The passion for carnival glass all started with Louis Comfort Tiffany and his Favrile glass. Then Fredrick Carter founded the Steuben Glass Company and started making Aurene glass. Tiffany and Steuben glassware was hand blown, with metallic oxides carefully added to the hot glass, and then sprayed onto the surface while it was being heated. Both Tiffany and Steuben glassware was iridescently beautiful and highly prized by the rich upper class.
Then the Fenton Glass Company began producing its own iridescent glassware and several other companies soon followed suit. This glassware was cheap and wildly popular with the poorer common people. It was collectively called carnival glassware because it was given away at carnivals.
The Heyday of Carnival Glassware
Most carnival glassware was produced in America between 1908 and 1918. Although some carnival glass was manufactured in this country after that, most mid-century carnival glass came from Europe. When collecting carnival glassware became popular in the latter half of the twentieth century, American manufacturers once again began producing it for collectors.
Carnival glassware is thick, pressed glass and comes in various colors and patterns. It all has a characteristic sheen that is created by spraying the hot glass with metallic oxides. The metallic oxides create light interference patterns that make the glass iridescent.
There are many enthusiastic carnival collectors, and you can learn a lot about collecting carnival glassware by joining a collectors group.
Although several different companies made carnival glassware, only the Northwood Company marked their products—with an underscored N within a circle. Many collectors concentrate on Northwood carnival glass because it is more easily identifiable than other brands.
Many collectors choose to collect only a certain carnival glassware pattern or only a certain color. There are hundreds of patterns, but colors fall into three categories: marigold, dark, and pastel. Marigold colors are the most common, while pastels the least common (and most valuable).
It’s hard to determine the value of any one piece of carnival glassware, which is why a collector’s club is so helpful. Value depends on the condition of the piece, the age, who made it, the color, and the rarity. Some pieces are worth very little and some are worth thousands of dollars.
Recently, one piece of carnival glassware sold on eBay for over $16,000. It was a rare Northwood strawberry pattern, ice blue plate. Only four of the plates are known to exist, and two are chipped or cracked. This plate was very valuable because 1) it was in excellent condition, 2) it was very old, dating to the early 20th century, 3) it was made by Northwood, 4) it was ice blue, a rare color, and 5) it was one of only four known plates.