Carnival Glass is that irresistible vintage glassware with the amazing rainbow finish. It comes in hundreds of rich colors and intricate patterns, from Florentine candlesticks in sapphire blue to Peacock Tail ruffled compotes in amethyst. These prized pieces are pricey at antique stores, but with a little dogged determination you can find decorating gems at the flea market for a song!
Carnival Glass was originally made in the early 1900s and later given away as prizes at the carnival, earning its famous nickname. In the 1950s, collectors fell in love with it all over again, and manufacturers began producing it once more. Even though these pieces were never prizes at the midway, they are still referred to as Carnival Glass.
A World of Iridescent Wonders
Carnival Glass is made in two steps. Colored glass is pressed in a mold, then the molded piece is sprayed with metallic salts to give it that signature iridescence. While it’s hard for a rookie shopper to tell the age, make, and quality of Carnival Glass like a pro, these simple tips are sure to help you get a good deal.
Tip #1 Look For The Base Color
Carnival Glass’ rainbow surface can make a blue plate appear to be purple, but if you hold the glass up to a light you can see the base color. Marigold is by far the most common color and actually has a clear glass base. Also look for amethyst, green, and blue. They were widely produced and should be cheaper.
Tip #2 Look For Chips and Cracks
As with any antique glassware, it’s important to inspect pieces for cracks and chips. If you see a small ding and think you can live with it, point it out to the vendor and haggle to get a better price.
Tip #3 Look For The Rainbow
The beauty of Carnival Glass is in its iridescence, so check pieces for an even finish. Glass without scratches or dulling will cost more. And remember: if it’s not iridescent, it’s not Carnival Glass!
Most Carnival Glass isn’t marked, but if you find a piece that is, you can look it up online. We found a gorgeous red vase with a maker’s mark on the bottom that looked like three bars surrounded by the word “Westmoreland.” It turned out to be from the maker Westmoreland who only used that mark in the 1980s. The piece also had a number etched on the bottom that read 62-1000-83. We continued sleuthing on the Web and discovered an antique dealer with a matching vase etched with 35-1000-83. They explained that theirs was vase number 35 out of 1000 made in the year 1983. Who knew?
A Cavalcade of Color
Carnival Glass comes in just about every color imaginable, but some like red are rarer than others. Pastel colors like aqua and ice blue were made by only a few companies and there simply aren’t that many pieces out there. If you happen to spot an item in a harder-to-find hue like red, snatch it up. If you find a rare color at the flea market, you still might be able to get it for a bargain price if your vendor isn’t in the know.
What To Pay
Carnival Glass ranges from a few dollars for a mismatched teacup to thousands for a rare green punch bowl. For a decent price, keep an eye out for Marigold items. They were the most abundant and therefore the least expensive on average. Many nice pieces—from bowls and plates to vases and toothpick holders—can be found for under $100 at the flea market. But the true test of value is your own gut instinct. If you think it’s beautiful and don’t mind the price, go on and get it. You’ll love it forever!