What is Carnival Glass?


First developed in the early nineteen hundreds, it’s a range of patterned, pressed glass suffused with an iridescent lust re, which reflects the light, making the surface gleam with metallic highlights. It resembles the rainbow effect that you see when oil is spilt in a puddle. This effect was gained by spraying the hot surface of the glass with metallic salt solutions and then re-firing to set the iridescence.Pressed glass products using this method first appeared in the US in 1905.

They resembled the high lustre finish achieved by high-class glass manufacturers such as Tiffany on their exquisite hand-blown pieces. It is said that when pressed glass companies began producing iridescent glass, Tiffany sales slumped because customers didn’t like to think that poor folk could now afford to have similar products in their homes!During the 1880s, hand-operated press moulds were developed by the American glasshouses, which enabled them to produce domestic glassware in large quantities much more cheaply than the traditional methods allowed. Unlike hand-blown glass which was time-consuming to make, pressed glass was formed using these moulds. Two moulds were needed. The molten glass was poured into the outer mould, and then the inner mould (or ‘plunger’) was forced in, using great pressure. Sometimes the moulds were in two or more parts, and so a trickle of the molten glass would seep through the gaps. Later, these seam lines would be polished out if they weren’t hidden in the intricate design. At first the products were made from clear glass, but gradually colours were introduced.

Even though Carnival glass was initially pressed into moulds it still needed plenty of hand- finishing, because the makers wanted to create an air of individuality. The glassmakers completed their creations in a variety of ways. Sometimes they would very gently draw up the edges of a plate into a fluted shape, thu s creating a bowl. They might even add some rounded feet. Using special tools, they could pinch or crimp edges, or could make ruffles, pleats, frills and scallops. Gorgeous rose bowls and posy bowls could be formed by carefully pinching in the top edges of small basins, while tall vases were elongated by using centrifugal force which had the effect of stretching the malleable glass. Then the top edges could be decorated by crimping.

The most commonly-found shade of Carnival glass is marigold, then comes amethyst, blue, green and red (probably the rarest of all.) Other shades do exist, including black, pastel shades, and many varieties of the main colours such as amber, electric blue or sapphire. In addition, some of the colours were coated with white, altering the hues – for example, marigold and white is called peach opalescent. The colour refers to the actua l base colour of the glass, not to the iridescence, and the best way to discover it is to hold the piece to the light. Then the true colour will show.An amazing variety of items were created from Carnival glass, many of which were intended for everyday use, rather than for decoration, so it surprising just how many items have survived over the years in good condition. Rose bowls, plates, ashtrays, hatpins, salad bowls, cream jugs, punch bowls, plates, stemmed dishes, vases and hair tidies were just a few of the items that poured from the factories during the relatively short period that the glass was in production.America was the major producer of Carnival glass, and the first country to produce the glass in commercial quantities.

The so-called ‘big five’ companies were Northwood, Fenton, Imperial, Dugan and Millersburg, and they each had their own specialities. In addition there were a few smaller concerns. Other countries which produced the glass included England, Australia, Czechoslovakia, Argentina, Estonia, Finland and Sweden.The glass was originally made to bridge a gap in the market by providing ornamental glass for those who couldn’t afford to buy the fashionable, expensive, iridised handmade glassware. However, by the 1930s, fashions changed as as people began to follow Art Deco trends and the pretty glass became less popular.It wasn’t till much later that it acquired the name, ‘Carnival glass’, as it was thought that when it fell from favour, it was sold off cheaply to fairgrounds and offered as prizes. Whether or not this was true is a moot point. Other names for the glass were Poor man’s Tiffany, Rainbow glass, Aurora glass or Taffeta glass.

The enormous range of patterns means that collectors will always be searching for more pieces. It’s calcul ated that well over a thousand different patterns were produced by the American companies, and when you realise that they came in many different colours, shapes and sizes, you can see why a Carnival glass collection can never be complete.Patterns were given names which usually echoed the design, such as leaf and beads, starfish, pineapple and bow, beaded cable, peacock tails, Persian medallion, open rose and fluffy peacock. Flowers, fruits, leaves were especially popular designs – pansies, roses, water-lilies, blackberries, grapes, cherries, oak and vine leaves. Sometimes horses’ heads, dragons, birds, or kittens were featured.

Geometric shapes or abstract patterns are found too, and are shown to perfection by the iridescence which catches the light as the piece is turned, emphasising the various facets.Because of the way that the glass is manufactured, no two items are quite the same – if you place two dishes or vases of the same pattern, shape, colour and size from the same manufacturer, side by side, you will notice subtle differences. One may seem more blue than purple, or have a section which gleams gold, or maybe have a pink or green tinge. A single item of carnival glass on display is beautiful – a collection, especially if illuminated by spotlights, or perhaps placed in a north-facing window (away from the danger of the sun’s rays which could trigger a fire), makes a stunning spectacle.The price of carnival glass varies considerably, depending on the manuf acturer, colour, design – and where you buy. Although nowadays it is sought after by numerous collectors, it’s still possible to pick up bargains. Even so, normally you should expect to pay anything from $30 (£20)upwards – and upwards could well mean into the hundreds, or even thousands, of pounds/dollars for a particularly rare piece.

Carnival Glass Related

Carnival Glass – The American Influence?
Fenton Glass & Fenton Glass Group
Carnival Glass at Auction
Fenton Art Glass at Auction

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