Fenton Glassware Collecting

Fancy Frills in Art Glass

Fenton Glassware at Gannon's Antiques & Art in Fort Myers, Florida.
Gannon's Antiques & Art

Fenton Art Glass produced beautifully designed glassware between 1905 and 2011. Many of its unique "frilly" pieces are considered collectibles. Prices range dramatically; while some items are easily affordable, others can be worth thousands of dollars. Whether you eager to buy or sell, it's worth your while to learn more about Fenton Art Glass.

History of Fenton Art Glass

Fenton Art Glass got its start as a glass decorating company in 1905 painting on plain blanks made by other glassware manufacturers. As demand for the company's designs increased, Fenton began to produce its own glassware lines in 1907 after moving from Ohio to Williamstown, West Virginia.

During their early years, Fenton found inspiration in the designs of glass masters Tiffany and Steuben. As a result, it introduced iridescent glass collectors now know as carnival glass. Fenton went on to produce more than 130 patterns of this popular glassware, according to information formerly published in Schroeder's Antiques Price Guide (now out of print), and some of them sell for very good sums today.

Over the years Fenton also manufactured custard glass, chocolate glass, opalescent glass, and stretch glass among others. And, to keep the factory running during the lean Depression and World War II years, it made utilitarian items such as mixing bowls, juice reamers, and other glass kitchen items.

In the late 1940s when many glass companies were going out of business, Fenton stayed on course as a result of dedicated family members piloting the company. By 1986, the third generation of Fentons took charge of the business and continued to make glassware collected and admired around the world.

Hobnails, Ruffles, and Crests

The popularity of milk glass in the early 1950s led the company to develop a line of white hobnail glass. It was so well-liked during this period that Fenton counted on it as a sure seller for many years. Now, while these milk glass pieces do have their ardent fans, they are usually fairly reasonably priced in the secondary collectibles marketplace.

Other hobnail patterns, such as opalescent hobnail on cranberry, blue or green glass, can be worth quite a bit more depending on the item. It's hard to generalize on value with these pieces though, so each one much be researched individually to ferret out rarities.

The unique ruffled edges found on many Fenton wares also worked perfectly for the creation of the company's "crest" lines. Opaque glass, such as custard glass or milk glass, was often used to form the base of these items while a clear or colored border around the ruffled edge added a touch of interest.

Pieces with a clear ruffle were named "Silver Crest," while those with a bright green border were called "Emerald Crest." Other colors applied in the same fashion are popular with collectors including the "Snow Crest" and "Ebony Crest" pieces with reversed effect along the edges in opaque white or black. Some Ebony Crest pieces can be quite valuable with even small vases selling for prices in the hundreds when they can be found.

Evaluating Fenton's Marks to Value Glass

Many of the Fenton's items made since 1973 are already very collectible. These items are marked with an oval-shaped Fenton raised logo molded directly into the glass.

Pieces produced before 1973 were marked with various stick-on paper labels which usually wore away with cleaning and handling. While many pieces have an inherent Fenton look about them, others may not be as obvious and further research must be done to verify the maker.

In 2004 Fenton issued guides it referred to as its "history books" which were available through numerous glass dealers and directly from the company. Older glass made by this company can be researched through these guides, which are now out of print but can still be located with a little effort. A number of other out of print books on Fenton are also available online, including several excellent reference guides authored by respected glass collectors and experts Margaret and Kenn Whitmyer.

Once an older unsigned piece is identified as Fenton, then research can be done to assess the popularity of that particular item in terms of color, design, and decoration. The next step in evaluating a piece requires researching recent selling prices. Some early cranberry and carnival glass pieces can sell in the thousands. 

Don't let the high values of certain rarities scare you away though. You'll find far more Fenton pieces worth much less than $100 each. Many pieces sell for as little as $10 to 20, so each one must be researched individually to determine value. A beautiful collection of Fenton can still be amassed very reasonably for folks sticking to a budget.

The End of an Era

After flirting with financial difficulties for a number of years, this family-owned company officially closed its doors in 2011. As the largest producer of handmade colored glass in the country, the Fenton factory was the hub of tourism in its area of West Virginia by offering facility tours, a yearly tent sale, and a museum filled with beautiful glass pieces.