What Is Goofus Glass?

History and Manufacture of Painted Glass With a Goofy Name

Goofus glass plate
Treasures from Miiesa on RubyLane.com

Goofus glass by another name would be pressed glass or mold-blown glass with cold-painted (not fired on in a furnace) decoration. That’s quite a mouthful, so collectors simply prefer Goofus when referring to this type of decorative glassware.

Many of the Goofus patterns feature flowers and fruit, among other motifs, raised out of the surrounding glass as seen in vases, powder boxes, and lamps. This type of raised pattern in the glass is often referenced as "blown out." The pattern can also be pressed into the glass from beneath the surface providing an intaglio effect as found in Goofus plates, baskets, and candy dishes.

Prize Glass

Goofus glass found its way into homes very often as carnival prizes, making it the original carnival glass. But it’s also reported that this glassware was freely given away as premiums by gas stations, cinemas, jewelers, and other merchants.

The Concern With Cold Painting

Because the cold-painted decor flakes off easily, it’s quite difficult to find a piece of Goofus glass in perfect condition, whether the paint was applied to the outside or the inside of a piece. Some glass is even void of paint altogether. The earliest pieces of Goofus glass were reportedly undecorated. With others, the worn paint became so unsightly it was washed away by the original or subsequent owners.

The paint on Goofus glass pieces is usually gold mixed with red and/or green. An early nickname for the glass was “Mexican ware,” possibly due to the semblance of the Mexican flag with the red and green coloration. Other color variations can be found but not nearly as often, and gold is always prevalent. Generally, the glass beneath the cold paint is clear, but milk glass and other colored pieces can also be found leading to speculation that secondary decorating houses may have applied the paint rather than the original glass manufacturers.

Why It Is Called Goofus

There are a number of theories on how Goofus glass got its name, according to the Goofus Glass Museum’s online resources. Many people believe the first users of Goofus noticed how easily the painted decoration on this glass wore away and felt like they were being “goofed” or fooled. Others think it was because it was “goofy glass” given away at carnivals. There is, however, no definitive answer about how these collectible wares got this unusual name.

Although there isn’t much historical reference material available on this type of glass, it’s interesting to note that Goofus glass was originally marketed by such captivating names as “Egyptian Art,” “Golden Oriental,” and “Intaglio Art,” according to an article by David Ballentine for the Glass Encyclopedia.

Origin and History

Historians have had a hard time nailing down the exact time frame for Goofus glass production due to the lack of documentation by the original manufacturers, but 1897 through the early 1920s seems to be a good estimate based on current research.

Goofus glass was made by a number of noteworthy glass companies, but the most prolific manufacturers were the Northwood, Dugan, Jefferson, and Indiana glass companies. Northwood and Dugan made Goofus glass prior to beginning production of their more well-known carnival glass pieces in 1908.

Only one book exists in this collecting genre, Goofus Glass, by Carolyn McKinley. Copies of this title published in 1984 can be fairly pricey and hard to come by, and it’s reported to be limited in the information it imparts.

You can, however, find out more through the Goofus Glass Museum's website. The proliferation of photos includes the various types, colors, and pieces available in the secondary marketplace along with tips for buying and selling.

What Goofus Collectors Look for Today

Collectors pay more to own pieces made for special occasions or to commemorate a World’s Fair or another event than other nondescript examples. They also look for complete sets such as a large berry bowl with matching smaller bowls. The prize of the Goofus collector, however, could very well be an oil lamp complete with glass shade and matching base. Of course, Goofus glass in all shapes and forms in great condition with very little paint wear will bring a much better price than pieces with considerable loss to the finish.

It’s also important to note that collectors frown upon repainting Goofus glass. This is another case in the vast world of antiques where restoration will diminish the value of a piece entirely rather than enhancing it. If the paint is almost worn off a piece of Goofus glass and you find it to be totally unsightly, it’s better to remove it entirely rather than trying to repaint it.

How to Care for Goofus Glass

To avoid additional paint loss, handle Goofus glass as little as possible. Clean only the clear glass side of your pieces by wiping them carefully with a damp cloth to avoid washing away additional paint. Never put Goofus pieces in the dishwasher unless the glass is already completely devoid of paint, and even then, do so sparingly to avoid glass sickness (etching that causes irreversible cloudiness).

Lastly, don’t store your glass in attics or other storage facilities subject to temperature extremes or risk having the paint becoming even more brittle and easy to chip away.