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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. The factory ceased traditional glassmaking in 2011, but remained open making jewelry and glass beads, and the gift shop remained open selling glass items in its inventory. In 2017, the land was purchased by Wood County Schools, and the new Williamstown-Waverly Elementary School opened there in fall 2020. The gift shop moved to a new location in Williamstown, and glass from the original molds is being made at Mosser Glass in Ohio and sold through the Fenton Gift Shop.

This Article was written by Dean Six

Last Revised on June 11, 2021

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Sources

Heacock, William. Fenton Glass: The First 25 Years. Williamstown: 1978.

Cite This Article

Six, Dean "Fenton Art Glass Company." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 11 June 2021. Web. 24 September 2021.

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