Carnival Glass | Everything you want to know and more

carnival glass vase

Photo by Dave Pape

That iridescent glow, the vibrant colors, the lovely shine – carnival glass has been a show stopper for generations. Learn more about this iconic house ware staple as we uncover its identifying features and history.

What is carnival glass?

Taking its roots in America, carnival glass is simply press-molded glass with an iridescent finish. First manufactured in early 1905, the intricate pattern work and stunning colors captured the Art Nouveau aesthetic perfectly. Most patterns were inspired by nature or geometry, detailed to hide the seams from the mold. The iridescent finish was applied via a brush or spray technique after the initial firing of the glass. As a result, the special qualities that make carnival glass stand out are not properties of the glass, but rather a finish covering the surface.

Its popularity rose due to a lack of indoor residential lighting and advancements in glass making. With most homes being relatively dark at night, carnival glass was a striking highlight for any parlor. The limited light would sparkle and dance on the glass surfaces, making any space feel grand. Previously glass ware had been hand blown – a very lengthy process – and with the invention of high-quality molds, labor was significantly reduced. Prices followed suit and as a result, this glass became a key feature in most middle-class homes.

carnival glass

Example of mold seam

Carnival glass was not found exclusively in American homes, shortly after its domestic debut it found fame in other countries such as England, Australia, and Czechoslovakia (to name a few). With the stock market crash and rising prominence of the Art Deco movement, carnival glass dramatically fell out of fashion. But the tale doesn’t end there – it enjoyed a brief revival in the 1960s and is still being produced to this day!

Why is it called carnival glass?

The abrupt decline in popularity actually inspired its namesake. With the overwhelming dominance of this type of glass, manufacturers were stockpiling a large supply. As demand waned, the glass ware was given away at fairs and public events, producing the name: carnival glass.

How do I know if my carnival glass is real?

As you can imagine, such a popular item remains very collectible and has inspired many fake interpretations. Most of the forged items are manufactured in Taiwan and they are getting more clever as the years progress. You may see a legitimate-looking mark on the bottom of the piece, adding confusion to the mix. The best way to ascertain an item’s history: if the base is unusually thick and heavy the piece is counterfeit; if the iridescence is exceptionally overwhelming or the pattern work is off it is bogus; lastly, if it appears too good to be true it is.

Carnival glass shapes, colors, and bases

The process of press-molding allowed for a lot of diversity. While carnival glass was used for many storage/decorative uses such as punch bowls, lamps, paperweights, and hatpin holders – the big three remain bowls, vases, and plates. The item’s edges follow four main profiles (as shown in the illustration), but the bases were more varied. Bases were completed with feet, rimmed, or domed; there is an assortment within these groupings.

carnival glass edges

Inspired by John Watson’s edge sketches

There are many colors associated with carnival glass. Keep in mind that there are two components: the base color (which you can see by holding the piece to the light) and the iridescent finish. There are four main categories: standard (like the very popular marigold on a clear base), pastel, opalescent edges, and rare. Within the standards are the major warm and cool tones: marigold, amber, red, amethyst, blue, and green. Note that red is very hard to produce and thus very desirable. Pastels were primarily manufactured by the American factories and like red are very collectible. The color descriptions all sound very delicious: apricot, butterscotch, champagne, to name a few. The opalescent edge grouping is differentiated by a reheating process that lend a ribbon-like edge of radiance. Before you start a serious collection, we advise you purchase a good reference book. With all the color mutations available, this resource will be invaluable as you move forward. We recommend Collecting Carnival Glass by Marion Quintin-Baxendale. It is available for purchase following this post.

Well-know carnival glass manufacturers

Dugan – Pennsylvania 1892
This firm went through a few change of hands before changing its name to the Diamond Glass Company in 1913. Dugan pieces are marked with a capital D inside a diamond. Their patterns are primarily inspired by the natural, organic world. Sadly the factory caught fire in 1931 and the company never recovered.

Fenton – Ohio 1906
Unlike Dugan, the Fenton name continues today. Brothers Frank L. and John Fenton started the firm in Martins Ferry, Ohio and quickly became known for their outstanding design work. This was largely due to their key designer, Jacob Rosenthal, and John’s creation of the Goddess of the Harvest bowl. You can easily identify and date a Fenton piece by their marked logo. John would later go on to found the Millersburg line, praised for its artistic genius, but closed shop a few years later due to financial mismanagement.

carnival glass pattern

Image by russavia

Imperial – Ohio 1904
In contrast to their competitors, Imperial focused on geometric designs and practical pieces. They are renowned for the stunning brilliance of their iridescence and innovative base colors, such as smoke. Their factory officially closed its doors in 1985. You can find out more about the company and see an example of its logo emblem here.

