Carnival Glass: a Glowing Example of Antique Glass

If you're thinking of trying to start collecting antique glass, one of your options might be something called Carnival Glass or, as it was known in 1907 when it was first introduced, Iridescent Ware. You might even find reference to it as "Iridill," because that was the name originally used by its first and most major producer, the Fenton Art Glass Company.

Iridill, or Iridescent Ware, was created as a possible rival to Tiffany or Steuben glass. It was a pressed glass that was given its iridescent look by spraying it with metallic salts while the glass was still hot, and then being refired. The pieces came out with a sheen that truly was iridescent, and tended to change colors as the light struck them at different angles.

Carnival glass pieces were not generally made in the form of everyday dishes in the same way that Depression Glass was. Instead, these items consisted of things like vases, pitchers, goblets, decorative bowls, tureens, and occasionally even beads. And while their color could alter with the light, each piece did have a primary color, the main ones being marigold, cobalt, amethyst, green, and red. One version, called Vaseline or Uranium Glass, was actually made with uranium salts, before the dangers of radioactivity were understood. This type produces a green luminescence in reaction to UV light.

The Fenton Art Glass Company did not remain the only company that produced this sort of glass, but its fortunes tended to determine the fortunes of the Iridescent Glass itself. When this new type of glassware did not manage to gain the same sorts of prices that either the Tiffany or Steuben glass did, its value fell. Before long, pieces of Iridescent Ware were being given away as promotional items at carnivals. But rather than being a real come-down for Fenton Art, this use of its glass became a real money-maker, and it continued producing the pieces, in 150 different patterns, for many years. Other manufacturers gradually fell away, but Fenton held on until the late 1920s.

During the Great Depression, production of this glass did continue, mostly outside the United States, until this, too, faded away in the 1940s. But later on, as the name "Iridescent Ware" fell out of use and "Carnival Glass" became the new name, in reference to its history in the carnivals, this type of glassware regained its popularity. Even the Fenton Art Glass Company took up production again, and still manufactures the glass to this day.

Carnival Glass can still be seen on store shelves, but the newly produced pieces are not the type of glass wanted by antique collectors. Instead they look for pieces that originated between 1907 and the 1930s, when the first wave of Iridescent Ware was created. So in order to find the genuine pieces and distinguish them from later versions, they study books that describe the manufacturing processes used, and what sorts of characteristics were produced in the glass itself by those methods.

What these collectors are looking for are not just pieces of glass produced in a certain way. If that was all they wanted, the more modern pieces would do just as well. What these people seek is the original items, produced by glass makers with an early vision, and those that have a connection to history, to that early 20th century time period when "iridescence" was a bright new innovation in the production of glassware.