by Dr. Lori Verderame
Carnival glass makers impact the value of carnival glass with collectors. Some of the most important carnival glass manufacturers or makers that collectors are looking for include this list of carnival glass makers: Fenton, Dugan (Diamond) Glass, Northwood, Imperial Glass, Indiana Glass, Millersburg, Westmoreland, Cambridge, to name a few.
Some of the most prominent carnival glass makers produced glassware in various colors using many different metallic salts like azure and marigold by Fenton. Fenton used their name “Fenton” and sometimes a number on pieces of their carnival glass. Northwood was famous for a carnival glass color called golden iris. Northwood marked their pieces with an uppercase N underlined within a circle. Dugan made carnival glass in a dark amethyst (purple) and peach colors. Dugan (also known as Diamond) has a manufacturer’s logo mark that is easy to spot as it is an uppercase D in a diamond. Imperial Glass marked their items with a cross logo. It is easy to spot and very collectible.
Carnival glass enjoys a broad interest with collectors. Various patterns, colors from marigold to indigo and more, and styles from many different makers and manufacturers make this collecting category fun and exciting. Based on the look of early Roman glass from the 1st-2nd Century AD, iridescent glass which is often called carnival glass debuted in the late 19th/early 20th century and was made famous by artisans such as Louis Comfort Tiffany and firms such as Fenton, Northwood, and others. Tiffany’s favrile glass and Fenton carnival glass, once called iridill glass, are mainstays in the antique iridescent and carnival glass collecting categories. But, collectors are picky and the metallic salts used to give glass its deep colors impact value significantly.
The bright colors, organic shapes and bold designs from nature inspired favrile glass. Favrile glass and iridescent glass objects—pitchers, vases, plates, drinking glasses, goblets, etc.–went hand in hand with the massive mansion interiors of the Robber Barons with names like Carnegie, Frick, and Vanderbilt. Later, carnival glass became a collectible of the middle classes as American glass manufacturers were able to mass produce pieces in various styles, colors, and patterns for the consumption of collectors from all socio-economic classes from the late 1800 to the mid 1900s. The bold statements that iridescent glass made in these early 20th century interiors became synonymous with the designs of the time.
Poor Man’s Tiffany Glass
Carnival glass went by several names as it became a mainstay with everyday people. They called iridescent glass by several names such as “poor man’s Tiffany”, taffeta glass, and rainbow glass but the term carnival glass was the name that stuck. It stuck with collectors for more than a century. Iridescent glass pieces, aka carnival glass, debuted in 1908. The Fenton Glass Company created wonderful examples of iridescent glass with the use of metallic salts. Carnival glass was distributed at carnivals as coveted prizes and as a result the name has come to be well known in the collecting community. This relationship with middle class collectors also helped drive production of the popular glass wares.
In addition to Fenton, other glass manufacturers of the early 190-0s also produced carnival glass pieces. Some of the more popular on the list of carnival glass makers include the Northwood Glass Company, Dugan Glass Company, and Imperial Glass Company to name a few. Thousands of patterns were produced by many different companies. Some of the patterns were similar, even very similar, and other patterns were unique and for today’s collectors, quite rare.
Color, as in today’s glass collecting arena for all types of glass other than carnival glass, was king. Manufacturers tried their hand at producing new colors of carnival glass in an effort to stand above the competition.
What happened to Carnival Glass? How did Carnival glass fall out of favor in the mid 1900s? The simple answer is finances. While glass is more cost effective to produce than other items such as pricey ceramics, the Great Depression changed the way people collected and decorated their homes. So, Depression glass items, which also offered colors for glass objects, was cheaper than carnival glass because of Depression glass’s lack of metallic salts—the crux of carnival glass.
