Celebrates 100 Year
By JUDY PENZ SHELUK
Antiques & Collectibles Showcase
"We make glass the old-fashioned way, using many techniques
and tools that are essentially unchanged from those of a
century ago." George W. Fenton, President and CEO, Fenton Art
Fenton's old-fashioned techniques and values are more than
just another advertising gimmick. In 2005, the Fenton Art
Glass Company celebrates its 100th anniversary. Among the
400-plus employees in Williamstown, West Virginia
commemorating the event are 10 Fenton family members, a third
and fourth generation actively involved in the company's
Company co-founder Frank L. Fenton (1880-1948) started his
career at age 17, when he was employed by the Northwood Glass
Co. as a glass decorator. In 1905, he started a glass
decorating firm in Martins Ferry, Ohio with his brother, John
Determined to do more, Frank and John pooled their resources
of $284, persuaded two other brothers to join them, and built
a factory near an abundant source of natural gas in
Williamstown, W.Va. The first piece, a Water Lily and Cattails
crystal cream pitcher, was made on January 2, 1907.
The company's early success can be attributed to the vision of
Frank L. Fenton. In addition to being the firm's first
president, throughout his lifetime, Frank was responsible for
the design of most of Fenton's products. His desire to develop
new and unusual colours and patterns allowed the company to
remain in the forefront of the handmade art glass industry.
Among the first of Frank L.'s innovations was Chocolate glass,
which was made from mid-1907 to about 1910. As with all of
Fenton's glassware, no two pieces are ever the same, and the
unique colours of Chocolate glass include shades of caramel,
mocha and milky cocoa. Today, prices for vintage pieces range
from $60 for a small bowl, to about $700 for a six-inch vase.
In 1975-76, Fenton reproduced seven Chocolate glass pieces for
the U.S. Bicentennial. To celebrate their 100th Anniversary, a
small selection of Chocolate glass was again produced in 2005.
The first offerings were limited to sales up to May 15, 2005;
a release of five new shapes was issued in June, and will be
available only until the end of this year.
Frank L.'s early days were also heavily influenced by Tiffany
and Steuben, a fascination which remained until the 1920s. The
earliest result was Carnival glass, an iridized pressed
pattern glass first produced in late 1907 at a price point
aimed at the average American. Although other companies
produced Carnival glass, Fenton was the first, and one of the
most prolific makers producing more than 150 patterns in a
variety of colours.
In 1970, Fenton began reproducing iridescent glass as limited
edition specials. Collectors can differentiate between vintage
and reproduction by looking for the Fenton oval on the bottom
of the later pieces.
Prices of vintage Carnival glass are based on rarity,
aesthetic appeal, pattern, overall condition and quality of
the iridescence. As a general rule, pieces with brilliant
iridescence will command a higher price than those with a
Although very collectible today, by 1921 the public's interest
in Carnival glass had waned, and Fenton began to actively
market plain iridescent glassware. Commonly referred to as
"stretch" glass, success. Fenton's experiments had started as
early as 1917 with the introduction of Celeste Blue.
A favourite throughout the 1920s, Celeste Blue was made in
large numbers, with pieces ranging from compotes to
candleholders. Today, prices start from about $35 to $50.
Although there are exceptions - a vanity set might command
close to $500 - most pieces of Celeste Blue can still be found
for less than $150. Celeste Blue was re-introduced in 1992 as
part of Fenton's 90th anniversary celebration; again, newer
pieces are identifiable by the Fenton oval logo.
Not all of Fenton's experiments met with iridescent glassware.
In 1925, Fenton introduced a Tiffany style art glass, hiring a
group of highly skilled European glassblowers to produce off
hand art glass, which were blown to a general shape without
the use of molds. Although vases were the prevalent form,
candlesticks, candy dishes, bowls and tobacco jars were also
produced. Patterns included Hanging Hearts, Hanging Vine,
Mosaic Inlaid, and Pulled Feather.
Unfortunately, the increased cost of production translated to
retail prices which were too expensive for the times. At the
end of a one-year contract with the glassblowers, Fenton
discontinued their experiment with off hand art glass,
offering unsold pieces to employees for 50 cents an item.
Extremely rare, and very attractive, today Fenton's off hand
art glass is much in demand. At a recent Skinner auction, an
8-1/2 inch Mosaic Inlaid Egyptian style vase sold for more
than $1,998; a smaller, five-inch Mosaic Inlaid vase realized
$1,093. For collectors on a more limited budget, Fenton has
released a special (2005) edition Myriad Mosaic Vase for $385.
Based on the original mold shape and style, this retro design
is achieved by a Fenton artisan covering black glass with
opaque glass chips.
