Fabulous Fenton
By Karen Parr-Moody

Out of Ohio came Fenton Art Glass, the incredibly feminine glass that is known for ruffled edges, romantic colors and curvaceous silhouettes. At GasLamp Antiques and Decorating Mall and GasLamp Too, one finds many examples of Fenton.

The company was founded in Ohio in 1905 by Frank L. Fenton and his brother John W. Fenton. Within two years Fenton — which began simply, as a business of painting other firms' glass — moved to a new Fenton factory in West Virginia. The firm quickly became a glass-blowing business.

Frank Fenton was known for his eagerness to develop new colors of glass. With one such glass, Fenton created a seismic shift: In 1907, the firm introduced what it called “Iridescent” glass. This ultimately become known as the widely collected “Carnival” glass.  

For the first couple of decades, Fenton's design was influenced by the firms of Tiffany and Steuben. However, by the 1920s Frank Fenton’s push for innovation resulted in hand-blown glass of a wide variety of types, including opalescent, milk, chocolate and custard.

In the 1930s more achievements came. Cranberry glass, made with gold, debuted; the vase pictured in the photo, above right, is made of opalescent cranberry glass with a “coin dot” pattern (pink Fenton coin-drop vase; $79.95; Booth B-210).

This small vase also possesses a major Fenton trademark that emerged during the 1930s — the delicate ruffle of the “crimp” and “double crimp” seen at the edges of vases and other objects. This set Fenton apart in the art glass world, as only a highly skilled craftsman could spin a ruffle of molten glass onto a piece.

The photo, left, shows a Fenton “Jack in the Pulpit” vase with a "Silver Crest" ruffle and an opalescent coin dot pattern ($98, Booth B-106). The creation of the company's “Crest” lines occurred during the 1940s. Opaque glass formed the body of such items, while a clear or colored border was added around the ruffled edge. Clear ruffled edges were called “Silver Crest,” bright green borders were called “Emerald Crest,” opaque white was “Snow Crest,” and black was “Ebony Crest.”

Practical items dominated the Great Depression era and the years of World War II. However, even during these times, designs with an unmistakably trademark look began to appear. In 1938, Fenton made perfume bottles of French opalescent glass in a hobnail pattern for the Wrisley Company. This expanded by 1939 into a variety of items done in hobnail milk glass, which would become the firm’s top-selling line. By the 1950s, milk glass hobnail was known as Fenton’s “flagship pattern.”

A variety of opaque glass colors also became desirable during the 1950s. In the photo, right, is an opaque milk glass vase with a satin pink interior ($46; Booth B-106). The vase also possesses a clear ruffled edge.  

In the last few years, Fenton has encountered financial problems that threatened to dismantle the company. However, these have been solved, and today Fenton Art Glass Company remains the largest manufacturer of handmade colored glass in the United States.

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