Carnival glass is a type of moulded glass or pressed glass which has a metallic lustrous surface known as iridised. Carnival glass is made by spraying or otherwise exposing the surface of the hot glass to heated metallic oxides.
The amount and concentrations of these metallic salts caused variations in the depth of colour and shades of the finished articles which are known to collectors.
The rainbow-like surface colours shimmer like fuel on the sea and the overall effect is very attractive, leading to its continuing popularity with collectors. It reflected the appeal of the iridescent art nouveau glass of the time which was very popular and expensive.
The glass manufacturers did not call their new iridescent glass wares carnival glass but gave it names such as “rainbow lustre” and “Iridill”.
It wasn’t until the carnival glass market suffered a slump in the 1920s that these items were given away as prizes at carnivals, fairs and other social events. However, most carnival glass was bought by customers.
Carnival Glass Patterns
Wares produced included normal functional items such as cream jugs and sugar bowls but also decorative articles. Many had abstract patterns, imitations of cut glass and naturalistic patterns such as grapes and vines. It was produced in large quantities like most pressed glass and so was affordable to low and middle income families.
Firms produced glass of differing types as well as carnival glass from the same moulds so that they could maintain flexibility of production. Competition between firms was fierce so a very large number of shapes and patterns were produced over time. Over 2000 patterns of carnival glass were made, some very similar to others and some very obscure and made in small quantities.
Carnival Glass Colours
The commonest colour was Marigold (not known as this at the time), an orange colour varying with gold and copper tints. This gives highlights on the high parts of the pattern which vary with the strength of the incident light. The relatively small numbers of uncommon colours, perhaps not popular at the time so produced in small quantities, are now sought after and highly priced.
Carnival Glass Prices
Carnival glass was produces in a great range of colours, variations and shades, with over 50 being formally recognised. The colours are classified not by the overall colour but by what is called the base colour. Marigold always has a clear base colour glass and is the type of carnival glass found most commonly for sale and at the cheapest prices.
The base colour is identified by looking at an non-iridised part of the piece against the light and this should be translucent. Figuring out which of the base colours has been used is a bit tricky and needs experience to distinguish accurately. Carnival glass prices vary hugely with the specific colour, pattern and form of the glass object.
Fenton Carnival Glass
Fenton Art Glass Company was the first major manufacturer of this type of glassware, around 1908, with Iridill being a successful range of Fenton glass. A number of other American glass makers also made these items including Dugan, Westmoreland, Imperial Glass, West Virginia and Northwood. Competition meant a great number of patterns and colours were constantly developed
Carnival glass had its greatest popularity between 1908 and 1918 but continued to be produced in the USA until around 1931 when much of this kind of glass was being produced in other parts of the world. Carnival glass was made by the English pressed glass manufacturers although not in a very large number of designs.
Collecting carnival glass became popular in the 1950s and has remained so ever since, with some types being manufactured anew specifically because of collector interest. The market revolves around the base colour of the articles and the metallic colours, shades and variations which proceed from the manufacturing process. This gives a very large number of different collecting opportunities.
Carnival glass was produced by Sowerby of Gateshead in the UK but usually in specific patterns such as hen, dolphin and swan figures, with a plainer set of jug and sugar bowl designs being produced in the 1920s and 1930s.
Resources – More About Carnival Glass
David Doty’s Carnival Glass Site