Collectors have been captivated by the iridescence of carnival glass since it was first introduced circa 1908 by a number of North American manufacturers.
Made using poured moulds, its appearance was thought to mimic much more expensive blown glass produced by companies like Tiffany.
Collecting carnival glass is a satisfying pastime for those who are just beginning to venture out into the world of vintage and antique shopping, since it is plentiful and generally inexpensive, though certain pieces carry very high values, sometimes in the thousands of dollars.
Leading Manufacturers of Carnival Glass
Dubbed “carnival glass” by collectors in the 1950s because it was often given out as prizes at fairs and carnivals in the early 20th century, the pitchers, vases, candy bowls, tumblers and other tableware were originally called Iridill by the company that was first to manufacture it.
Fenton Art Glass Company of Williamstown, West Virgina, began offering what we now call carnival glass in 1908 and remained the largest manufacturer through the 1920s and ’30s. Fenton continued to produce carnival and other art glass until it closed in 2007.
Imperial Glass Company of Bellaire, Ohio manufactured carnival glass for some 65 years beginning in 1908, while the Northwood Glass Company of Wheeling, West Virginia produced it from 1908 until 1921. Millersburg Glass Company, another Ohio-based manufacturer, produced carnival glass for a brief time, from 1909-1911.
Identifying Carnival Glass
Identifying carnival glass is a study unto itself, and a challenge even for experts. Not all pieces include a maker’s mark, and manufacturers often produced close copies of rival patterns. Adding to the challenge is the fact that some companies, like Fenton, continued to produce carnival glass into the 21st century, and it is sometimes difficult to tell the new from the old.
If you’re building a collection for your own personal enjoyment, exact identification may be of little importance to you. But should you become a serious collector, it would be useful to track down old manufacturers’ trade catalogs and have one or two good reference pieces in your collection so you can learn the subtle differences between pieces of different vintage and manufacture. And should you decide to part with your collection, or need to value it for insurance or inheritance purposes, it’s a good idea to contact a certified appraiser to find out if your family heirloom collection has significant value to a serious collector.