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Museum Feature

Blue Opalescent "Swan" Bowl by Fenton

For our museum feature this month, we feature a "Swan" bowl in a gorgeous blue opalescent carnival glass color from Fenton. Carnival glass is a form of pressed glass that appears in a wide variety of iridescent colors. Introduced in 1901 as a more affordable version of the expensive iridescent glass produced by companies like Steuben and Tiffany & Co., carnival glass showcases a colorful sheen that comes from the application of metallic salt vapors added to the surface of the molten glass as it cools from its initial pressing.

In 1907, Fenton was at the forefront of carnival glass production, and labeled their first line of iridescent glass “Iridill” (the term "carnival glass" was not used until adopted by collectors in the 1950s and 1960s, since this type of glassware was sometimes given away as prizes at amusement parks and carnivals). Over the years, Fenton produced around 150 different carnival glass patterns. The initial popularity of carnival glass began to decline in the early 1930s, but it remains highly desirable among collectors today.

The Fenton Art Glass Company was founded in 1905 by brothers John and Frank Fenton in Martins Ferry, Ohio. The company initially focused on decorating glass blanks produced by other glass companies. Within a couple of years, the brothers had difficulty acquiring the glass blanks they needed, and decided to open their own glassware factory. The first Fenton factory opened on January 2, 1907 in Williamstown, West Virginia. Fenton quickly became known for producing a beautiful assortment of glass with striking colors and decorations. Over the next several decades, this creative edge would keep Fenton at the forefront of the glassware market.

While many other art glass manufacturers struggled during the Great Depression, Fenton survived by producing more utilitarian glassware that could be used in the home, including mixing and serving bowls. In 1939, the company began producing its tremendously popular line of "Hobnail" milk glass; this line was later referred to by Bill Fenton as the company’s "bread and butter." Following World War II, Fenton Art Glass began to grow again, and was passed down to two successive generations of the Fenton family during the second half of the 21st century. In 2007, Fenton Art Glass announced that their hot glass production would cease, but, due to a flurry of increased sales, the company remained active until turning off the fires in their glass furnaces in 2011.

Although the Fenton "Swan" bowl in our museum is not for sale, we do have a variety of other fantastic Fenton pieces available; be sure to browse our web site. And remember that we always invite you to visit our facilities – here you’ll see a stunning variety of silver, china, crystal, and collectibles. Our retail store and museum are open from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm ET, 7 days (except holidays); free tours are available from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm ET, 7 days. The retail store and museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. We look forward to seeing you.

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