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Fenton Glass Works was established in 1905 by brothers Frank and John Fenton, first in Martins Ferry, Ohio and subsequently moving to Williamstown, West Virginia the following year. The first real production year was 1907, the same year that they introduced carnival glass, and it became quite popular with a public fascinated by the iridescent glass produced by Tiffany and others but formerly inaccessible due to price. Carnival glass is made by spraying glass with various types of metallic salt solutions immediately after being removed from the glass mould. This spray is applied while the piece is still very hot, and it is this contact of a salts solution on hot glass that produces a thin coating which gives the piece its lustre or iridescence. The glass is then placed in a cooling lehr where it is slowly cooled to relieve internal stress to prevent breakage. Fenton made over 125 patterns of carnival glass. Most Fenton glass is pressed by hand and hand finished, giving it higher quality and more precision than other producers of similar works. Glass would be poured into a mold and then removed, but it was finished with hand tools to give it the crisp detail for which it is known. This technique also allowed for custom features like elongated vases, crimped edges, rolls, and so on. Most of the molds were designed by Frank, and the production was quite varied to include glasses, vases, goblets, and many other household items. Fenton glass was sold by the large retail stores of the period such as Woolworths. Other companies such as Northwood also produced their own interpretation of carnival glass, but Fenton arguably remained the top quality producer to meet the huge public demand in the early 1900s. Fenton was also well known for their opalescent glass, a complex glassmaking technique first pioneered by Tiffany and John LaFarge in America but perhaps taken to the pinnacle of design by René Lalique.

Frank L. Fenton c. 1913
World War I slowed down Fenton production considerably, but they survived and largely prospered until the coming of the Depression. During the period beginning about 1925, Fenton used the advanced techniques of threading and mosaic work in some of their production, but this proved too expensive and was stopped about 1927. During the depression, the public no longer had the ability to treat themselves to luxury items like hand made glass, so Fenton's fortunes declined. They survived by producing highly functional colored glass tableware and other household items like perfume bottles, performing subcontracting work for other retailers in what today is generically referred to as Depression Glass. Ironically, World War II was good for Fenton because no more European glass was imported and there was still a demand for high quality, hand made glass in the U.S. In the 1940s, Fenton's style changed markedly to an opaque colored glass in the Victorian style, a change which proved very popular with the tastes of the time. In the 1950s, production continued to diversify with a focus on milk glass and particularly hobnail milk glass. In the 1960s, Fenton produced a collector series of 12 plates commemorating early glass makers of America. By limiting production, these plates are relatively scarce and highly sought by collectors. The series was so successful that they followed with other series including 12 Christmas in America plates, Bi-centennial commemoratives, and others, and even carnival glass was still produced into this period.

Early Fenton production used various forms of paper labels to mark the glass. Production after 1969 has an oval mark with Fenton inside it, differentiating this later production from original period pieces. Other marks developed in subsequent years, and some pieces are hand decorated and signed by the artist. Burmese glass was introduced in the early 1970s, opaque with a cream trending to light pink coloration.

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Fenton Glass Compendium, 1940-1970 (Schiffer Book for Collectors) The Art of Carnival Glass (Schiffer Book for Collectors)
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