companies closed shop. In Europe, glass makers continued to produce carnival glass up to the 1940s. After the 2nd World War, carnival glass began to be considered a collectible item.
In the 20th century, some glass companies started making carnival glass again, but these new pieces were not particularly successful with collectors. The most in demand pieces are those from the halcyon days of carnival glass between 1907 and 1930. Collectors should be wary of reproductions which are copycats of the real thing in color and design.
There are more than 2,000 original carnival glass designs. From Fenton came Cattails and Waterlily, Butterfly and Berries, Vintage, Ribbon Tie, Peacock Tail, Thistle, and Wreath of Roses. Northwood’s earliest designs included Cherry and Cable, Waterlily and Cattails, Valentine and their most sought-after design, Grape and Cable. Collectors of Millersburg pieces hunt for Blackberry Wreath, Hobstar and Feather and Rays, and Ribbons.
With their traditional molds, Dugan started producing carnival glass in such designs as vase patterns called Quill, Target and Wide Rib, Jeweled Heart, Honeycomb, Pulled Loop and Vineyard and also made designs specifically for carnival glass such as Christmas Compote, Farmyard, Roundup and Heavy Iris.
Because of the very stiff competition, manufacturers set themselves apart from the others by advancing their own particular method of treating carnival glass. Most carnival glass lines were named after their original color before the treatment. The exception was Marigold of Northwood which was treated with orange on a sheer base. Northwood also came up with unique carnival glass lines in pastels, cobalt blue, amethyst, ice green and ice blue, and white.
Dugan had a peach iridescent variation of the orange colored carnival glass. Millersberg specialized in a predominantly shiny and bright kind of carnival glass called radium. Fenton was distinguished for its bright red pieces particularly those produced in the early 1920s, while Imperial attained distinction with its helios, smoke, and purple colors. Helios was created with a silver treatment on green glass, whereas smoke color was created by a gray treatment to clear glass.
Become skilled at checking the colors: Color is a significant factor in carnival glass collecting and one that will affect the quality of your collection. You can identify the color by checking the bottom of the piece and inspecting the piece in a strong light to get a really good look at the color. With so many variations recognized by collectors, identifying color is one of the most complex aspects of collecting carnival glass. Many collections are built upon the pursuit of one or several specific colors.
Determine the particular shape you want to collect: Carnival glass comes in a wide variety of shapes. As a collector, you might want to limit your collection to specific shapes or styles. Shapes or styles include plates, bowls, pitchers, tumblers and vases; hat pins, beads, brooches, purses, buttons and jewelry; lamps and more. Many people have a preference for one style over another, and a grouping of similar style pieces always looks nice together.
Decide on the patterns or designs you want to collect: There are over 500 different designs featured in carnival glass. Patterns or designs can be a vital factor in your collecting endeavor. Designs or patterns include several flower, fruit, animal and geometric shapes. Carnival glass prices
As with any collectible, the marketplace can be a little fickle when it comes to valuing carnival glass. Scarcity and condition of a piece certainly play a role, but so does serendipity. If the right collector and the right seller are together at the right time, a piece may sell for considerably more than it would otherwise. Popular colors and patterns will fetch more than less popular colors and patterns, and of course a popular manufacturer will fetch more than a less popular one. Several factors in valuation specific to the carnival glass trade are the condition of the iridescent luster and the clarity of the pattern.
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