Canary Glass - Vaseline Glass - Vaseline Fine Rib Vase - Fenton Vaseline Glass - Topaz Opalescent
Fenton's Vaseline Opalescent Glass
of 1905-1929: rare and notable pieces
Close-up of a Fenton canary opalescent Fine Rib vase:
The Standard Encyclopedia of Opalescent Glass
assigns the vase a $500 book value.
photo courtesy of oxbeetle
The purpose of this guide is to furnish information on Fenton vaseline glass made before 1930, and to provide photographs of rare and unusual early Fenton vaseline glass pieces that appeared on E-Bay in 2007-2008. Part I of this guide focuses on Fenton's early canary opalescent glass. Part II provides information on Fenton's vaseline carnival glass. Part III is about Fenton's vaseline stretch glass. These guides have been made possible by the E-Bayers who have contributed photographs to them. Please leave feedback by clicking on the button at the bottom of this page.
The term "vaseline glass" encompasses a wide variety of glass, including, for example, clear, opalescent, carnival, stretch, cased and cut glass. To qualify as "vaseline," glass must contain at least 2% uranium dioxide; be yellow or yellowish-green in daylight; and fluoresce bright neon-green under ultraviolet light. Green depression glass, while fluorescent, is not "vaseline glass," nor are opaque fluorescent glasses such as custard and Burmese glass.
Vaseline glass was first produced in the United States in 1840. Known in the late Victorian era as "canary glass," vaseline glass reached the height of popularity in America between the late 1880's and 1905. Most high-quality American vaseline glass predates 1943: with the advent of World War II, the United States government curtailed the liberal use of uranium by glassworks. The Atomic Energy Commission did not lift the government's ban until 1958, when glassworks once again were able to use uranium as a coloring agent.
The Fenton Art Glass Company of Williamstown, West Virginia, opened in 1905 and still remains in operation. During its first two decades, the company produced vaseline glass in three noteworthy forms: pressed canary opalescent glass (beginning in 1905); vaseline carnival glass (1907-1927); and Topaz stretch glass (1917-1929). This part of our guide focuses on Fenton's canary opalescent glass made before 1930.
Fenton's Canary Opalescent Glass, 1905-1920:
Basketweave Open Edge and Fine Rib
Fenton's Basketweave Open Edge bowl, circa 1911
photo by creekside2
During the late 1800's and early 1900's, a number of American glassworks issued opalescent pressed glass. This glass was made by adding bone ash to the glass while it was still molten, and by fusing and repeatedly firing layers of transparent and translucent glass until a piece's edges took on a milky translucence. Such opalescent glass typically shows a fiery reddish opalescence when held up to a light. Among the glassworks that issued opalescent pressed glass were four principal carnival glass producers: Imperial, Northwood, Dugan and Fenton. All of these produced "canary opalescent" glass -- that is, opalescent glass that was colored with uranium dioxide and which consequently glows green under a black light. Canary opalescent glass of this early period was typically a very bright yellow mixed with a white opalescence.
In its first decade of operation, Fenton produced a variety of opalescent pressed-glass pieces. An informative description of Fenton's early opalescent glass can be found in Fenton Art Glass 1907-1939 by Margaret & Kenn Whitmyer, 2nd ed. (2003), pp. 16-19. Notably, however, that work records that Fenton's early opalescent glass patterns were usually issued in four colors only: white ("crystal"), blue, green and amethyst opalescent. The Whitmyers' fairly comprehensive volume does not list a single Fenton canary-opalescent piece issued before 1920.
The scarcity of pre-1920 Fenton canary opalescent glass is surprising -- cross-pollination among Midwestern glass companies was frequent, and many of Fenton's early designs reflected the influence of glassworks such as Northwood, Dugan and Jefferson, whose output of canary opalescent pressed glass was substantial. Nevertheless, very few surviving specimens of early Fenton canary opalescent glass have been documented.
To date, only one Fenton canary opalescent glass pattern from the company's first decade has appeared photographed in authoritative works on Fenton -- Basketweave Open Edge, issued in bowl shapes in 1911 (Heacock, Fenton Glass: The First Twenty-Five Years, p. 32).
Fenton's Basketweave Open Edge bowl, circa 1911
photos courtesy of creekside2
A 1911 Basketweave Open Edge bowl is shown directly above and at the top of this section: the bowl is 7" wide and 1 7/8" tall. Heacock referred to such Basketweave Open Edge pieces as a "flared nappies" or "baskets," but they appear elsewhere in glass literature simply as "bowls," "flared bowls" or "basket-shaped bowls" (see, e.g., Peterson, Vaseline Glass: Canary to Contemporary, p. 160). Buyers should note that after 1930, Fenton produced this pattern (as Fenton #1093) in a variety of colors and in many shapes, including square, flared, cupped and crimped bowls, handled baskets, plates, vases, small mayonnaise bowls, bonbons and candleholders. Pictures of these later pieces can be found in Margaret & Kenn Whitmyer's Fenton Art Glass 1907-1939, pp. 238-239.
