The Attraction of Carnival Glass


"Hurry, hurry, hurry!-- step right this way, folks, and see this amazing glass. It's molded! Or stretched! It's iridescent! It's just like magic! See all the colors of the rainbow in one single bowl!"

My first exposure to carnival glass was when I was about eight years old, digging in my parents' back yard. At some point, some of the far lot must have been used as a dump by the locals. Because in a day of digging, I'd find things like bits of unlucky G.I. Joes, reflectors from old bicycles, and shards of porcelain... Tiny treasures that rewarded the imagination of a child almost as much as the digging itself did.

In making a mud-pie, one morning, I came upon a fragment of glimmering, shimmering iridescent red-purple glass.

I brought it inside to my mother with wonder in my eyes. To an eight-year-old, it looked about as close to magic as glass ever could. "Look, Mom-- treasure!"

But Mom laughed. "Oh, that's just a piece of carnival glass. It was this cheap, gaudy, cheesy stuff they used to give away at carnivals as prizes. It's nothing."

Except it was too late; I was in love with it.


The Encyclopedia of Carnival Glass, by Bill Edwards and Mike Carwile explains that carnival glass was a type of either pressed or stretched, iridized glass-- typically manufactured between 1905 and 1930. The rainbow iridescence of it was sprayed onto the glass before firing, making it affordable for average households during the area. And, as Mom had said, it was also sometimes given away as amusement park prizes.


The type of carnival glass you have depends on what type of finish was used. Different finishes are layered over a base color. The most common base colors for the glass itself include marigold, amber, amethyst, peach, cobalt, red, and smoke. You can determine the base color of your piece by holding a piece up to a direct light.

According to the book, there are basically three kinds of finishes for carnival glass. One is a satiny finish which adds colored highlights over a uniform glass surface color. This ruffled candy dish, which came from my great-grandmother, is an example of a pretty standard carnival glass piece. The color is marigold and the iridescent highlights tend toward purple/fuchsia tones.


Another type of finish is what was called the "radium" finish. This has a shiny mirror-like luster. In looking at my other carnival pieces from this era, I believe the bowl below might be a decent example of a "radium" look. The finish is very silvery and much more opaque than the other piece. It's over an amethyst glass...


A third finish, typically used on pastel pieces, may have a frosty look-- a white milky edge which is called "opalescent." This delightful Fenton shoe, my friend Josette gave me, appears to be done in the more opalescent style.


While the manufacture of carnival glass originally ended in the 1930s, in the 1960s, companies like Imperial Glass Company of Bellaire, Ohio revived some of their original carnival glass molds. This caused what the Encyclopedia of Carnival Glass describes as a second "carnival glass fever."

And for we fans of the thrift, the wonderful news is that these "revival" pieces are quite findable at thrift stores! While carnival Imperial grape pieces don't come into thrift stores as often as their milk glass sisters might-- a sharp eye can still spot them now and again at very reasonable prices. The pattern of this amber compote was done in blue, as well...


Below is a closeup on a grape pitcher-- in a slightly different pattern to the Imperial grape above-- that I found at the Salvation Army one day for $4...

I love the depth the iridescent colors give to the raised grapes!

This pressed glass bowl was another Salvation Army find...


You can see the detailed pattern here, and how the colors of the carnival finish accent them. I'm not sure who manufactured this-- I've seen it listed before as Westmoreland Glass, which was a glass making company local to Western Pennsylvania.



The book refers to these highly-defined wheeled patterns as "Starbursts" or "Buzzsaws"...


I actually don't recall the origin of this ice blue basket anymore, but I wanted to share it with you to show how many colors can be found within a single carnival piece...


And lastly, this pattern below is called "Anniversary" from Jeanette Glass Works, another Western Pennsylvania local company. The first is a bowl...


The second is one of a set of dinner plates....

It was late to the first wave of carnival glass manufacturing-- made in 1947. The Encyclopedia of Carnival Glass considers it "poorly lustered"-- but when these plates catch the light on my dinner table, the glow is as warm and magical as the lure of any Ferris Wheel.

Hope you enjoyed our little carnival ride today!

And perhaps I'll see you this coming Wednesday for more nifty, thrifty fun!

22 comments:

MizSmoochieLips said...

Great pieces, and loved the info on carnival glass! I hardly ever see it at thrift stores either, but I am finding quite a few of the clear glass that looks kind of like the carnival... not sure what it's called...

Jaffer said...

"Hope you enjoyed our little carnival ride today!"

Enjoyed ? Yes ! But I am also a bit freaked out. I don't know if you were following my conversation with Olga this morning here, here, here and here.

Absolutely loved this post. I think I'll be keeping an eye out for carnival glass pieces from now

But I also hear collector's pieces that can drain your wallet too - what are they actually looking for in a collector's piece ?

ThriftShopRomantic said...

MizSmoochieLips- I think the clear with the iridescence is still considered carnival glass-- I believe it's referred to as "crystal" carnival. If the iridescence is on an opaque porcelain, then it's called "lusterware." That's as I understand it, anyway.

