Colour and light: Art Glass, Uranium and Carnival Glass – vibrant, eye-catching, iridescent and intended to inspire and brighten any interior space, particularly during the long winter months. Green uranium glass glows, although its fluorescence is not radioactive. Best seen with a black UV light, this mysterious glass remains a highly sought-after collectable. A specially UV-lit cabinet in Shop 51 displays a wide range of spectacular uranium glass.
Identified in 1789 as the heaviest natural element, uranium compounds have been used to colour glass and ceramic glazes for thousands of years. In 1880’s London it flourished as a decorative arts household item and by 1900 had taken off in Europe and North America.
Yellow ‘vaseline’ glass was named after petroleum jelly salve and became popular in the 1930s, as did ‘pearline’ and opalescent uranium glass. After World War II, and the eventual easing of strict Cold War regulations on uranium, the 1960s saw the emergence of new colours such as opaque light blue, pink Burmese, custard, and alabaster. Uranium Glass fluorescence was rivalled in the 20th Century by Carnival Glass, a popular and affordable glass, its iridescent surfaces reflecting rainbow colours.
Originally called ‘poor man’s Tiffany’, it was sold in USA dime and department stores or won as prizes at carnivals and fairgrounds. Frank Fenton set up the first factory in Ohio in 1907 with other companies following his lead throughout America, Europe and England. Early factories were tough and fume–laden. An expanded market into higher quality vases, punch sets, water sets, bowls, compotes, bonbons etc saw Carnival Glass sparkling at night under the new electrically-lit home. The surface mould designs were intricately and expertly carved, then mass produced as pressed glass. Different colour effects using with iridized metallic salts of iron and tin sprays made deep indigo, purples, pinks, blues, reds, marigold and greens.
A frosted ice effect was achieved using hydrochloric acid. Final details and edges were hand-finished. After the Depression, a vast range was released in the 1940s (and re-issued in the 1970s). During the1950s collectors’ clubs were formed, articles were written, the ‘carnival’ tag stuck and they became collectables. Sydney’s Crown Crystal Company made high quality Carnival Glass, often with Australiana flora and fauna motifs. The Kookaburra and Waratahs bowl in deep amethyst coloured glass in Shop 51 is a collector’s treasure. It was registered in 1924 and is valued at $1,000. A rare USA Carnival Glass Fenton bowl can be seen in the ‘MYR’ shop in the Victory Theatre Antiques Centre.
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