Another item that is likely to appear on the list of odd valuable items your grandma left you is a carnival glass.
From its lowly beginnings as a second-rate substitute for higher-end glassware like Steuben and Tiffany, (some of the best) carnival glass pieces have gone on to rank amongst the most prestigious glass pieces, appearing in the classiest homes and becoming a symbol of affluence.
Carnival glass—also known as taffeta, dope, or aurora glass—earned its name in the early 20th Century from being a form of cheap glassware handed out in place of toys as rewards at carnival games.
This status, unsurprisingly, earned this type of glassware a lousy rep amongst most folks, with many considering them unfit to be part of a classy kitchen.
However, thanks to the production of several exquisite, high-skilled pieces by the top glassware houses over the years, the best carnival glass specimens have now earned their rightful place as ultra-valuable, extremely sought-after statement pieces.
While most (mass-produced) carnival glass pieces still remain relatively cheap and available to all, some of the rarer, more intricate specimens can attract considerable ransoms on the collector’s market.
Here is a rundown of the most expensive carnival glass items you can buy today.
Most Valuable Carnival Glass
Contrary to popular opinion, not all carnival glass is cheap. At the top echelon of this glassware type, you will find highly detailed pieces that can fetch hefty sums on the open market.
The bulk of these elaborate specimens are high-color variety pieces crafted in the early 1900s by one of the top glass companies (such as the Northwood Glass Company and the Fenton Art Glass Company) either to commemorate a momentous event or as a standalone statement piece.
Today, the prices of these high-end pieces also depend heavily on other factors such as their condition, rarity level (one-of-ones ranking the highest,) or if they come bundled in a complete set.
The most valuable carnival glass specimens today include:
Millersburg People’s Vase in Blue
Last Finalized Auction Price: $155,000
The Millersburg People’s Vase is considered by many in the industry to be the unrivaled, most exquisite carnival glass piece ever created, and they often tout it as the quintessential embodiment of luxurious antique carnival glass
One look at this piece, then comparing it to all the others we’ve seen, and we couldn’t agree more.
The Millersburg vase immediately catches the eye thanks to its intense and vibrant multi-colored surface that sports several hues of marigold, blue, green, and amethyst. The crafting on the exterior of the glass piece also takes the form of people dancing in a circle, which is where the vase gets its name.
However, aesthetics aside, the Millersburg People’s Vase in Blue has an even more interesting backstory.
The piece was created by John Fenton, one of the Fenton brothers and the co-founder of the renowned Fenton Art Glass Company, which was established in 1905.
However, just three years after the company was established, John Fenton fell out with his brother Frank Fenton, leaving his active role in the company to found his own company, which he called Millersburg Glass.
Just two years later, in 1910, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands’ royal family gave birth to her first daughter and new heir, and the Millersburg Glass company was commissioned by the royal family to make ten carnival glass vases in honor of the queen and her new child.
Keen to make a name for himself and his new company, John Fenton outdid himself, creating ten spectacular vases that are still today considered the most iconic carnival glass pieces ever made. Of these ten original pieces, only eight are surviving today.
One of these specimens set the record for carnival glass pieces in 2018, selling out at auction for a whopping $155,000. This lot was purchased by Chris Sieverdes, the owner of the Millersburg Glass Museum.
Carnival glass is one of the cheapest iridescent glasses to produce. Its production follows a more straightforward process than with other forms of iridescent glass, such as Steuben and Tiffany.
This type of glass gets its dynamic shine from applying specific chemicals such as metallic salts to the pressed glass immediately after pressing and before it is fired. This process gives the glass a similar iridescence to other types like Tiffany glass which is blown instead.
While this glass type earned its name from its use as a reward in carnivals, the bulk of these items produced in the early 1900s were purchased as cheap ornamental objects to help brighten homes.
Such highly reflective pieces were instrumental in homes during this time period, as they helped further spread the lighting generated by oil lamps to the far reaches of the building. At that time, only affluent families could afford to use bright electrical lighting indoors.
Northwood Wisteria Vase In Emerald Green
Last Finalized Auction Price: $140,000
No discussion on carnival glass can be complete without the mention of Harry Northwood and the Northwood Glass Company.
Harry Northwood, the son of a renowned English cameo glass maker, John Northwood, founded the company in 1902, and with his brother Carl Northwood working by his side, went on to dominate the space of carnival glass during its height in the first few decades of the 20th Century.
While Northwood’s company indulged in a wide variety of glass types and styles during its production years (1908-1925), it is best known for its carnival glass, as it produced some of the most adored and successful patterns of the time.
This one-of-one green vase is considered by many to be Harry Northwood’s Magnus opus and arguably one of the finest pieces of carnival glass ever made.
The rare green vase sports a vibrant green surface, with a transparent look and a brownish wash dotting the landscape to add even more character. The piece takes the shape of a small water pitcher, but without handles, so it remains a vase. However, it is brilliant colors and intricate detailing across the entire frame that genuinely sets this carnival glass piece above most others.