Depression glass is see-thru yet colorful and offered impressed patterns of interest to collectors which looked good on a dining table or within a curio or china display cabinet. Carnival glass took a back seat to Depression glass for everyday use and Depression glass colors like pink, green, or yellow didn’t offer the bright, bold, and impressive effect of carnival glass but Depression glass was of interest to collectors who wanted to serve dinner on a matching set of plates, glasses, teacups and saucers, serving platters, bowls, etc. Typically, middle class collectors did not have resources to collect complete patterns of carnival glass as the cost was higher than that for comparable Depression glass.
Collecting Carnival glass
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, carnival glass made its comeback with collectors who wanted something vintage and historic, colorful yet fun. It followed a collecting craze for Tiffany glass during the same time period. But, the interest in collecting carnival glass which took place in the Age of Aquarius was again based on the basic tenets of carnival glass manufacturing and popularity: color. Collectors started amassing collections of carnival glass in the pre-Internet era from antique shops, flea markets, yard sales and they collected in an organized and thoughtful manner. They couldn’t just search online like today’s collectors. They had to physically locate pieces, develop relationships with dealers and other collectors, and join collecting groups in order to secure a particular piece of carnival glass.
Collectors of carnival glass in the 1970s worked to hunt down pieces of carnival glass of a particular color or pattern by traveling, calling, and writing to firms or fellow collectors in an effort to add to one’s collection. As with other collectible categories, Americans collect in 50 year cycles. So, it follows that looking back 50 years to the 1970s and reviving a collecting category from that time period is very commonplace. That is what is happening now with carnival glass.
Regularly, devoted carnival glass collectors reported that they collected only the list of carnival glass makers of Dugan, Fenton, or Northwood. Some collectors were devoted to a particular pattern with interesting names like Grape and Cable, Star & File, Starfish, Ten Mums, Water Lily & Cattails, Wild Rose, Vineyard, Wine & Roses, Stork & Rushes, Trout & Fly, to name a few. Some collectors expressed their interest in only one type or color of glass like amethyst glass, marigold glass, or indigo glass when it comes to their favorite carnival or iridescent glass. When a collectible object hits the 50 or 100 year mark, then that object typically commands its highest value and if it has reached 100 years of age, it is called “antique.”
Collecting iridescent or carnival glass, like any other vintage or antique collectible, is all about nostalgia. The young generation of collectors—those in their 20s-40s—consider collecting the items that were collected by their grandmothers when they were in their 20s-40s. Grandchildren are collecting with the thought that they are recreating an environment that may have looked similar to how their grandmother’s decorated her home. It is one main reason that I always advise that you ask your children as well as your grandchildren if they want your stuff before you part with it. Many grandmothers are surprised to learn that their grandchildren certainly do want their collectibles. Today, younger generations of collectors feel strongly that they want to collect objects of bygone days.
Selling Carnival Glass Tips
When it comes to selling iridescent or carnival glass, collectors like to know the following information so do your research and be sure to list your item for sale with the following information: clear photographs of all sides of the piece, measurements (length x width x height in inches and diameter in inches for plates) clear photographs of the maker’s or manufacturer’s mark, the correct pattern name, the correct manufacturer’s name and location of the factory (this is vital as many glass factories moved locations during long histories), the correct color. Buyers like to know as much about the provenance or last owner or owners as possible. If you know who purchased it and when, add that information to the sales listing. Document as much information as you can about each carnival glass object that you are interested in selling.
If adding to your collection is the goal, then be sure to scrutinize websites, online estate auctions, social media sites, etc. in order to find the pieces or patterns you desire. Join collectors’ groups online and social media groups but be aware that some group members don’t have accurate information about objects even though they may be trying to help. Often times, I have to correct the information that clients obtain from these groups that are incorrect. So, do your own research and know who your sources are. Check backgrounds, credentials, experience, and education before you confirm their information as gospel truth.
Don’t go down the rabbit hole when you are looking for a particular piece of carnival or iridescent glass. Stay on task because often times sellers will try to entice you into buying something other than what you really want. Carnival glass is a great collecting category with options for in-depth collecting options from many different makers, manufacturers, colors, pieces, and patterns. Select the carnival glass pieces you like best and start sourcing—the treasure hunt is on.