The Fenton Art Glass company in Williamstown, W.Va., has been in business since 1905, when it was founded by brothers Frank and John Fenton in Martins Ferry, W.Va. Since then, Fenton has produced thousands of pieces, which unfortunately created thousands of opportunities for people to create fakes and imitations. It can be difficult to tell Fenton glassware from other brands with similar designs, and it can be difficult to spot fakes. If you want to collect Fenton glassware, it's important to learn to distinguish between fakes, imitations, reproductions and the real thing -- never shell out for a piece unless you are absolutely sure it is authentic.
Do your research. Fenton glassware was produced in many designs, patterns and colors, so it is important to learn what colors and sizes certain pieces were produced in, which patterns were produced with which glassware designs, the characteristics of particular patterns, and even during what time periods a particular pattern or technique was used. For example, while many 8-inch, acorn-patterned bowls were produced, Fenton plates with an acorn design are uncommon, and of the known pieces with this design, only two are blue. With this in mind, you would be wary of a seller offering a blue Fenton plate with an acorn design. David Doty's Carnival Glass website, or his Field Guide to Carnival Glass, are excellent resources for researching authentic Fenton glass pieces.
Look at the glass. Almost all Fenton glassware was made of iridescent carnival glass, so if a piece is being advertised as a Fenton but the glass is not iridescent, it is likely a fake. Fenton did produce some pieces in Depression glass, which is not iridescent or opaque; these items are typically pink or green only. Watch out for Fenton pieces advertised as "opalescent" -- while some Fenton items were produced in opalescent glass, they were restricted to specific designs and colors.
Look for stickers or maker's marks. Until the 1970s, Fenton used stickers to mark its pieces. While many pieces, especially very old ones, will likely have lost their stickers, it is important to bear in mind that even if an item has a Fenton sticker, the sticker could be a fake. Cynthia Danielski, a Fenton expert, provides descriptions of the Fenton stickers that have been used over time at Ruby Lane. Post-1970s Fenton items will have a horizontal oval containing the word "Fenton" (with or without a number accompanying it) or a vertical oval containing a cursive "F" marked into the glass. Items from Fenton's Old Virginia Glass line are marked with the letters "OVG" stacked vertically.
Check the bottom. The vast majority of Fenton pieces do not have what is known as a "pontil mark." This is a rough or depressed spot on the bottom of glassware where the punty rod attaches during glass-making. If a piece advertised as a Fenton has a pontil mark, it is a fake. The only exceptions to this rule are very rare Off Hand Glass line items produced in the 1920s. More recent Off Hand Glass pieces might not be as rare, but they are usually signed by the master craftsman who made the piece.
Tips & Warnings
- Compare your piece to pieces being offered on EBay, and check the EBay glassware guides. EBay seller Curculiosglass offers many excellent guides on how to identify authentic Fenton and carnival glass pieces.
- If you determine that your Fenton piece is authentic, research its worth before attempting to sell it. Unscrupulous collectors may attempt to buy rare pieces for less than they are worth by assuming that you are not aware of their true value.