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Monday, March 11, 2013

Carnival Glass

Produced by Northwood
Carnival Glass
extremely popular and admired at one point in history then faded.  What other kind of antique has gone from imitating L.C. Tiffany to being given away, just a few years later, by barkers at carnivals? What other story of something iridescent, a glass process lost from the Roman times until the late 19th century, can fade in a Great Depression?

Well, some people felt differently and knew better.  
The interest in what we now call Carnival Glass has been kept alive by the collectors, the clubs and societies internationally who knew it had a beauty within, who saw its place in our cultural history and who have or need a spark of iridescence in their lives.

Following is a brief history of carnival glass along with photos of some of the wonderful pieces we currently have available in our shop.  

front  Dugan Petal & Fan   background Windmill Chrysanthiam
Carnival glass is moulded or pressed glass, always with a pattern and always with a shiny, metallic, 'iridescent' surface shimmer. 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.

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.


Northwood Embroidered Mums

Both functional and ornamental objects were produced in the carnival finish and patterns ranged from simple through geometric and 'cut' styles to pictorial and figurative. A wide range of colours and colour combinations were used but the most common colours accounted for a large proportion of output, so scarce colours can today command very high prices on the collector market.

Carnival glass has been known by many other names in the past: aurora glass, dope glass, rainbow glass, taffeta glass, and disparagingly as 'poor man's Tiffany'. Its current name was adopted by collectors in the 1950s from the fact that it was sometimes given as prizes at carnivals, fetes & fairgrounds. However, that can be misleading as people tend to think that all of it was distributed in this way but evidence suggests that the vast majority of it was purchased by the housewife to brighten up the home at a time when only the well off could afford bright electric lighting.

Carnival glass originated as a glass called 'Iridill', produced beginning in 1908 by the Fenton Art Glass Company (founded in 1905). Iridill was inspired by the fine blown art glass of such makers as Tiffany and Steuben, but did not sell at the anticipated premium prices and was subsequently discounted. After these markdowns, Iridill pieces were used as carnival prizes.

Iridill became popular and very profitable for Fenton, which produced many different types of items in this finish, in over 150 patterns. Fenton maintained their position as the largest manufacturer and were one of very few makers to use a red coloured glass base for their carnival glass. After interest waned in the late 1920s, Fenton stopped producing carnival glass for many years. In more recent years, due to a resurgence in interest, Fenton re-started production of carnival glass until its closure in 2007.

Fenton Dragon & Lotus
Many other companies also produced carnival glass and some of those are more highly regarded by collectors today. Why you ask? Because they did not produce the quanity that Fenton did, therefore there are fewer available pieces. Examples of other U.S. companies that produced carnival glass would be Northwood, Dugan, Cambridge, Imperial, Millersburg, U.S. Glass, and Westmoreland. Competition became so fierce that new patterns were continually being developed, so each company ended up making a wide range of patterns.

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.

front  Fenton Autumn Acorn   background  Millersburg Grape Wreath

Different and in many cases highly distinctive carnival glass patterns were designed and by non-US makers, most notably by Crown Crystal of Australia, now famed for their depiction of that continent's distinctive fauna and flora in their glass. Sowerby (England) are notable for their use of swan, hen and dolphin figural pieces in carnival finish as well as pieces which have figural parts such as bird figured legs. German production of carnival was dominated by the Brockwitz glassworks, with mainly geometric patterns which take their cues from cut glass. Other major European makers included Inwald (Czechoslovakia),Eda (Sweden) and Riihimäki (Finland). These again produced cut glass styles and simple geometrics with a few floral patterns. However, the most distinctive continental European patterns are probably the similarly styled 'Classic Arts' & 'Egyptian Queen', produced by the Czech Rindskopf works, sporting stained bands of figures over a very simple geometric form in a very even marigold. In other parts of the world most notable are the Argentinian Cristalerias Rigolleau for their innovative and highly distinctive ash trays  and Cristalerias Piccardo for their highly desirable 'Jewelled Peacock Tail' vase. Finally, the Indian Jain company should not go unmentioned, notable for their distinctive elephant, fish and hand figural sections incorporated into the body of trumpet shaped vases and for their desirable and highly complex goddess vases.

European Four Flowers

Often the same moulds were used to produce clear and transparent coloured glass as well as carnival versions, so producers could switch production between these finishes easily according to demand.

Identification of carnival glass is frequently difficult. Many manufacturers did not include a maker's mark on their product, and some did for only part of the time they produced the glass. Identifying carnival glass involves matching patterns, colors, sheen, edges, thickness, and other factors from old manufacturer's trade catalogs, other known examples, or other reference material. Since many manufacturers produced close copies of their rivals' popular patterns, carnival glass identification can be challenging even for an expert.

Northwood Peacock & Urn


Imperial Lustre Rose
Imperial Star Medallion
Wishbone & Spades

front Fenton Orange Tree Mug  background Dugan Grapevine Lattice Cup

Mistaken Identity
See picture below of some glassware made by Colony Glassware called Harvest
This glass was produced 1960's thru 1970's and is not Carnival Glass but irredescent glass. Many people call this carnival glass but that is incorrect. The colors and glow are similar but the quality is less. This glassware is collectible and we also carry this in our inventory but we want you to know the difference.  Why does this matter? Cost/Value


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