Carnival Glass – “Poor Man’s Tiffany”


There are many types of antique and vintage glass available in the market today.  Pressed glass (the pattern) has been around since about 1820 and iridescent glass (the finish) since at least 1873 – it was in this year that a wide range of styles and colours were displayed at the World’s Fair in Vienna.  Iridescent glass was produced in both Europe and America.

Favrile, an iridescent art glass developed by Louis Comfort Tiffany, was patented in 1894 and first produced for market in 1896.  In 1901, two disgruntled Tiffany workers left the company, hired two other former employees and started their own company – The Quezal Art Glass Decorating Co.   They made exact, but unmarked, replicas of the Tiffany pieces.  Quezal ceased operations in 1925.

The Fenton Glass Company is credited with creating the first carnival glass in 1907.  Labelled “Venetian Art”, it was an inexpensive rival to the pieces produced by Tiffany.  Many of the pieces were created to complement dinner china – bowls, water pitchers, punch sets, vases and goblets.  Other companies, Northwood and Millersburg to name two, soon joined in the mass-production of this inexpensive product which was sometimes referred to as “poor man’s Tiffany”.  Fenton continued to produce carnival glass until 2011.

Carnival glass was made by pressing molten glass into metal molds to create the base pattern.  After being released from the mold, the glass would still be malleable and the edge could be bent or crimped into ruffles or other edge designs.  The otherwise plain bowl or plate could also be shaped into various forms.  A solution of metallic salts or oxides would be applied to coat the piece and it was then re-fired.  As the liquid evaporated the metals would adhere resulting in a surface that refracted light into a myriad of colours.

Consumers understood that it was inexpensive to produce and that it was not top quality and its value dropped. Eventually, and as the name suggests, it was used as a give-away prize at carnivals and fairs.  It could easily be found in five-and-dimes and was often given away as a promotional piece at movie theaters and grocery stores.

In the mid-1990s, carnival glass experienced a surge in popularity at auction but has since fallen in value due to increased availability and accessibility – perhaps now is a great time to start collecting.

There are about 2,000 patterns and over 60 colours to choose from.  The picture above shows an amethyst, ruffled, spatula-footed bowl in Fenton’s Dragon and Lotus pattern.  It was produced sometime between 1915 and 1920.



About Penny Schneider

Penny Schneider, TEP is a Trained Professional Organizer who works specifically with executors on estates. On the 1st of each month Penny writes short pieces about things important to executors (what to do when) and on the 15th with things an executor might find (what to do with). Penny assists clients throughout Toronto, York Region and the surrounding area.
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