How to Price Vintage Carnival Glass

By Laura Crawley

Carnival glass is a kind of pressed glass known for its striking, multicolored iridescent finish. First produced in 1907, it was popular in the early 20th century as a cheap alternative to Tiffany art glass; one of its many names was "poor man's Tiffany." It is still produced in small quantities today. Carnival glass was mass produced in the 1920s and sold at dime stores. It also became a common carnival prize. Collectors in the 1950s therefore called it carnival glass.

Assessment

Look at the shape and size of your carnival glass. In general, the larger pieces, such as tall vases and humidors, are more valuable than smaller cups and jugs. Flat glassware, such as platters, are also higher in value.

Evaluate the base color and the iridescent shades of your piece. Hold the piece up to a strong light. Look at the color of the base or bottom. This is where you will see the base, or primary, color of the glass. There may be one or two secondary colors, as well as a spectrum of subtle shades. Pieces with bright colors tend to fairly inexpensive. Pastel and clear pieces are less common, and thus more valuable.

Check for signs that the piece is truly from the so-called Golden Era of carnival glass (1920 -1930). Vintage carnival glass was rarely marked, whereas modern glass is usually marked. Modern carnival glass also lacks the satiny finish of vintage pieces. Compare your piece to known examples of vintage carnival glass in reference books and on websites devoted to antique glassware.

Check for flaws or cracks in the piece, and for signs that the piece has been repaired. Flaws and repairs will lessen its value. Use a magnifying glass for a thorough check. Small bubbles in the glass do not affect the value, unless there are many of them -- but a larger bubble will. [

Look at printed and online price guides to determine what prices carnival glass has commanded over the past few years. Online auction sites are also a source of current market worth. Pricing depends not only upon rarity and quality, but upon what a collector is willing to pay now for your piece of carnival glass.

Things Needed

  • Strong light
  • Magnifying glass

Tip

The most common color of carnival glass is marigold, a brown/orange/amber mixture. Red is the rarest color because of the large amount of gold oxide that was used to create it.

Carnival glass came in many unusual shapes, including hat pin holders, beads and wall pockets. These will be worth more than a common cup or small jug.

Warning

Carnival glass is still made in small amounts today, and sometimes the older molds are used. This makes it more difficult to tell the age of a piece.

Due to the popularity of carnival glass as a collectible, there are many fakes on the market.

Since there are so many variables of pattern and color in antique carnival glass, even experts have difficulty in identifying pieces.

About the Author

Laura Crawley has been writing professionally since 1991. She has written about urban history for "The Hillhurst-Sunnyside Voice." She has also written about New York City history at the Virtual Dime Museum website and about popular culture at Kitchen Retro. Crawley holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Swarthmore College and a Master of Arts in English from the University of Toronto.