Northwood – Ohio 1887
Founded by the son of a famous English glassmaker, Harry Northwood found that even if his company transitioned to new names his creative efforts were still treasured. Known for exquisite natural designs, vivid colors, and rich marigold iridescence on custard glass, it could no longer carry on without its founder. After his sudden death in 1918, the factory struggled until it closed in 1925. Northwood markings are distinguished with a captial, underlined N encased in a circle (either complete or c-shaped).


For our readers: Do you collect carnival glass – tell us about your favorite piece or why you enjoy collecting it!


Replies for “Carnival Glass | Everything you want to know and more

    • Betty Jo Post author

      Hi Terrie,
      Glad to hear you enjoyed the article.
      You can contact us via our contact page (you’ll find it under Frockus Facts) and our email address is listed in the FAQ section.
      Cheers and may the vintage be with you!

      Reply
    • Dee Archuleta

      I found what I think is the most unusual piece of Imperial Grape 4 1/2″ smoke colored bowl with a cast ??? base in gold. The base has the same grape design but underneath is stamped c Hanna. Do you have any idea where I can find out about this or do you know. Many Thanks

      Reply
  • Kymberle Cheney

    I bought a square shaped cup and saucer on a auction site it’s description said it’s a vintage miragold carnival glass square shaped cup with saucer. It arrived today and it has a raised flower vine like pattern but no stamp on it . is there carnival glass without a stamp? I don’t want to say anything to offend anyone but if this isn’t carnival glass I need to say something. I will appreciate any information you can give me on this matter, thank you for your time
    Sincerely Kymberle Cheney

    Reply
    • Becky Oeltjenbruns Post author

      Hi Kymberle,
      Thanks so much for reaching out. Sounds like a lovely piece – some carnival glass is made without stamps or markings. The pieces I have are not marked. You are wise to be cautious as fakes are out there. The best way to ascertain it: is the base thicker than you would anticipate? Does the shine seem very brilliant, almost overpowering? If either of these are yes, then I would give pause. However, I will say most forgers tend to add in fake markings to give their pieces an air of legitimacy. So the lack of markings may be a good sign. The only way to be 100% certain is to have an appraiser look at the piece in person. I would reach out to local vintage shop owners to find some reliable resources in your community and meet with them. Cheers and best of luck!

      Reply
  • Renee

    Just bought Blue carnival glass punch bowl and glasses.
    Im concerned as the seams on all the glasses are quite visible.
    Is this not actual carnival glass? A bad reproduction? Or is this normal?

    Reply
    • Becky Oeltjenbruns Post author

      Hi Rebekah,
      It can scratch if not properly cared for. You should not run it in the dishwasher and you also need to be aware that extreme temperature changes can bring forth cracks and stress the glass. Handwashing in room temperature water is recommended. I’ve never had a piece peel before.
      Best of luck!

      Reply
  • Holly

    I keep hearing about extreme temperature changes damaging the glass, and I wonder about the coffee cups. Are they resistant to heat changes, or should I gradually heat them with some warm water prior to adoing coffee? Also, would creamer damage the finish? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Becky Oeltjenbruns Post author

      Hi Holly,
      Any material lasts longer when extreme temperature shifts aren’t involved, so gradually warming may be a good plan. I haven’t heard of creamer damaging the finish, but will dig in and let you know if I find out anything. Enjoy!

      Reply
  • Tamara

    I found a sunflowerpattern, marigold/Amber colored bowl and the it looks almost like it has 2 rims! I would like to know if it’s real or fake.

    Reply
  • Mary Crowder

    Just purchased om 1st carnival glass, pitcher w/4 tumblers. Checked pattern on line and the leaves on mine are not as detailed as the ones I have seen on line. Is mine fake?

    Reply
  • Kim Steeves

    I have a blue punch bowl that I grew up seeing around the house. It has the grape pattern on it. It has been passed to me, and I do believe it was my grandmother’s. There are no maker’s marks on it, I know it’s old and I’d like to get more info on it if possible.

    Reply
  • SL

    My grandmother had a huge carnival glass collection! I have a few pieces that were hers. I wish I had remembered to ask her to show me everything about her pieces so I would better know the real from the reproduction. Question: What is Depression glass? She talked about that, too.

