New to Carnival Glass?

Page last updated March 2, 2017

Fenton Butterflies bonbons (bonbon is the name collectors give to this 2-handled bowl) from the classic era of Carnival and a contemporary example. These two pieces were made from the same mold, but some 50 years apart.

What is Carnival Glass?

Carnival Glass is pressed glass that has been iridized with a metallic spray. It was introduced by Fenton about 1908 and other glass manufacturers soon followed suit (for a brief history of Carnival, click here). It is still being made today. To see how the glass was made, click here. One of the first things you’ll learn is that more recent Carnival, made after about 1960, is not as valuable as the early glass is. How do you tell the difference? It’s not always easy. It takes a lot of study, but the Contemporary items on this site show many of them. Carnival Glass received its name because it was used as prizes at carnivals after the end of the classic era and manufacturers could still make it cheaply enough for this purpose.

The quality of iridizing is critical in Carnival Glass. These two Imperial Heavy Grape chop plates sold at the same auction. The plate on the left, with heavy iridescence, brought $250; that on the right, with weak silverish iridescence, just $90.

What is iridization?

The metallic spray gave the glass a multi-color look with a finish that resembles oil on water. It is this characteristic that distinguishes it from other glass. There are other types of glass, however, that are iridized, primarily art glass. Remember though, that if it isn’t iridized, it isn’t Carnival. As the iridizing spray was hand applied, it varied considerably from piece to piece. You can see in the photos above that these two pieces are quite different, even though they came from the same mold. Both could be described the same way–Heavy Grape chop plates in purple. You can’t always tell from a description about the quality of the glass.

Imperial’s Fieldflower in marigold, Northwood’s Grape Arbor in amethyst/purple, Fenton’s Blueberry in blue, and Northwood’s Acorn Burrs in green.

Why so many colors?

When glass manufacturers first began iridizing glass, they used a clear glass over which they applied an orange spray which we have come to call marigold–although they used different names then. This color worked very well to brighten the interior of the rather dark homes of the time. To satisfy changing markets, they then began applying the Carnival iridescence to darker glass, amethyst/purple, blue, and green, which collectors refer to as “vivid” colors.

Northwood’s Peacock at the Fountain in ice blue, Northwood’s Raspberry in ice green, and Fenton’s Apple Tree in white.

Pastel colors

About 1912, Northwood introduced a new range of colors, the ones we have come to call ice blue, ice green, and white (although Northwood used other names). Ice blue and Ice green are lighter versions of blue and green glass. White is clear glass. You’ll note in the above photos that the iridescence is not as strong as in the darker colors. This is because Northwood adopted a different kind of spray, which collectors refer to as pastel. While still multi-color, it does not have the selenium content of the marigold spray and may even be hard to see at times. There were many other colors. To review these, click here.

Millersburg’s Diamonds, Dugan’s Quill, and Imperial’s Windmill.

What are the colors of the above tumblers?

One of the most confusing aspects of Carnival glass is determining the color. You can’t always tell what it is by looking at the surface. For example, the three tumblers on the left are all amethyst glass. The glass color is what determines the color–not the iridescence. To determine the true glass color, you may have to look through the base of a piece, which in classic era Carnival, is not iridized.

Northwood’s Grape and Cable hatpin holder in ice blue, Millersburg’s Hobstar and Feather spittoon whimsey from a rosebowl in amethyst, Northwood’s Peacock ruffled bowl in marigold, Fenton’s Captive Rose plate in green, Northwood’s Leaf and Beads rosebowl in aqua opal, Fenton’s Lily of the Valley water pitcher in blue, and Fenton’s Plume Panels vase in red.

The patterns of Carnival Glass

The biggest challenge for newcomers to Carnival Glass collecting is learning the patterns. There are probably 2,000 patterns, although only about 1,000 are relatively common. Learning the design and names of the patterns is crucial to the enjoyment of collecting this glass. Where to begin? Start with a particular pattern and learn about that, or begin with a shape or color that interests you. Then expand into other areas. Maybe if you are a new collectors start with tumblers. There are several advantages: There is a wide variety of patterns and colors; the cost is low so you won’t have a big starting investment; and they take little space. This web site is designed to help you learn. When you hear about an unfamiliar pattern, check the alphabetical listing. Books are al