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Fenton Glassware Collecting

Fancy Frills in Art Glass

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Fenton Collection at Round Top

Fenton Collection at Round Top

-Pamela Wiggins
Fenton History

This firm located in Williamstown, W. Va. 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 wares increased, they began to produce their own glassware lines in 1907.

During their early years, Fenton found inspiration from the designs of glass masters Tiffany and Steuben. As a result, they 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, and some of them sell for very good sums today.

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

In the late '40s when many glass companies were going out of business, Fenton remained at the top through the dedication of family members running the business. By 1986, a third generation of Fentons took charge of the company and continued to make glassware collected and admired around the world.

Hobnail, Ruffles and Crests

The popularity of milk glass in the early '50s led the company to develop a line of white Hobnail glass. It was so well-liked at this time, they could count on it as a sure seller for many years to come. Now, while these milk glass pieces do have their ardent fans, they are usually fairly reasonably priced on the secondary collectibles market.

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 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 in the $200-300 range when they can be found.

Evaluating Fenton's Marks to Value Glass

Many of the company's items made since 1973 are already very collectible. These pieces 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 a guide they referred to as their "history books" which were available through their 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 through Amazon.com and Half.com, including several excellent reference guides authored by 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 be worth in excess of $1,000 apiece. You'll find far more Fenton pieces worth much less than $100 each, however, so each one must be researched individually to determine value.

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 it's neck of West Virginia by offering facility tours, a yearly tent sale, and a museum filled with beautiful glass to visitors who will surely miss this popular destination.

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