Collecting Carnival Glass

Carnival Glass is very collectible. Prices vary greatly; some pieces are not worth much, while other rare items may be worth thousands of dollars. Examples of Carnival Glass can be found in antique shops, and eBay has a very large market.

Identification of Carnival Glass is often difficult. Many makers did not have a manufacturing mark in their product and some used one only part of the time they produced glass. The best method of identifying Carnival Glass is matching patterns, colors, sheen, edges, thickness, and other factors such as from old trade catalogs of the manufacturers, known examples, or other reference material.  Since many manufacturers made nearly identical copies of their rivals' best selling patterns, many experts can be challenged when trying to identify Carnival Glass.

Originally called Iridill, the Fenton Art Glass Company began producing Carnival Glass in 1908.  Inspired by the fine blown art glass of makers such as Tiffany and Steuben, Iridill was discounted when it did not sell at the expected higher prices. Iridill pieces, after the mark downs, were eventually used as prizes at carnivals and fairs.

Being popular and very profitable for Fenton, Iridill items were produced in many different types of finish and in over 150 designs. As one of the very few makers to use a red colored base for Carnival Glass, Fenton maintained its position as the largest producer. Fenton stopped producing Carnival Glass for many years when interest started declining in the late 1920s. Fenton has restarted manufacturing of Carnival Glass in more recent years, due to an upsurge in interest.

Most American Carnival Glass was made before 1925, with production slowing down after 1931. Major production remained outside the U.S. through the crisis of the early 1930s, decreasing to very little by the year 1940.  Often the same molds were used for clear and transparent colored glass to produce many different Carnival versions, so producers could switch production to these finishes easily with demand.

Carnival Glass is usually molded or pressed, a pattern is always present and it has a shiny, metallic "iridescent" shimmering surface.  The basis of its great appeal was that it superficially looked much like the nicer and more expensive iridescent Tiffany and Loetz blown glass. The bright cheery finish captured the light even in the darkest corners of the house.

Both useful and ornamental objects made of Carnival finishes and designs ranging from simple geometric and the "cut" styles of pictures and figures. A broad range of colors and color combos were utilized, but the popular colors represented a large part of the production, so scarce colors today command big prices on the collectors' market.

Carnival Glass has been identified under many different names in the past: Aurora glass, dope glass, rainbow glass, taffeta glass, and even derogatorily as the "poor man's Tiffany." The current name of Carnival Glass was selected by collectors in the 1950s from the reality that on occasion it was used as a prize at carnivals and fairs. This can be deceptive as a lot of people have a tendency to believe that all Carnival Glass was doled out in this fashion, but there are indications that a great deal of Carnival Glass was purchased by the lady of the house to brighten the surroundings at a point in time when just the wealthy could afford electric lighting.

Some versions of Carnival Glass are still manufactured these days, although in small quantities. During its popularity in the 1920s large quantities were produced and with low enough prices that most anyone could afford it.

At the start of the 20th Century, Carnival Glass was manufactured on all continents except Africa.  All European glass manufacturers with the exception of Italy manufactured some and it was popular even in Australia.

Carnival Glass derives its iridescent glow from the use of metallic salts even as the glass is yet hot from pressing. After re-firing, the glass obtains its iridescent qualities.

Carnival Glass was manufactured in large quantities in the U.S. By Fenton, Northwood, Imperial, Millersburg, Westmoreland, Dugan   Diamond, Cambridge, and U.S. Glass companies and many small producers. Competition became so fierce that new patterns all the time were being developed and so each company stopped making numerous designs of most types adding up to a wide range of choices. By selling sample pieces to Carnival Fair operators, it was hoped that a winner would then go on to purchase additional items in the same or a similar pattern.  Pressed glass "blanks" were purchased and processed by third parties as well.

Highly distinctive Carnival Glass patterns were designed by non-US makers, especially by Crown Crystal from Australia, now famous for their representation of continent characteristics of flora and fauna in their glass.  Sowerby (England) is known for their use of the swan, bird and dolphin figurine pieces of Carnival finishes. There is even a boat figure. Of their non-figurine production, the strong but bold and easily recognizable African Shield, King James and Drape pattern were a good canvas for shimmering Carnival colors.

German production of Carnival was dominated by Brockwitz glassworks with predominantly geometric patterns that take their signals from cut glass. Other major European manufacturers follow Inwald (Czechoslovakia), Eda (Sweden) and Riihimaki (Finland). This again produced cut glass styles and simple geometries with a pair of floral patterns. But, the most distinctive patterns in continental Europe are likely the Classic Arts & Egyptian Queen, produced by the Czech Rindskopf work, sporting colored bands of figures on a very simple geometric form of highly uniform marigold.

In other parts of the world, most remarkable is the Argentine Cristalerias Rigolleau for their innovative and highly distinctive ashtrays and Cristalerias Piccardo for their very desirable Jeweled Peacock Tail vase. Finally the Indian Jain Company, not to be left out, was known for its distinctive elephant, fish and hand figural elements incorporated into the body of the trumpet-shaped vases for their desirable and highly complex goddess vases.

Carnival Glass was prepared in a broad range of colors, hues, color combos and variations.  Over fifty have been formally identified. These ratings do not follow the outward color that is showing, which can be more diverse, but the "basic" colors of the glass prior to applying the iridizing mineral salts.

To establish a base color you need to locate an area that had no mineral salts used, which is normally the base, and hold the piece up to the light in such a manner that you can look through it. This is normally straightforward enough to do, but it can be challenging for the untrained to differentiate the correct base color from the many opportunities that are frequently just slight differences and variations.

The finishing (post-doping) external shades also vary depending on the intensity of the base color and any unique applications, type and quantity of salts used. This final variable caused considerable variations to occur among batches of what would normally have been roughly the same color.  This happened mostly in the beginning of production, but so that collectors can now distinguish between these pieces, a description of the amount of iridescence is now used.

The most common color for Carnival Glass is now recognized among collectors as "Marigold", although that designation was not used at the time. Marigold has a translucent glass base and is the most identifiable Carnival color. The final colors of the Marigold surface are usually a radiant orange-gold to copper and may have small areas showing rainbow or "oil-slick highlights. The highlights are typically on ridges in the pattern and fluctuate in depth depending on the light.

Marigold Carnival Glass is the commonly found color and usually commands the lowest prices in the collector market. But variations of Marigold which are based on the "Moonstone" a transparent white and "Milk Glass" with an opaque white base may be more coveted.  Others include basic colors, amethyst, a reddish purple; blue, green, red and yellow. These primary colors are subsequently characterized by shade, color depth, color combinations like "Amberina"; color patterns such as "Slag"; extraordinary treatments like "opalescent" and lastly luminescence like that shown by the "Vaseline Glass" or "Uranium Glass" under ultraviolet light (black light).

Carnival Glass was manufactured in a broad range of items, from everyday objects to the simply ornamental. Groups of items with a range of shapes can be found with variations in edging and bases and various treatments of the basic form could be made while still fresh from the mold. For example, when three pieces came from the same mold, one could remain as it is, another folded inward and the third splayed outward. Edge styles ranged from normal to include frilled after molding, or pie-crust, bullet or furrowed, as part of the mold pattern.

The basic pieces manufactured included bowls, dishes, vases, jugs or pitchers and tumblers, but many other types of more specialized table service ware were also made. These included items such as large central jardinières and float bowls or more useful things such as butter dishes, celery vases and cruet bottles.  Most often the objects that deal with lighting or associated with smoking are intended only for exhibition as sculptures or figurines.