Today, the Northwood Wisteria Vase In Emerald Green remains one of the most sought-after carnival glass pieces available anywhere. The unique specimen last sold for $140,000 in 2018.
Northwood Peacock and Urn Stippled Bowl in Vaseline
Last Finalized Auction Price: $66,000
This specimen is yet another masterpiece produced by the Northwood Glass Company in its prime.
This glass bowl, which was manufactured sometime during the company’s existence, is another of its crowning works, as it features a lustrous aesthetic and an extreme level of detailing that is hard to match.
The ten-and-a-quarter-inch bowl sports a vaseline glass base that glows in the dark with its distinct yellow hue and turns into brilliant green in different lighting. To complement this frosty look, the manufacturer finished the piece with an eye-catching pastel iridescent finish that gives the bowl a dreamy, almost psychedelic feel.
Further enhancing the piece’s magnificence is its centerpiece design which depicts a male peacock in its full glory with an urn behind it, standing atop a raised platform. At the same time, an intricate floral motif covers the remaining available space. This detailed design, with its many delicate intricacies, complements the already profound lushness of the base material to create a statement piece that is truly one of a kind.
According to ornamental glass experts, this carnival glass bowl is one of the only two existing ones that sport this design language and finish.
Unsurprisingly, this rare piece commands substantial ransoms on the collector’s market, with the specimen last selling for $66,000 in 2019.
Northwood Tornado Large Vase In Celeste
Last Finalized Auction Price: $60,000
Yet another Northwood piece that is sure to impress is this striking blue glass vase that immediately arrests the attention of any onlooker.
The stirring curves of the vase’s profile evoke a sense of intense fragility yet, in the same stroke, seems to embody unbridled wanton violence. This complex juxtaposing effect is precisely what the creator intended, as this vase is modeled after a tornado.
The top of the piece is especially striking as it is made of lighter glass, folded multiple times to create three corners, all of which contain stream-like patterns running across them.
The entire unit sports different shades of a distinct brilliant cobalt blue hue that makes the unit feel like something rising from the depth of the ocean.
A rare one-of-one, this piece is the only one of its kind known to exist, a fact that further adds to its already robust mystique. Unsurprisingly, this unique specimen has been the subject of intense collectors’ interest since its creation. Yet, while the piece has been heavily sought-after, it has a relatively tiny provenance of only four known previous owners, showing you how unlikely each previous owner was to let it go.
Furthermore, Northwood Tornado Large Vase In Celeste last sold for $60,000 at an auction.
Millersburg Cleveland Memorial Souvenir Ashtray
Last Finalized Auction Price: $55,000
While Millersburg Glass sure outdid itself in the production of People’s Vase in Blue, that is not their only commemorative piece worthy of note. This marigold ashtray designed to highlight the beauty of Cleveland easily ranks as a masterpiece in its own right.
While the date and reason for its production are still unknown, some experts speculate that it could have been produced to commemorate a significant event in Cleveland’s history, like a centennial.
The piece is one of the most detailed pieces on this list, featuring intricate patterns as well as five different framed scenes.
The front of the ashtray is divided in the form of a 4-road roundabout, with four corner sections and a central, more rounded segment. Each subdivision depicts one of Cleveland’s most prominent architectural structures from around the time of the piece’s production.
While its rarity, exquisite detailing, and tribute to Cleveland are enough to rank this specimen as one of the greats, what truly sets it apart from most others is its color. The piece sports a distinct marigold hue with evenly distributed darker and brighter shades and small clusters of rainbow iridescent finish that is sure to impress.
This Millersburg Cleveland Memorial Souvenir Ashtray is one of the few carnival glass pieces that arguably look as expensive as its price tag. And with five or fewer units of this piece suspected to exist at the time, that price tag is no pushover.
The specimen pictured here last sold at auction in June 2020 for $55,000.
Fenton Goddess Of Harvest Bowl In Blue
Last Finalized Auction Price: $52,500
This piece is the only one on this list that features the head profile of a humanoid, but that is far from its only selling point.
One of this unit’s most prominent standout features is its unique color. The piece sports a rare blue hue that is so rare that this bowl is the only one known to have it. The blue color comes with an intense shade around the edges which are folded neatly into a wreath-like pattern that rims the entire edge of the surface.
As you move inwards, the blue color shifts to a significantly lighter shade while the iridescence goes up several notches. This striking rainbow finish is applied lavishly across the interior to create a psychedelic pattern.
Surrounding the head, which rests in the center of the piece, is an intricately detailed floral motif in the forms of leaves and looping vines that encircles and connects to the goddess’s head.
The profile in the center is one of Demeter, the Ancient Greek Goddess of fertility and harvest, complete with her hair made up of flowers and leaves.
One look at this bowl, and it’s easy to see why it costs so much. With the intense rarity of its color scheme, the extreme details in its design, and its flawless, near-perfect condition, we are pleasantly surprised that it doesn’t cost a tad bit more.