Jaffer- Around here original 1900s-1930 carnival glass pieces run around $40-75 (which is why I don't have any except for those two candydishes I inherited-- and the later plates, which I got a good deal on. The carnival glass varies depending on the quality of the iridescence, as well as the condition and the rarity of the pattern.

The carnival glass from the 60s/70s, however, is very affordable. A compote for $4-$10, for instance. Goblets for around the same, sometimes less.

And no, I wasn't eavesdropping on you with Olga-- that's funny. :)

Olga, the Traveling Bra said...

I adore Carnival Glass! :)

Michelle Gartner said...

I received a great set of carnival glass- when we helped my mother in law move last year. To see my set click on the link- I love the stuff.

http://www.oneofakindwis.com/2007/collectibles/glassware/new-to-vintage-and-carnival-glass-stop-here/

David Doty has the best site online for Carnival glass - that's how I was able to id the set I received.

ThriftShopRomantic said...

Olga- Glad to know of another addict! Yay!

Michelle- Thank you for the resource info! I will check out your link tomorrow morning when I'm not on dial-up. Thank you for sharing pics of your collection!

Carrie said...

Great introduction to carnival glass..I learned a lot from this post.

JenfromAspinwall said...

Hey Jenn,
Some nice stuff there- very pretty! I am happy to see that I actually have a piece of this, though it came to me from my dad- I wouldn't have known to buy it. It actually looks similar to the one on the cover of your book (on the left, with the "thorns"), though it is shaped more like a traditional vase. It is amethyst with irridescent glaze and the same sort of fluted lip- one of my favorites for smaller flowers.

Thanks for all the great info!
Jen

ThriftShopRomantic said...

Carrie- Oh, I'm glad. I know you're already so knowledgeable about so many vintage things, it's exciting to share new info, too.

Jen- Amazing!! You don't see pieces like that too often, it sounds like you have a really wonderful piece.

Da Old Man said...

Carnival glass is awesome and remember seeing the revival of it in the 60's. I pretty much like anything shiny. Wonder what that means?

Lana Gramlich said...

This post was SOOO informative! I've seen this stuff everywhere & always wondered what the story was. Now I know. Cheesy or not, I've always loved these kinds of pieces!

Rosemary said...

Hi Jenn,
Love the carnival glass, it's so pretty. I have a few pieces.
Hope you had a nice weekend,
Rosemary

Thrift Shop Romantic said...

Da Old Man- Maybe it means you're a bit of a magpie, like me. Or it means here in the Jersey/PA area, we need a bit of shine to compensate for our grey, cold cloudy weather. :)

Lana- Glad you found the info of use-- that's awesome!

Rosemary- I hope you have a great week ahead of you!! Thanks for stopping.

Patzee said...

You never really know where you'll find these treasures. My best piece came from a garage sale priced at $0.25! It was a rare patterned dish retailing for $95.00!

Bird said...

Oh wow, I'm in love with carnival glass too - I've never heard of it before and I'm sad to say I don't think we get it here. But it's beautiful! I once found a whole bunch of smashed glass on the banks of the Thames that had all kinds of beautiful sheens on it like this, and as it had been in the water a long time it was nice and smooth. I wonder if it had been made in the same way as carnival glass.

Thrift Shop Romantic said...

Patzee- WOW!! $0.25-- just amazing!! That had to be such an exciting day for you!

Bird- Very possibly. In addition to a number of companies in the U.S., I believe companies in Germany, India and possibly the Netherlands were manufacturing-- so it should be findable in at least some areas of Europe.

chyna said...

Love love love that radium bowl, looks like tarnished silver. Not a fan of marigold or any other yellow/orange but sure do appreciate the clear, pastel-y and sparkly winter snow colors.

What a wonderful collection.

Thrift Shop Romantic said...

Chyna- (Heh, it looks like DUSTY silver, because I realized I needed to give it a good wipedown before I took pics...) But yes, that bowl is an absolute favorite. Originally I didn't care for the marigold/amber as much, because I am really no fan of orange, but it's really grown on me. With all the colors that shine in it, I think it's a lot of fun.

Spa Resort said...

WOW.. how beautiful...they are really unique.

Antique Carnival Glass said...

Interesting post and enjoyed the pictures. Must add some to my own pages.

Anonymous said...

Carnival Glass was made in England and indeed, all over Europe, Scandinavia, Australia, South America and India. It was also imported into the UK from America from around 1909. You can read much more about it all here:
http://www.carnival-glass.net

fwhited said...

ThriftShopRomantique, I came across your "carnival ride" (very interesting and informative!)and thought you might be interested in a couple of the pieces I produced during Thing-a-Day 2009.

http://www.thing-a-day.com/?p=15798

http://www.thing-a-day.com/?p=14986

The place that sells Fenton's cullet is about halfway between my home in Ohio and my sister's home in WV, so I stop there regularly. If you thought the piece you found in your backyard was treasure, you'd go NUTS at this place.