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Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Kaleidoscope of The Carnival Glass Makers

Oh, those beautiful hues we see as the light plays with the golden iridescence on the colored glass - pinks, purples, teals, blues and greens changing with each turn of the glass against the light.  I love the old carnival glass.  There are patterns that I love from all the great carnival glass manufacturers, but I think I love Millersburg the most.  You can get lost in a piece of glass looking at the kaleidoscope of colors - pinks, purples, greens and teals and oh, that radium finish.

Millersburg Blackberry Wreath 

There were five main carnival glass makers - Fenton, Northwood, Dugan, Millersburg and Imperial. Fenton introduced carnival glass to the world in 1907 and for the next 25 years, the stories of the men and relationships between these great glass companies are like a kaleidoscope as much as the carnival glass itself.  First in a series of five articles.

Fenton Art Glass - Of the five major old carnival glass companies, Fenton Art Glass has been in operation the longest.  Brothers, Frank L. and John W. Fenton opened Fenton Art Glass Company in July 1905 in Martins Ferry, Ohio as a decorating company using glassware made by other companies.  In a few years, land was purchased in Williamstown, W.Va and their first glass was produced on January 2, 1907.  It is said that their first piece of glass produced was a crystal cream pitcher in the Water Lily and Cattails pattern. The company officers were John W. as president, Frank L. as secretary/treasurer and general manager and Charles Fenton as vice-president.   A turn of the kaleidoscope and you see the hiring of their first plant manager, Jacob Rosenthal.  Jacob Rosenthal had worked at the Indiana Tumbler & Goblet Company in Greentown, IN from the fall of 1900 to June 13, 1903 when the Indiana Tumbler & Goblet Company burned to the ground and was never rebuilt.  While at Greentown, Indiana, Jacob Rosenthal invented the famous chocolate colored glass, Golden Agate aka Holly Amber and Rose Agate.
Fenton introduced carnival glass to the world later in 1907.  They produced this beautiful iridescent glass in many colors - green, marigold (clear glass), amethyst, blue, red and all the colors in between.   Numerous patterns with many different shapes and edgings.  I consider the Vintage or Grape Delight pattern their most recognized pattern.  Some of my favorite patterns include Acorn, Dragon and Lotus, Persian Medallion, Little Flowers, Orange Tree, several Peacock patterns and my most favorite, the Panther pattern and the Sailboats pattern.


Some Fenton pieces of my carnival glass collection including Acorn and Panther in marigold (golden) and Orange Tree, Persian Medallion and Sailboats in Cobalt Blue.  A lot of times, Fenton would use one pattern for the interior and a different pattern for the exterior.  Fenton used Orange Tree as the exterior pattern for a lot of pieces.  The Sailboats dish shown below has the Orange Tree pattern on the exterior.  The kaleidoscope is always turning..........


Frank L. Fenton, born in 1880 in Indiana, Pa, graduated from high school in 1897 and began his glass-making career that same year by becoming an apprentice at Northwood Glass Company when it was located in the old Indiana Glass Company glass plant in Indiana, Pa. and Harry Northwood was running the factory.  Frank became a foreman in 1898.   Frank L. left Northwood in 1900.  Harry Northwood had sold to the National Glass Company in 1899.  Frank L. went to work for a new glass company, Jefferson Glass Co in Steubenville, Oh.  Harry Bastow was the president and general manager of this new company.  When Harry Bastow opened his own business, Bastow Glass Company in Coudersport, Pa, Frank L. Fenton followed.  This was in late 1903.  John W. Fenton also worked there.  The Bastow Glass Company was destroyed by fire in mid 1904 and Frank L. Fenton moved to Wheeling, Pa to work for the new H. Northwood & Company in Wheeling, Pa.  The Fenton - Northwood connection and another turn of the kaleidoscope.

According to everything I have read about the Fentons, John W. was a character with a peacock personality.   He enjoyed an extravagant lifestyle and was a very generous man.  Financial prudence was not in his DNA.  I want to share the following story that I read in the book by William Heacock called Fenton Glass The First Twenty-five Years about how Frank and John Fenton made the decision to form their own company
"On May 4, 1905, Frank L. Fenton deposited in the Dollar Bank in Wheeling $284.86, which has given rise to a romantic legend about the company's humble origins.  As it was handed down in the family circles, John once told Frank that if the latter ever wanted to go into business for himself he should call on John for financial help.  Frank called on John and was asked, "How much money do you have?"
$284." was the reply
"Good," remarked John.  "Between the two of us we now have $284.86.  Let's get started."  
In July, 1905, Frank and John opened their own glass decorating shop, the Fenton Art Glass Company in Martins Ferry, Ohio.  Another brother, Charles H. soon joined them.  Charles had worked for the Northwood glass plant.  Charles became head of the decorating department.

Fenton Art Glass celebrated their 100th anniversary of glass production in 2007.  While they are still active and still under the family ownership, they closed their traditional glass making in 2011.


Next article - Millersburg  

Sources Used
William Heacock, James Measell, Berry Wiggins, Harry Northwood The Early Years 1881-1900  
Margaret & Kenn Whitmyer, Fenton Art Glass 1907 - 1939
William Heacock, Fenton Glass The First Twenty-five Years
Debbie and Randy Coe, Fenton Art Glass A Centennial of Glass Making 1907-2007
Bill Edwards, Millersburg The Queen of Carnival Glass
James Measell, Greentown Glass the Indiana Tumbler & Goblet Company