Neither Heacock's nor Peterson's comprehensive works record any other Fenton canary opalescent glass patterns issued before the 1920's. To our knowledge, only one other Fenton pattern may have been produced in canary opalescent before 1920 -- Fenton's Fine Rib vase. Examples of this pattern are shown below and at the top of this page. Fenton's canary-opalescent Fine Rib vases feature parallel ribs that run from the bottom of the vase to just short of the top rim. A narrow quarter-inch band encircles the vase mouth. The vases are a pure, unusually vibrant and pretty yellow and emit spectacular fluorescence under ultraviolet light. All documented specimens have base diameters measuring 2 7/8" and range from 10" to 12" in height.
Fenton's canary opalescent Fine Rib vase
photo courtesy of oxbeetle
Fine Rib canary-opalescent vases were first identified as early Fenton by the second edition of the Standard Encyclopedia of Opalescent Glass (1997), p. 73, which showed a photograph of an 11 1/3" Fine Rib vase with a 2 7/8" base. The SEOG estimated the vase's date of issue to be 1908-1910, deemed the vase "rare" and assigned it a book value of $400; the SEOG's 6th edition (2008) now assigns the vase a $500 book value (pp. 66, 208)..
Two Fenton canary opalescent Fine Rib vases appeared on E-Bay in 2007. One was the vase featured below left; this vase stands 10 1/2" tall and has a base diameter of 2 7/8". The authors of a Standard Encyclopedia of Opalescent Glass, 6th ed., surmise that such opalescent Fine Rib vases may well exist in white, green and blue opalescent glass -- although since the publication of the SEOG's 2nd edition in 1997, no documented opalescent Fine Rib vases in these colors have surfaced.
A rare canary opalescent Fine Rib vase, possibly circa 1908-1910
with a green opalescent Boggy Bayou vase, circa 1907-1908:
both fluoresce bright green under ultraviolet light.
photos (left) by oxbeetle and curculiosglass
The manufacture years of 1908-1910 ascribed by the SEOG to Fenton's canary opalescent Fine Rib vase do not seem far-fetched -- during the same period, Fenton was using uranium to tint at least two opalescent vase patterns green: Boggy Bayou and Reverse Drapery. A green opalescent Boggy Bayou vase is shown above right; due to its uranium content, the vase fluoresces bright green under ultraviolet light. (Because such fluorescent ware is green rather than yellow or greenish-yellow, it is technically not "vaseline glass"; it is instead called "uranium glass," a term explained in our vaseline glass guide.) In addition, in 1911, Fenton began producing carnival glass Fine Rib vases in a variety of colors -- including vaseline and vaseline opal carnival; examples are shown in Part II of this guide.
Nevertheless, in March, 2008, an interesting development relevant to the dating of Fenton's canary opalescent Fine Rib vases arose during an E-Bay sale. A reputable and long-time collector of opalescent glass, whose collection numbers more than 600 opalescent vases, listed a 10 1/2" canary-opalescent Fine Rib vase with a 2 7/8" base. Affixed to the vase was a Fenton blue paper label:
A canary-opalescent Fine Rib vase with a paper label
photos courtesy of unclechamps
The blue Fenton label appearing on the vase bears a Fenton inscription under a small picture of a worker. In June, 2008, a second canary opalescent Fine Rib vase, measuring 12" high with a 2 7/8" base, also surfaced on E-Bay with a blue "worker label". And in January, 2009, E-bayer unclechamps listed another 10 1/2" vase with a 2 7/8" base, bearing the same label.
The appearance of Fine Rib canary opalescent vases with blue worker labels raises questions about such vases' true date of issue. Fenton did not use paper labels before 1920. Moreover, Fenton's blue "worker labels" were issued between 1957 and 1971. (See J. Shirley's "Fenton Labels" at glasscastle.com/fstickers.htm; and fentonartglass.com/history/labels.htm).
Arguably, a label can be affixed to any glass piece at any time. Nevertheless, the lack of documentation in any early catalogs of Fenton Fine Rib vases in opalescent glass points to the possibility that the vases were in fact issued much later than the date ascribed to them by the Standard Encyclopedia of Opalescent Glass -- if this possibility proves true, then Fenton's pre-1920 output of canary opalescent was limited to one pattern only. To deepen the mystery, however, no currently available reference on Fenton documents any vaseline opalescent Fine Rib vases made after 1950. We would be interested in hearing from E-Bayers about the origins of this controversial, little-seen and very pretty vase.
