Carnival Glass is pressed glass which has an iridized surface treatment. It is made by exposing the newly formed hot pressed glass to sprays, fumes and vapours from heated metallic oxides. These form a lustrous coating at the surface of the glass. It looks as if it has rainbows on it, like the coloured patterns sometimes seen when petrol floats on water; like the rainbow colours on the surface of a soap bubble.
What you are actually seeing are light intereference patterns produced by constantly shifting wavelengths. No photograph can reproduce this effect; carnival glass has a magic of its own. But no doubt you can recognise it from these photographs.
Carnival Glass was first produced on a large scale by the newly-established Fenton Art Glass Company, of Williamstown, West Virginia, in 1908.
John W. Fenton (President) and his brother Frank L. Fenton (General Manager and Secretary) had (with their team) developed a relatively stable and safe method of mass producing iridized glass. They named their first lines "Iridill" and "Rubi-glass" and described it as "a metallic lustre much like the Tiffany favrile glass". Glass workers at the time called it "dope glass" because the hot glass was treated (or doped) with metallic sprays and vapours. It was instantly popular with the public, and they sold as much as they could make.
In the same year (1908) the Northwood Glass Company, founded by Harry Northwood in Wheeling, West Virginia in 1902, produced a similar line of iridized glass. They called their fist lines "Golden Iris", but many names were tried over a long period of years. The word 'Iris' is from the Greek word for rainbow. It wasn't until the 1950's that glass collectors brought some order to the chaos of names, and called it all "Carnival Glass" (some of this kind of glass had been given away at carnivals).
In its heydays (1908 to 1925) Carnival Glass was also made by Imperial Glass in Ohio; Westmoreland from Pennsylvania; Dugan(later Diamond) in Indiana, Pennsylvania; and Millersburg, in Ohio.
Millersburg Glass Company was founded by John W. Fenton just two years after the opening success of the Fenton Art Glass venture. They called their Carnival Glass "Radium" and started its production in 1910, the year after they opened. Two years later they closed forever (1912) but during those two years they produced some very beautiful pieces.
This green carnival glass bowl is Fenton's "Dragons and Lotus". Introduced in 1920 it was one of Fenton's most successful items, and they made many thousands of bowls and plates with this pattern. There are many colours, the most common being marigold (orange) and the rarest being some of the pastel colours, such as "aqua", especially when it also has opalescence.
Above: Fenton's Dragons and Lotus pattern bowl in green carnival glass.
Another Fenton pattern is "Peacock Tail", shown in this little marigold-coloured bowl. It is listed in original Fenton catalogues, and the Peacock Tail pattern was used for various sizes of bowl, compotes, and hat-shaped novelty pieces, first produced around 1910.
Right: Small bowl in the Fenton "Peacock Tail" patternThis Fenton pattern has a continuation of overlapping "feathers" right to the centre, as you can see in this picture (right). The design is very similar to the design by Northwood called "Nippon", but the Northwood pattern has two rings enclosing a plain circular band, surrounding a daisy-type flower in its centre (see picture below left).
Northwood patterns can often be distinguished because they have the Northwood trademark of a circle surrounding a capital N (shown right).
It was unusual for Carnival glass to be marked by the makers. Northwood were one of the exceptions.
One of the most prolific designs from the Northwood company was "Grape and Cable" or just "Grape" (pictured right). It was first made early in 1910 and continued for several years, being offered in a range of colours and a wide range of items. Several other companies imitated this design, notably Fenton who also produced a design showing grapes and cables.
Carnival Glass "swung vases" were made by forming the vase and pattern in a relatively small mold (some 4 or 5 inches high) and then swinging the molten glass piece around to stretch it, often to over 20 inches.
The collection below includes three Imperial "Ripple", two Northwood "Fine Rib", Dugan's "Corinth", Imperial "Morning Glory" and Fenton "Swirled Flute".
(photographs in this article are by Frank Habicht)
This little blue carnival glass bowl (below left) is called "French Knots" and was attributed to Fenton by Hartung. This kind of bowl is what is sometimes called a "ruffled-top hat-shaped novelty", and is a typical Fenton shape. "French Knots" is listed as a Fenton pattern in Heacock's book "Fenton Glass: the first 25 years". Good pictures of this pattern are not all that common, so I have included below a close-up of part of the pattern, showing the flower-shape made up of six dots.
There is no dispute that Fenton were the company which first introduced large volume pressed glass with an iridized finish in the USA. It is usually conceded that Harry Northwood was the person who brought the technique to the USA from his father's glassworks in England. Northwood described this glass as having a "changeable metallic sheen". It's instant popularity owed a great deal to the expensive iridized glass made by Tiffany and Steuben around the turn of the century. It was often called "Poor man's Tiffany" and as Raymond Notley said "it delighted a generation and brought colour into drab homes".
It marked the end of the popularity of Tiffany glass. As Frederick Carder said "When the maid could possess iridescent glass as well as her mistress, the latter promptly lost interest in it"
The rage for Carnival Glass in the US continued for ten years (1908 to about 1918), and the last of the original US producers, Dugan Glass Company (later Diamond Glass Ware) of Indiana, Pennsylvania, continued production right through to their closure from a fire in 1931. But the market for this type of glass had already moved overseas, and US companies were exporting Carnival glass to Europe, Canada, Australia, and other countries during the 1920's. Carnival Glass was not, so far as we know, produced in the USA between 1931 and the 1950's.
It continued to be made in Europe through the 1920's and 1930's; it was made in Australia in the 1930's; and in South America (Argentina) in the 1930's. Very little was made anywhere in the 1930's and 1940's.
During the 1950's collectors became interested in Carnival Glass, so much so that it became economically worthwhile for glass manufacturers to start making it again, specifically for collectors.
Many companies started to add an iridized finish to patterns they had been selling in clear glass. For example, "Iris and Herringbone" was a very popular pattern made by the Jeannette Glass Company, USA. They made it in clear glass (usually called "crystal" but it is pressed glass) from 1928 until the 1970's. And they made it in Marigold Carnival during the 1950's. I believe they also made some crystal "Candy bottoms" during the 1970's and sprayed them with two-tone iridescence (eg red and yellow). It is a very popular collectable pattern.
Other companies, notably Fenton and Imperial, re-introduced Carnival Glass in the 1960's using both the original designs and new designs. Since it was collectors who were interested, they carefully ensured that this new carnival glass could easily be distinguised from the originals, by putting distinct trade marks on the glass. Some manufacturers have not been so helpful, and there is reproduction carnival glass around, sometimes being made from the same molds, which is difficult to distinguish from the originals.
If you are looking for Carnival glass, you can usually find a good selection on offer on ebay.
Click here to see Carnival glass currently for sale on ebay.
If you would like to know more about Carnival Glass there are some excellent books available. Click on any of these book-covers to read more about that book.
The Glass Encyclopedia has a page about Carnival glass at http://www.glassencyclopedia.com/carnivalglass.html
And there is a whole page of Carnival Glass books at http://www.book-seek.com/carnivalbooks.html
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