Carnival Glass – The Basics of Carnival Glass Collecting

Having researched carnival glass for 30 plus years, it is easy to forget there are collectors just beginning, who haven’t learned the fine points of this remarkable glass; so for them, here are some basic thoughts. First comes color. To tell the true color of a piece of carnival glass, hold the piece to a strong light; the base color you see is the color of the piece. The colors given off by the iridescence have little or nothing to do with the true color of the glass. Many have asked me to provide a color chart to aid beginners, but capturing glass colors on paper is nearly impossible. The best advice we can offer on color is to handle as much of this glass as you can, holding it to the light and observing; soon, colors will come naturally, at least the basic colors.

Next, perhaps we should discuss shapes. Bowls and plates are easy to understand as are pitchers, tumblers, and vases; but even those have variations: bowls can be ruffled, unruffled (shallow unruffled bowls are called ice cream shape), deep, or shallow. Pitchers can be standard, smaller (milk pitcher), taller (tankard), or squat. Tumblers can be standard size, tall (lemonade), or small (juice), even as small as shot glasses. Vases can range from tiny 4″ bud vases to monster 22″ sizes called funeral vases. Vases may be straight topped, flared, or JIP (jack-in-the-pulpit) shaped with one side down and one side up. In addition there are table sets, consisting of a creamer, a sugar, a covered butter dish, and a spooner (this piece has no lid). There are decanters and stemmed goblets of several sizes; there are rose bowls, evident by the lips being pulled in equally around the top of the piece; candy dishes that have the rims flared out; and nut bowls that have the rim standing straight up. There are banana bowls that are pulled up on two sides, baskets that have handles, bonbons that have handles on opposite sides, and nappies with only one handle. In addition we have berry sets (small and large bowls that are deep and usually come with one large bowl and six small ones), orange bowls (large footed bowls that held fruit), handled mugs, and plates (these are shallow without any bowl effect, coming straight out from the base and no higher from base to rim than 2″). Specialized shapes include candlesticks, hatpins, hatpin holders (footed pieces with the rim turned in to hold hatpins), epergnes (pieces that hold flower lilies), card trays (flattened bonbons or nappies), toothpick holders, cracker and cookie jars with lids, stemmed compotes (or comports as they were originally called), hair receivers, powder jars with lids, as well as many novelties that include paperweights, animal novelties, and wall pocket vases. Finally we have punch sets which consist of a punch bowl, standard or base, and matching cups. These are all the general shapes of carnival glass. In addition we have many specialty shapes that include light shades, beads, beaded purses, odd whimsey shapes of all sorts that have been fashioned from standard pieces, pintrays, dresser trays, pickle casters in metal frames, and bride’s baskets likewise. The list of shapes is almost endless and the beginner should study these and ask other collectors about odd pieces they can’t identifY.

Now, let’s talk briefly about the iridescence itself. By far the major portion of carnival glass items will be found with a satiny finish that has many colored highlights across the surface, like oil on water; but another very popular finish was developed by the Millersburg Company and used by all other makers in limited amounts. This is called “radium” finish and can be recognized by its shiny, mirror-like lustre on the surface. Often, with radium finish, the exterior of the piece has no iridization and the piece has a light, watery shine. Beyond that, some colors, especially pastels such as white, ice blue, and ice green have a frosty look. This treatment is always satin, never radium. Finally, there is the addition of the milky edge on treatments that are called opalescent. Added to the marigold finish, this is called “peach opalescent” and with the ice blue, it becomes “aqua opalescent.” Other opalescent treatments with carnival glass are blue opalescent, amethyst opalescent, lime green opalescent, ice green opalescent, vaseline opalescent, and red opalescent.

Finally, there are many new color labels that have come about over the last few years. These are mostly shadings of primary or secondary colors; they are often hard to understand and harder to describe. Here are a few: moonstone (opaque glass, not as dense as milk glass); clambroth (pale ginger ale color); black amethyst (nearly black glass iridized); horehound (a shade darker than amber); Persian blue (opaque, like moonstone but blue); smoke (grayish, with blue and gold highlights); teal (a mixture of blue and green); vaseline (a mixture of green and yellow); lavender (a pale amethyst); and lime (green with a yellow mix). Lastly, there are a handful of colors, now in vogue, that nobody seems to agree on a definition: things like Renniger blue, a tealish, sapphirey blue, according to some! Have we carried all this too far? Of course, but it isn’t in our hands to stop this proliferation of colors. We can only hope the above information proves helpful in some way. Remember, we are all learning and knowledge comes in time and with patience. The trip is worth the effort.

Thank you to our friends at Standard Encyclopedia of Carnival Glass.

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