Fenton Art Glass Company opened in Martins Ferry, Ohio, in 1905 as a decorating firm, painting and embellishing glass made by others. Shortly thereafter the company saw the need for creating its own glass, and a factory was built at Williamstown, West Virginia, in 1906.
Fenton was the leader in producing iridescent pressed glass in imitation of Tiffany’s expensive iridescent art glass. Collectors, decades later, named this ‘‘carnival glass,’’ in the belief that it was given away at carnivals and fairs. It was predominantly sold as gifts and tableware in five-and-dime stores, which often bought Fenton glass in wooden barrel assortments. Fenton survived beyond a golden era of glass production that ended around 1910 by continually adding good-selling shapes, designs, and colors. When the second wave of closings swept the industry in the late 1970s and ‘80s, Fenton again survived because it continued to create new objects, colors, and decorative treatments.
Fenton produced glass by hand, often using a hand press to form the glass in metal molds. It frequently experimented with art glass and high-end designer creations. Staples over the decades have included carnival glass, reintroduced in the late 1960s. Opal or ‘‘milk glass’’ sold well for decades, and in many forms the hobnail pattern was an exceptional sales line. Fenton, a family-controlled company, created an on-site Ohio Valley glass museum and offered tours at its Williamstown plant.
The company, however, continued to suffer from rising costs, competition, and a slow economy. The company ended production and sold its assets at auction. In 2012, a New York company, USGlass, purchased Fenton, and the next year, the company received state financing that will help it resume production.
This Article was written by Dean Six
Last Revised on April 01, 2013
Heacock, William. Fenton Glass: The First 25 Years. Williamstown: 1978.