Fenton's "Topaz" opalescent glass in the 1920's:
Ringed Bowl, Double Dolphin and Rib Optic
A Topaz opalescent 7" ruffled Ringed Bowl, circa 1929
photo courtesy of neomant
In the early 1920's, Fenton coined the name "Topaz" for its yellow vaseline stretch glass. By the end of the 1920's, the term "Topaz" had been affixed to Fenton's vaseline opalescent glass as well. Fenton's vaseline opalescent output of the twenties was far from extensive, however. To our knowledge, during this period, the company issued only three new vaseline opalescent patterns: Ringed Bowl, Double Dolphin and Rib Optic.
Ringed Bowl (shown above), also known as "Fenton's #100," is documented in Topaz opalescent glass in Peterson's Vaseline Glass: Canary to Contemporary (pp. 44, 115 and 160), which sets the date of issue at 1929. Ringed Bowl is a simple pattern consisting of concentric rings. It appears in Topaz opalescent glass in 8" flat plates, and in 7 to 7 1/2" bowls with both ruffled and fluted rims. Pieces have a raised marie base impressed with a many-rayed star and rest on three legs with ball feet. This pattern was issued in at least one other opalescent color: Heacock's Opalescent Glass from A-Z ( p. 193) shows a ruffled Ringed Bowl under the name "Ruffled Bowl" in amethyst opalescent glass. Fenton also produced Ringed Bowl in Celeste blue stretch glass (see American Iridescent Stretch Glass by Madeley & Shetlar, p. 41). The Ringed Bowl pattern is referenced as "Fenton's #100 Ringed Bowl" in the Standard Enccylopedia of Opalescent Glass, 6th ed (p. 65).
Fenton's Double Dolphin appears in a variety of shapes; in Topaz opalescent glass, it is found in one shape only -- a 7" compote first marketed as "Fenton's #1533" in the 1920's. The SEOG, 5th ed., p. 59, reports that Fenton's early production of the Double Dolphin pattern in opalescent glass of any color was "very limited," and records the pattern in white and blue only, in 1920's Fenton's #1533 compote. The same 7" compote appears in the color known as "cameo opalescent" in Heacock's Fenton Glass: The First Twenty-five Years, in a 1929 assortment shown on page 92. The sole photograph we have been able to locate of a Double Dolphin compote in Fenton's Topaz opalescent glass appears in Peterson's Vaseline Glass: Canary to Contemporary, at p. 37 (photograph #48). The #1533 compote shown has a bowl-shaped top pulled upward on two sides; a conventional flat, circular footed base; and two handles in the form of stylized dolphins. A Fenton stretch glass fan vase in the Double Dolphin pattern can be viewed in Part III of this guide.
Rib Optic ice-tea set pitcher and tumbler, circa 1920's
photo courtesy of curculiosglass
Rib Optic ice-tea sets were issued in the 1920's, although the precise date of their producton is uncertain. An April 13, 1922, ad in Pottery, Glass & Brass Salesman announced that a Chicago showroom "has just opened up a new line of covered ice-tea sets made by the Fenton Art Glass Company, of Williamstown, W. Va. These sets come in a number of beautiful colors, both plain and iridescent. The handles of some of the jugs and tumblers are in contrasting colors." A 1921 Fenton ad reprinted in Heacock's Fenton Glass: The First Twenty-five Years (p. 75), shows striped pitchers and tumblers in iridescent stretch glass, otherwise identical to those shown above (p. 92). Green and blue opalescent Stripe pitchers like that shown above appear with lids and accompanying tumblers and coasters in Heacock's Opalescent Glass A-Z (pp. 192 and 197); Heacock sets the date of issue for such pitchers around 1926, although Topaz Rib Optic vases may have been issued during a different year. A Topaz Rib Optic pitcher is documented under the name "Fenton's #220 Stripe" in the Standard Encyclopedia of Opalescent Glass, 5th ed., (p. 70), which opines that the pitchers were issued in 1929.
The Topaz Rib Optic pitcher shown here has an applied cobalt-glass handle. In the original ice-tea sets, pitchers were accompanied by six tumblers. Tumblers appear in the above shape and in a straight-sided flared shape, both with and without handles. The above pitcher originally was marketed as "Fenton's #220" and the tumbler as "Fenton's #222". Heacock notes in Opalescent Glass from A-Z (p. 98) that Rib Optic also goes by the names "Opal Rib" and "Stripe".
According to the SEOG (pp. 131 and 185), Fenton produced Topaz opalescent Rib Optic 6" tumble-ups (night sets) and whimsey vases before 1930 as well; a Topaz opalescent Rib Optic night set jug (Fenton #1502) appeared on E-Bay in August, 2008. After 1930, Fenton continued to issue the Rib Optic pattern in a variety of shapes and colors. Buyers should note that striped opalescent patterns were produced by a number of other companies as well, among them Beaumont, Buckeye, Jefferson, Nickel Plate and Northwood.
