Carnival glass was a common sight at the beginning of the 20th century. Glass items in the carnival glass style are popular with antique collectors today for their variety of colors, shapes and sizes and range of prices.
What Is Carnival Glass?
Carnival glass is pressed glass with mineral or metallic salts added during the manufacturing process to create the iridescent rainbow of colors it comes in. Carnival glass gets its name from the fact that it was a common prize at carnivals from around 1907 to 1925. Most iridescent carnival glass was sold in stores, however, despite its name. Carnival glass became popular again in the 1960s and 1970s and was still produced through the 2000s in lower quantities.
Other Names for Carnival Glass
The original name for carnival glass was Iridill, which was trademarked by the Fenton Art Glass Company. In addition to the moniker carnival glass, this type of pressed colorful glass was also known by many other names. These included:
- Aurora glass
- Cinderella glass
- Dope glass (referring to the nickname for the production process, "doping")
- Poor man's Tiffany glass (due to the affordability of the glass for the average person compared to higher end Tiffany pieces)
- Rainbow glass
- Taffeta glass
How to Identify Carnival Glass
There are several ways you can identify a piece of carnival glass. A qualified professional appraiser can assist you but you can also look at common features when first reviewing a potential purchase. The most common ways to identify the glass are:
- Look at the coloring and sheen for the iridescent rainbow effect.
- Check out the base of the glass, which should not be thick or weighty. It usually also does not have the iridescent shimmer that the rest of the glass will have.
- Look for the manufacturer's mark, although keep in mind many companies did not place a mark on their carnival glass.
- The older the carnival glass, the more likely it is to have a rusty look from the metal oxide used to create it aging over time.
- Review the patterns and colors against an antique carnival glass guide, such as Collecting Carnival Glass by Marion Quintin-Baxendale, Warman's Carnival Glass: Identification and Price Guide by Ellen Schroy or antique appraiser David Doty's Carnival Glass website.
Carnival Glass Colors
Carnival glass should have a shimmery quality to it, especially when you hold it up to the light. The effect should look somewhat like the rainbow iridescent swirls you see when oil is introduced to water. The base color for carnival glass comes in over 60 colors, but the most common colors are:
- Marigold (an orange-gold shade)
- Purple Red
- Peach Opal
- White carnival glass, also known as moonstone (which is translucent), milk glass (which is opaque), baking powder glass, Nancy glass, and Pompeian iridescent.
You can tell what the base color for a piece is most often by looking at the bottom of the item as this area tends to not have as much or any of the chemicals used to create the iridescent rainbow effect.
Carnival Glass Patterns
Carnival glass comes in over 2,000 patterns and although antique carnival glass was machine pressed, the final fashioning and shaping of each piece was done by hand. As a result, each individual piece is unique. The glass also had many unusual crimped, ruffled, rounded or scalloped edge designs. Different designs and banding patterns also tended to be clumped in years, so it's possible to age a piece of carnival glass based on the pattern. Another quality often found with antique carnival glass patterns is their uneven sizing and design, as you may see crimped edges on a bowl that fluctuate in size owing to the fact these designs were handmade.
Carnival Glassware Pieces
Carnival glass was used to make items primarily for household decor and kitchen use. These included punch bowls, sugar bowls, serving plates, storage canisters, tumblers, candy dishes, steins, vases, pitchers, butter dishes and similar items. It was also used more rarely to make ashtrays, figurines and lamps.
Carnival Glass Manufacturers
Several companies in the U.S. made carnival glass including Indiana Glass, Imperial Glass Companies, Northwood, Millersburg, Fenton, Dugan(Diamond) Glass Company, Cambridge, U.S. Glass Company and Westmoreland. In Europe, some of the most well-known makers of carnival glass were Crown Crystal of Australia, Brockwitz and Sowerby, as well as Cristalerias Rigolleau and Cristalerias Piccardo in South America. Unfortunately, many makers of carnival glass worldwide did not include maker's marks on their products. A few who did were Fenton, Imperial, Dugan and Northwood.
- Fenton, which continued to make carnival glass until they closed down in 2007, placed an oval mark on their pieces with the company name, though many of their pieces will have no mark at all. Fenton also began to add a number in the mark starting in 1980, with a 8 for the 1980s, a 9 for the 1990s and a 0 for the 2000 decade. Fenton was known for many colors of carnival glass, particularly the popular marigold and red and for fancy details like edges made with crimping or scalloped designs.
- Northwood's mark was an uppercase N with an underline and inside of a circle or semicircle. They were also known for designs featuring nature themes and bright colors like the popular marigold, as well as a color unique to them called golden iris.
- Imperial's mark was their cross-shaped logo. Their work was also distinct for its use of unusual base colors, and their design work was primarily geometric.
- Dugan's manufacturer's mark was an uppercase D within a diamond shape. Most of their carnival glass work featured nature designs and crimped edges. Dugan produced carnival glass in many colors, but particularly was known for their dark amethyst and peach opalescent shades.
- You can also view a list of known carnival glass marks at the Carnival Heaven website.
Fake Carnival Glass
When trying to identify antique carnival glass, you should be aware that "fakes" have been produced in order to fetch higher prices from less savvy antiques buyers. There are some ways to tell real from fake, but nothing is completely foolproof.
- Fake mark- Some of these were even produced with the original molds for carnival glass and even have manufacturer's marks that look similar to the authentic glass maker. For example, if you turn over a supposed carnival glass bowl and see a "N", this would appear to be made by Northwood. However, if the N does not sit within a circle, this is a fake.
- Dull surface - You can sometimes also tell fakes by a dull rather than shimmery effect. Compare it to a real piece of carnival glass to check. However, it's important to note that real carnival glass came in a variety of matter and shiny finishes.
- Less detail - Many fakes have less detailed and intricate designs and thicker glass. If it feels clumsy, it may not be real.
- Faked patterns - Certain patterns are commonly faked, so be extra cautious when collecting them. Some of the most common include Northwood Grape and Cable bowls, Northwood Peacock items, Fenton Stag and Holly pieces, and Fenton Butterfly and Berry pieces. If you're unsure, consult with an expert or review a pattern book of known carnival glass designs.
Carnival Glass Versus Depression Glass
Carnival glass and depression glass were both popular around the same time period at the beginning of the 20th century. They are often confused for one another due to the time frame and their wide array of colors. Depression glass can be distinguished from carnival glass from its lack of the iridescent metallic rainbow effect that carnival glass has. Depression glass also tends to be one overall color, as opposed to the multi-colored look of carnival glass.
Carnival Glass Prices
Antique carnival glass can be found for a range of prices, based not only on the age of the piece but also the condition, color and the rarity of the particular pattern. You can find carnival glass pieces for as low as a few hundred or even less if it's a more recent piece. You can also find much rarer pieces that sell for several thousand dollars.
Identifying Antique Carnival Glass
Determining whether a glass piece is a true piece of antique carnival glass can be difficult. The sheer number of patterns combined with the individual artistry and unique touches applied to each item, as well as the lack of manufacturer's marks, can make identifying the pieces difficult for an amateur enthusiast. If you love the look of carnival glass and want to become involved in collecting, having a copy of a pattern guide can be invaluable in helping you to narrow down the authenticity of pieces. It also helps to have an understanding of the firing and manufacturing process back in the early part of the 20th century to eliminate fakes from consideration.