This Goddess Of Harvest Bowl In Blue, produced by Fenton Art Glass (a company that has produced glass patterns for over 100 years, since its inception in 1905,) last sold in 2014 for $52,500.
Millersburg Flowering Vine Amethyst
Last Finalized Auction Price: $50,000
This piece is one of the few high-end carnival glass wine glasses that has survived to this era, and it is a beauty.
The one-of-a-kind piece has one of the most eye-catching color spectrums of any of the specimens on this list.
Up top, the deep nebulous hues that spread out over from the base of the cup to its rim is spectacular to behold and the kind of charm they sing about in legends. Plus, the intense, strong iridescence produced by this elaborate finish bestows upon this unit is so pervasive that it almost conceals the bright undertones of the Amethyst base.
However, despite the extreme peculiarity of its color, the symmetry you will find in all parts of this specimen almost manages to steal the shine.
The base of the unit is a flat nonagonal slab, the stem of the glass maintains the same symmetry, while the top of the glass—which is shaped like open flower petals—is guaranteed to awe you with its uniformity. Inside the glass, you will also find a floral motif that lines the lower part of its interior.
This masterful piece was last sold at a 2019 auction in Ohio for $50,000.
Millersburg Hobster And Feather Vase In Green
Last Finalized Auction Price: $50,000
If you think it would be impossible to top the sublime aesthetics of the carnival glass units we already highlighted, look no further than this green otherworldly beauty. The piece is arguably one of the most breathtaking pieces of carnival glass that exists anywhere.
The vase’s most significant selling point is its mix of vibrant iridescent colors that all complement each other, creating a wholesome, tasteful color scheme that will impress even the harshest aesthetic critic.
The base color is a bright, luscious green that is akin to what you would find in well-feed freshwater seaweed, while the other accents include a mix of purple, red, brown, and yellow, all placed so perfectly that you could not find a more suitable position for them.
The entire vase is shaped and detailed with floral motifs that further reinforce this rich, lush feel, while the base, with its serrated edge, completes the luxurious look.
A beauty worthy of kings, you would be hard-pressed to find a carnival glass collector who does not want this unit displayed on their shelf. Furthermore, only one piece of this design exists in color green.
Consequently, the Millersburg Hobster And Feather Vase In Green attracts appropriately high ransoms, selling at auction for a massive $50,000 as far back as 2012.
Northwood Poppy Show Plate In Opal
Last Finalized Auction Price: $50,000
The best way to describe this show plate is to imagine the entire universe shrunk down and fitted into a small circular glass slab. Every bit of this piece screams out of this world, creating a mesmerizing image that you could easily get lost in and find yourself staring at for hours.
The highlight of this piece is the intense mix of vibrant pastel colors and varied texture that combines in the center to create a mashup of a fairy-tale-like undulating relief that immediately grips you. A glance from up to gives you the feeling of staring into the cosmos, and we would not be surprised if you leave with some psychedelic effect.
From the center, tiny threads of the same color motif spread out in all directions, fading out as they move towards the mildly serrated edge.
Besides the center, which pops with color, the rest of the piece sports a light blue haze that slightly dulls out the mix of colors underneath. Viewed as a whole, the entire piece takes the form of a magical, ethereal volcano that peaks slightly above the clear skies above.
If we had the funds at hand, we would definitely add this one to our own collection.
Unfortunately, a wealthier collector already beat us to it, purchasing this beauty for a colossal $45,000 back in 2011. We doubt he will be selling anytime soon.
Millersburg Morning Glory Pitcher In Amethyst
Last Finalized Auction Price: $50,000
This pitcher produced by Millersburg takes iridescence to a whole other level. None of the other entries on this list—and few carnival glass pieces in the whole world—can match the level of intensity and vibrance you get with the colors on this unit.
The eye-catching pitcher, which sports a simple regular, and symmetric shape, outdoes itself when it comes to the color tone.
The unit is finished in amethyst which creates its unique, vibrant purple base, creating a surface that is filled with spates of purple in a variety of shades. However, it is the other hues, including green, gold, red, and brown, that take the piece to the next level, as it makes the vibrant purple and gold parts genuinely pop. The dull blue hand sits calmly in the background without taking away from the shine of the main piece.
With the unique glaze that comes with this exquisite specimen, we can almost guarantee that it will quickly become a statement piece in any collection, home, or museum.
This Millersburg Morning Glory Pitcher In Amethyst last sold for $42,000 in a 2017 auction.
What color of carnival glass is most valuable?
A carnival glass color can play a huge role in defining how valuable it becomes, especially for older pieces produced in the early 1900s.
During this time period, when the demand for carnival glass was at its peak, specimens with particular colors were extremely tough to produce with the available systems. Hence, the few units created in that time that had these colors became naturally rarer and more valuable.
Some of these rare colors include yellow, orange, red, and purple.