Carnival glass is coloured glass with an iridescent sheen. Easily sourced it can make a colourful and eye-catching display. It was originally made to look like some of the expensive glass that was being produced by the Tiffany company. This type of glass is named Carnival glass as it was often given away as prizes and fairs and carnivals.
The iridescence on Carnival glass is created when a solution of metallic salts is sprayed onto the hot glass while it is slowly cooling from being pressed, a similar process can be used in the final firing of pottery items that have a similar sheen.
Carnival glass was first created around 1908 by the Fenton company who applied a pale sheen over light coloured glass. In 1912 Northwood developed a different type of spray to apply the sheen, Northwood’s method gave a heavier coating and allowed darker colours of glass to be iridised. Seeing how popular this bright and cheerful glass was, many other companies followed within a few years. People loved the bright additions to their dark and dingy homes.
Carnival glass is different to depression glass (although the two are often confused) in that whereas both types are coloured, carnival glass sports the iridescent sheen. The quality of the sheen is what separates a poor quality, cheap piece from an expensive, heavily iridised piece. On some of the heavily iridised pieces it is almost impossible to tell the colour of the underlying glass!
This type of glass can be difficult to date, especially as it is still being made today. However, some Internet research, close inspection and common sense will usually give you a good idea of whether you are holding a modern piece, or a vintage specimen.
Many people ask if it is safe to serve food on Carnival glass. This is very much a matter of personal preference. Some of the metals used to produce the iridescence are highly toxic, however, the amount that is likely to transfer onto food is minute, especially if you avoid placing acidic or oily foods onto it. So, serving a plate of scones is probably safe.
If your Carnival glass gets dirty, you can wash it in warm water and washing up liquid. Be sure to rinse and dry it thoroughly to avoid leaving water/detergent marks. Please don’t put it into the dishwasher, the heat and harsh chemicals are extremely likely to damage it beyond repair. If you get a build up of bloom on the glass that washing up liquid won’t remove….DO NOT SCRUB IT.
Scrubbing may damage the iridescence. The easiest and safest way to remove stubborn marks without ruining the finish is to soak the item overnight in a solution of Napisan.