In 1921, Fenton also issued an unusual vaseline stretch glass line called "Victoria Topaz," which applied iridizing techniques to opalescent glass. Victoria Topaz was used principally to make lemonade, ice tea and water sets in Fenton's Curtain Optic (Drapery) and Rib Optic patterns. Blue-handled Rib Optic stretch-glass pitchers and tumblers nearly identical to those shown above appeared in 1921 in Victoria Topaz; in all likelihood, these are the "iridescent" sets referred to in the above-quoted advertisement from Pottery, Glass & Brass Salesman. Fenton's Victoria Topaz glass is featured in this guide's Part III, which focuses on Fenton's vaseline stretch glass.
A Brief Note on Fenton's
Vaseline opalescent glass after 1930
In the 1930's, Fenton embarked on an era of greatly increased production of vaseline opalescent glass. Fenton's 1930's Topaz opalescent output included stunning Rib Optic vases and lamps; Spiral Optic vases, hats and baskets; striking Daisy & Button hand vases that feature a right hand holding a cornucopia; Leaf plates; and pieces issued in such patterns as Apple Tree, Basketweave Open Edge, Dancing Ladies, Dot Optic and Leaf Tiers.
Fenton continued its Topaz opalescent production through 1943, the year the government banned the use of uranium in glass manufacture. From 1941-1943, Fenton issued a broad variety of Topaz opalescent pieces in its Hobnail pattern, as well as Topaz opalescent handled jugs, baskets, mini-vases and mini-hand vases. Fenton also issued Topaz opalescent atomizers and perfume bottles for DeBilviss in 1941. All of these patterns have been copiously documented in the following books: Peterson's Vaseline Glass: Canary to Contemporary (pp. 37, 161, 182); Sue Davis' Pictorial Guide to Vaseline Glass (p. 60); John Walk's Fenton A-Z (pp. 92, 109); Bill Heacock's Fenton Glass: The Second Twenty-Five Years (p. 59); and the Whitmyers' Fenton Art Glass Colors 1939-1980 (pp. 46-47, 50-51).
A 5" Cactus vase #3454, circa 1959-1960,
an example of Fenton's "Topaz opalescent" vaseline glass
photo courtesy of oxbeetle
After the government ban on uranium-content glass was lifted in 1958, Fenton's Topaz opalescent made a return -- this is the period of Fenton's Topaz opalescent production that coincides with the company's first use of blue paper "worker labels". From 1959 through the sixties, Fenton released Topaz opalescent lines in its Coin Dot, Coin Spot, Hobnail and Thumbprint patterns. The best known Topaz opalescent pattern from this later period, however, may be Cactus, first produced in 1959 and issued in at least thirty shapes. Peterson documents Cactus glassware exhaustively in Vaseline Glass: Canary to Contemporary (p. 162); as does Fenton Art Glass Patterns 1939-1980 (pp. 274-277), which assigns the small 5" vase shown above a book value of $60-70. Fenton also produced a very hard-to-find Topaz opalescent wine bottle in its New World pattern; Fenton Art Glass Patterns 1939-1980, 2nd ed., (p. 325) sets this rare piece's date of issue at 1953, but given the government's ban on uranium-content glass during that year, the true date of issue must have been after 1958.
From 1959 through the early sixties, Fenton produced vaseline opalescent glass for other companies such as L.G. Wright (a four-horn epergne), A. A. Sales (Hobnail fairy lights and Diamond Lace epergnes) and the William F. B. Johnson Co. (Hobnail lamp bases). After the sixties, many of Fenton's 1950's and 1960's pieces were reproduced by companies such as St. Clair and Summit.
Fenton recommenced issuing Topaz opalescent glass in 1978 and continues to do so through the present day. Some of Fenton's better known contemporary Topaz opalescent patterns include its Chessie covered candy dish; bells marketed under the name "Collectibells"; Fenton's Extravaganza Series; and pieces issued in Fenton's Lily of the Valley pattern. In 1979 and the early 1980's, Fenton made Topaz opalescent pieces in its Polka Dot pattern for Levay and Daisy & Fern pitchers for L.G. Wright. Fenton later issued its own line of Daisy & Fern, with the pattern slightly altered.
Vaseline Glass Guides:
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Many thanks to E-Bayers 5hills, creekside2, neomant, oxbeetle and unclechamps, for generously contributing photographs of their vaseline-glass finds to this guide. Rights to all photos belong to the photographers, and pictures should not be used without their permission. Text and drawing are (c) 2008 curculiosglass, all rights reserved. To locate any E-Bayer whose name is mentioned here, or to visit his or her store, simply click on "SITE MAP" on the bottom of your screen, and then click on "Feedback Forum" on the right top corner of the screen that next appears. Type or copy the E-Bayer's name into the search blank.