    Reply
  • Judy Watson

    My MIL recently passed and we found a beautiful carnival glass punch bowl set with cups, plastic hooks and a plastic ladel. It has no markings. How can I find out if it’s real and the approximate worth?

    Reply
  • Miranda

    My mom just gave me four medium size boxes of what she said is carnival glass. I know nothing about this stuff except it’s absolutely beautiful so I have been doing some research on it and came across this article however I am not sure if it’s real or not real. I have all sorts of pieces and complete sets in several colors such as peacock color, a red orange color with a plate that has the last super on it, a tan color that has several little cups and other pieces with it , several fruit bowels and candy bowels and lastly a plate that I am very curious about it’s a peacock color and on the front it has a man that is maybe like a blacksmith on the back it says Fenton it says it’s #1 in a annual series made in 1970. Is there anything you can tell me about any of this

    Reply
    • Becky Oeltjenbruns Post author

      Hello,
      Thanks for reaching out – I’m afraid there isn’t any conclusive evidence on the effects of sunshine on carnival glass. I myself store mine in a cabinet that gets indirect sun (best of both worlds I guess!)

      Reply
  • Ruth kidd

    I bought two carnival glass chickens sitting on nest. One is amber and other is blue. What do I look for to tell if they are real carnival glass?

    Reply
    • Becky Oeltjenbruns Post author

      Hi Ruth,
      You’ll want to assess the weight first (if the base seems very thick, it’s most likely faux). A great second step is to assess the edge treatments. This post has some good reference points – best of luck!

      Reply
  • Nicole Tallowin

    Hello
    I bought a carnival “ice blue” bowl with a sunflower type design inside. I was told this is reasonably rare. Is this correct and do you know a price range these are selling for. Thanks

    Reply
    • Becky Oeltjenbruns Post author

      Hi Nicole,
      The range and diversity of carnival glass is quite extraordinary, so your piece has the potential to be special! I’m afraid we don’t offer valuation advice as we’re not appraisers. If I were in your shoes I’d start by finding some comparables via Ebay and Etsy, then taking the piece into an antique mall to get a second opinion (or more!) They can give you local market assessment and can assist in reselling.
      Cheers!

      Reply
  • Pam soulsby

    I have a vase i took it to an antique shop and was told it was carnival glass how do i find out who made it and if its antique

    Reply
    • Becky Oeltjenbruns Post author

      Hi Pam,
      Thanks for reaching out – as you know it can be tricky to determine the actual manufacturer as most pieces aren’t marked. If it is over 100 years old it is deemed an antique. Carnival glass did emerge right at the turn of the century in the 1900s so if this is an early example it can indeed be antique. Best of luck!

      Reply
  • Fran

    I have recently acquired a piece Norwood carnival glass w star of David ribbon pattern inside the bowl. But on the back of this footd ruffle bowl is northwoods grapes and cables. It also hathe Northwood marking on bottom. It appears to be an error not a fake but im not an expert. Does anyone know if this type mistake or if any mistakes by northwood were ever made and if not how do i prove its possible mistake vs fale?

    Reply
    • Becky Oeltjenbruns Post author

      Hi Fran,
      Thanks for reaching out – we don’t do appraisals as we can’t see the pieces in person. I’m not aware of this type of quirk, but that’s not to say it’s not a real piece. If I were in your shoes I’d take the piece to a local antique mall to get a variety of local, expert opinions. Enjoy!

      Reply
  • Val Dominick

    May I ask Ms. Becky a question about a piece of mine? I have a water pitcher that has an issue, and I’d like to know if the area in question is damage or was in the making. thank you! Ms. Val

    Reply
  • Laurie M. Cahoon

    I have several pieces of carnival glass and have seen the advice on cleaning it. Can it be used without damaging it? (I assume the only way to determine if it is old enough to worry about lead, etc. it to take somewhere and have it checked out, so that is not my question).

    Reply
  • Karrie

    Hi there,
    I have a small carnival glass bowl- approx. 6.5″ wide at the top, 2.5″ tall. It has leaves and grapes in the center, scalloped edge. blue/green iridescent color. The bottom looks like some of the Fenton I’ve seen, but it does not say Fenton. Wondering if this is a real carnival glass item or fake…

    Reply
  • Roxanne

    I have found a piece that has thrown me for a loop. Is there any chance I can maybe get some help in maybe identifying it? I love the article, I love this history of where it all started and that we are part of keeping it all alive. Thank you for contributing to keeping it alive and well.

    Reply

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