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What is Carnival Glass?

carnival glass fayetteville north carolina collectibleWhat is Carnival Glass?

Carnival glass is moulded or pressed glass, always with a pattern and always with a shiny, metallic, ‘iridescent’ surface shimmer.

How does Carnival Glass get it’s shine?

Carnival glass gets its iridescent sheen from the application of metallic salts while the glass is still hot from the pressing. A final firing of the glass brings out the iridescent properties of the salts, giving carnival glass the distinct shine it is known for.

Why was Carnival Glass popular?

The keys to its appeal were that it looked superficially like the very much finer and very much more expensive blown iridescent glass by Tiffany, Loetz and others and also that the cheerful bright finish caught the light even in dark corners of the home. 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 afford to decorate her home with fancy vases and decorative bowls.

Some carnival glass is still produced today although in very small quantities. At the height of its popularity in the 1920s huge volumes were produced and prices were low enough for the ordinary home to afford.


What Colors Was Carnival Glass Made In?

Carnival glass was made in a wide array of colors, shades, color combinations and variants. More than fifty have been formally classified. These classifications do not go by the surface colors showing, which can be even more varied, but by the ‘base’ colors of the glass before application of the iridizing mineral salts.


The most popular color for Carnival Glass is now known by collectors as ‘marigold’ although that name was not in use at the time. Marigold has a clear glass base and is the most easily recognizable carnival color. The final surface colors of marigold are mostly a bright orange-gold turning perhaps to copper with small areas showing rainbow or ‘oil-slick’ highlights. The highlights appear mostly on ridges in the pattern and vary in strength according to the light.

Marigold carnival glass is the most frequently found color and in general commands lower prices in the collector market. However, variants of marigold such as those based on ‘moonstone’, a translucent white, and ‘milk glass’, an opaque white base, can be more sought after. Other base colors include; amethyst, a reddish purple; blue, green, red and amber. These basic colors are then further delineated by shade; depth of color; color combinations such as ‘amberina’; color pattern such as ‘slag’; special treatments such as ‘opalescent’ and finally luminescence such as that given off by ‘vaseline glass’ or ‘uranium glass’ under ultra violet light.

carnival Glass makers by year

Who Manufactured Carnival Glass

Fenton’s first production of Carnival included the Waterlily and Cattails pattern
Fenton   Fenton opened for business in 1905 under the direction of Frank L. Fenton with the help of his brother, John W. Fenton.  It’s generally accepted that Fenton was the first company to introduce iridized glass, in 1907, which they called “Venetian Art.” Some of the earliest patterns in Carnival were Waterlily and Cattails, Vintage, Butterfly and Berries, Peacock Tail, Ribbon Tie, Wreath of Roses, Thistle, and Diamond and Rib vases.In the early 1920s, Fenton introduced one of the most desirable colors in Carnival, red. They also introduced their line of stretch glass late in the ’20s. They continue to reissue some of the original patterns and have purchased some molds from the closed companies. Fenton also has made new molds from which iridized glass was made until their closing in 2011.

Northwood’s first Carnival included the Cherry and Cable pattern
Northwood   Harry Northwood began his career working in the glass industry in England. In 1881, he immigrated to the United States opened H. Northwood in Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1902.In 1908, shortly after Fenton introduced their iridescent line, Northwood introduced theirs, calling it “Golden Iris.” This was the ubiquitous color we know as marigold. About this time they added amethyst, cobalt blue, and green. In 1912, Northwood added the colors we call pastel, ice blue, ice green, and white. But Northwood is probably best known for their aqua opalescent glass, which they added around the same time. Their best known pattern, Grape and Cable, was introduced in 1910.

Harry Northwood died in 1918 and the factory ceased production in the early 1920s.

Dugan’s early Carnival included Pinched Swirl. 
Dugan   Thomas Dugan, a cousin of Harry Northwood, also immigrated from England (in 1881). When Harry formed his first glass making company in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Thomas, along with his father and two younger brothers, worked for Harry. Thomas was the plant foreman. When that Northwood venture was purchased by National Glass, Thomas was made factory manager. In 1904, the Dugans purchased the plant, along with some of Harry Northwood’s molds, and formed the Dugan Glass Company. In 1913, the Dugans left the company and the name was changed to Diamond. Diamond continued to operate until 1931 when the plant burned down.  Dugan is perhaps best known for the development of the peach opalescent treatment. Opalescent glass, made with bone ash in the mix and reheated to bring out the white opaque, had been around for some time. The Dugans applied the marigold spray, creating an entirely different effect.

Millersburg’s earliest Carnival included the Hobstar and Feather pattern.
Millersburg   In 1908, while still president of Fenton Art Glass, John W. Fenton decided to open his own glass manufacturing facility. He choose Millersburg, Ohio, as the site and purchased several acres of land. The plant was apparently constructed in record time and was state-of-the art for the period. The factory opened in 1909 and began producing crystal glass. John Fenton was more of a promoter than businessman and, while attracting a lot of investor interest, paid little attention to the day-to-day running of the operation. He ordered a huge number of glass molds, but the fledgling operation could not support this expense with subsequent sales and, after one instance of bankruptcy in 1911, finally succumbed in 1912.Although the company produced Carnival Glass for only two short years, the quality was such that it is considered among the best. The first glass that Millersburg iridized, in 1910, was called radium. Collectors still use this name when referring to Carnival that has a bright shiny iridescence. While Millersburg’s earliest patterns in Carnival included Hobstar and Feather, Blackberry Wreath, and Rays and Ribbons, it’s difficult to be definitive as so many patterns were iridized over so short a period.

Among the earliest production in Carnival for Imperial would have been their Rose pattern.
Imperial   In 1901, a group of investors organized the Imperial Glass Company in Bellaire, Ohio. When the factory was up and running 1904, Imperial, like other makers, made crystal. When the Carnival fad hit, Imperial, along with Northwood, Dugan, and Millersburg, followed the lead of Fenton. Their production continued until the early 1930’s and in the early 1960s, reintroduced their line of iridescent glass. Imperial’s famous IG logo was applied to this glass. In 1972, Lenox glass bought the company and added an “L” to the IG mark. In 1981, Aurhur Lorch bought the company and added an “A” to the LIG mark. That venture lasted a year when it was sold again and went out of business a year after that.Imperial is best known for its spectaclar purple Carnival and its smoke Carnival. Smoke is a grayish color on clear glass. The color can actually vary consideraby from a yellowish brown to bluish. Imperial also developed a color called Helios, a silverish iridescence on a light to medium green glass color.
Other makers   While the above makers of Carnival are considered the big 5, Cambridge, U.S. Glass, Westmoreland, Fostoria, Jenkins, McKee, and Higbee all produced some Carnival. Carnival Glass was also manufactured in other parts of the world, although beginning about 10 years later than in the U.S. It was made in England, Scandinavia, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Australia, Argentina, and Mexico.

In total, there are around 2,000 different patterns of carnival glass.

Starting at the beginning of the 20th Century Carnival Glass was eventually produced on every continent except Africa and Antarctica but largely and initially in the U.S.. All the major European glass making centers except Italy produced some and it was very popular in Australia.

Most U.S. carnival glass was made before 1925, with production in clear decline after 1931. Some significant production continued outside the US through the depression years of the early 1930s, tapering off to very little by the 1940s.


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