Fenton also began making non-iridescent glassware from about
1921. Once again directed to the average homeowner, pieces
were available in clear and opaque, and in a variety of shapes
and colours. To get through shortages caused by the Depression
and the Second World War, during the 1930s and 1940s, Fenton
focused their production on a number of practical items, such
as mixing bowls and everyday tableware.
Nevertheless, even during tough times, Fenton continued to
develop a wide array of new colours and patterns, and it was
likely this dedication that allowed them to continue when
others failed. Baskets, Cranberry glass, Spiral Optic, Satin
glass, Crested ware (glassware with an applied coloured or
crystal rim), and the signature Hobnail pattern all made their
debut in the mid to late 1930s.
Acid etched Satin glass was made for a relatively short time,
with production dating from 1935 to 1939. Some patterns, such
as Ming, San Toy and Wisteria, appear on eBay with some
regularity. Less common are Scenic, Poinsettia, Twin Ivy and
Snow Fern. Although some pieces of etched Satin glass were
made in colour, the majority were made in clear crystal.
Spiral Optic was another short-lived release, introduced in
1938 and disappearing from the company's catalogue by 1940.
Ten years later, Cranberry Spiral Optic returned to the line,
some items discontinued within the second year, others being
introduced and surviving to about 1960. These limited runs of
Spiral Optic have continued throughout the company's history,
with specific product/colour releases issued in 1979, 1985,
1986, 1988, and from the 1990s to present day.
The first Crest ware pattern was Blue Ridge. Although this
particular pattern was only made for one year, with very few
exceptions, Crest ware has been part of the Fenton line since
its inception. Besides a variety of colour choices, several
Crest ware patterns are enhanced with hand-painted floral
decorations. The first of these, Violets in the Snow, was
introduced in 1967.
Vases, baskets, top hats and bowls are among the most common
items found in Crest ware, although cake plates, lamps, jugs,
bells, clocks, decorative objects and candlesticks have also
been made. In the 1940s and '50s, epergnes were extremely
popular. Made by Fenton, and distributed by L. G. Wright, each
epergne had a large central straight cone and three smaller
Perhaps the most recognizable Fenton glassware is their
Hobnail pattern. What started in 1935 as a lamp front soon
escalated to making barber bottles for L. G. Wright
(1936-1938) and perfume bottles for the Wrisley Company of
In 1940, Fenton began producing Hobnail pieces for inclusion
in their own annual catalogue. Among the first colours were
Cranberry, crystal, French Opalescent and green. Goblets,
tumblers, a sherbet dish and an eight-inch plate of Fenton's
signature white milk glass were also introduced in 1940,
although all of these products were pulled from their 1941
catalogue. The line was officially reintroduced in 1950, and
this is generally accepted by collectors as Hobnail's formal
Hobnail has also been produced in a wide variety of colours
and styles, including hand-painted, decorated pieces, and a
number of table, floor and ceiling lamps, although the most
extensive issue is white Hobnail milk glass. These have been
introduced and discontinued on an ongoing basis, and can be
confusing to date. A best buy for collectors of this pattern
is Review of Fenton's Milk Glass, Revised Edition by Shirley
Griffith, which features all known white Hobnail milk glass at
time of publication (1994; 2002 price guide).
In 1948, Frank M. Fenton took over as President, and his
influence was evident in the 1980s. In 1983, the announcement
of the Connoisseur Collection stated that "With the guidance
of Frank M. Fenton, Chairman and connoisseur of fine American
Glass, we have put together this group of nine items as a very
special offering for those who love glass and desire the
Through the years, the Connoisseur Collection included product
selections which showcased Fenton's talented decorating
designers, and featured an assortment of distinctive designs
and classic colour treatments.
In 2005, the Connoisseur Collection was replaced by the
Platinum Collection, which showcases the "Best of Fenton -
past, present and future." Each piece bears the 100th
Anniversary logo, is numbered, and is strictly limited.
Another addition to Fenton's 2005 collection is Generations,
which reflects four generations of aquamarine. Items include
the simple Aquamarine stretch so popular in the 1920s, the
jewel-like Aquamarine Opalescent Marigold of the 1980s, and a
contemporary shade of copper-gold aquamarine.
As Fenton heads into the future, they can look back upon their
history with pride. In a century where many other glassmakers
failed, Fenton has continued to experience significant growth,
becoming America's largest manufacturer of handmade coloured
glass. In today's hi-tech society, it appears that
old-fashioned techniques and family values are still a winning
*Author's Note: All prices in U.S. dollars
[SIDE BAR]: Did You Know?
In 1987, Fenton formed an ongoing relationship with QVC, a
home shopping network. The first Fenton product to appear on
QVC was The Birthstone Bears. The partnership was a huge
success; today, over 1,400 different Fenton pieces have been
sold on QVC in the US, and in London, England.