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By Melinda L. Wilson
Certified Appraiser and Consultant
Carnival Glass is the name given to an iridescent glass manufactured by American Glass companies from about 1890 until the early 1930's. It was often referred to as "Poor Man's Tiffany" because of its imitation of the colors and styles of the Louis Comfort Tiffany designer pieces then gracing the homes of the well-to-do. Although many companies manufactured the glass, the most sought after (in the '80's") were the pieces marked with the "N", Northwood Glass Company, trademark. These are more easily dateable.
Many pieces have no markings and therefore are difficult to trace and date unless they have been in your own family and the origin is personally known. I have a mug that belonged to my Great-Grandfather and is known to collector's as the "Fisherman's Mug" because of the fish design. It actually only held a solid cake of shaving soap that a man used with his bristle brush and his straight edged razor for a morning shave. The mug was not sold for itself but was some ad man's jazzed up concept of packaging soap. Soap gone, the mug, because of its rare design was worth, in the '80's, about sixty-five dollars. It has typical Carnival luster, almost mirror-like, with greenish tones case over a deep purple-based glass. The resulting effect is almost of oil poured on water on the pavement and the sun picking up the highlights of color.
The term "Carnival" came about because the glass was cheaply mass produced and was literally given away at carnivals and fairs as prized in shooting galleries and ball throwing contests, along with Kewpie dolls, hats and phony coins. Oddly, a prize of Carnival ware was not the most sought after at first. The Kewpie doll was tops! Then about 1900-1908, Corning Glass works and Fenton (and others) began expanding from the original marigold and purple base colors and added blue, red, green and pastels. They also blatantly began to copy the designs of Favrile and Tiffany in bowls, lampshades, pitchers and glasses, etc.
There are many other companies that began producing the iridized glass. It even started being made over seas.
My advice to you is VERY simple but one that most ignore. If you wish to collect carnival glass or even have a piece in your home, study it. Learn all you can about the factory that made it, when it was produced, etc. Many of the names that were originally given to a piece were changed when other manufactures bought out one of the plants and purchased their molds. So, don't get discouraged when looking for a piece. There is one thing that you really need to know….there are many reproduced "fakes" in the market. By studying the patterns and the maker's marks, you will be able to spot these pieces easily. Also the iridescence is different in the newer pieces. If you remember several years ago, Fenton began reproducing the marigold and purple carnival glass and much was seen in the "Cracker Barrel" restaurants. The color was too bright and didn't quite show the "oily" texture described earlier. Always study the old before purchasing. Fenton stated there's were repros. Many others do not and you can easily be fooled. Enjoy and who knows, you may be one of those REALLY lucky ones that has a RARE piece. Prices are down now due to the economy….great time to purchase! Happy Hunting!