Color Questions

By John Muehlbauer
(This article was published in The Carnival Pump, Vol. XXXIX, No. 2, December 2004.)

My wife, Jan, and I were lucky enough to spend some time in Australia in September. While the trip was not primarily focused on carnival glassing, we spent 2 1/2 days in the Melbourne area where carnival glass was indeed the main event. We were guests of Peter Phillips and his mother, Dulcie. They took us to meet 3 other collector families and see their great collections. Like with carnival glass collectors all over the world, we were welcomed with open arms, smiles, and loads of coffee. “Have a cuppa,” is almost as common as “G’day.”

I won’t go into great detail on all the folks we met, nor their outstanding carnival glass collections, but I’d like to share some questions that I was repeatedly asked, and my thoughts on the subject, of what else? Color. Usually when I say, “color” to another CG collector, I’m usually talking about iridescence, but in this case that’s not necessarily what I mean. I’ll explain.

The single most asked question there, and ‘over here,’ continues to be, “What color is this?” It always means, “What’s the base glass color?” Those of you who know me well know that I almost always either start out, or end up, with words like,” But what’s really important is the iridescence.” You’ll not see me waiver from that path in this article. But back to the specific ‘base glass’ question. In Oz, a loving term for the great land down under, this question was directed at shades of blue most of the time, but was also asked about shades, if that’s the right term, of marigold.

Let’s talk blues. As you all know, writing about shades of blue is a subject unto itself. I won’t cover them all but two of the questions from my Australian friends were with regards to “Renninger blue,” (Thank you, Tom Burns) and “powder blue.” It dawned on me down under, that these colors are pretty much thought of, at least by me, as being manufacturer specific, namely, Northwood. One collector had a stereotype Renninger blue PCE Peacocks bowl. It had the ‘flat’ or ‘shallow’ base as do most Renninger Peacocks and Good Lucks. That one was easy. Once I had identified that color, the owner then asked, “How ‘bout this one?” and gave me a Three Fruits Medallion. At that point, I hesitated.

Later on I realized my hesitation was for two reasons; I couldn’t fall back on the old reliable flat base and often silvery mixed iridescence, but more importantly, because I didn’t remember seeing a Renninger Three Fruits Medallion before. The second cause of my hesitation was a bit nerve-wracking because it meant that I was more relying on things other than the base glass color itself, to specify the base glass color. What’s wrong with this picture?

We retrieved the Peacocks from its case and compared the collar (just can’t get myself to embrace “marie”) with the foot of the TFM. They sure as heck looked like the same color. But I was still hesitant to proclaim the mighty, omnipotent, “Renninger.” Looking back on it, without the use of laboratory equipment to discern specific wave lengths, I realize it (the TFM) was indeed Renninger, or at least it was the same base glass color as the PCE Peacocks within my ability to tell.

And what, pray tell, is Renninger blue? Well, folks, it’s a medium to dark blue base glass color, a bit lighter than cobalt, with maybe an ever so tiny amount of some other color (red?, green?, purple?) in it. IF it has any other pigment in it, it’s surely not discernible and I’ll bet even the notion that it does is controversial. (I love it!) Better yet, look at the Drapery rose bowl in the color section of either of Dave Doty’s books.

So what’s the message here? For me it’s a couple things. It’s always a bit harder for me to categorize something as “Renninger” unless it’s one of our old favorites, Peacocks or Good Lucks. That in and of itself shows a bias on my part. Another point here, WRT Renninger is that it’s one of the few color hybrids that I think may indeed been an ‘on purpose’ production color. I personally don’t think that some of the other so-called ‘rare colors’ were production colors, as much as they were likely mistakes, or a result of poor quality control. How ‘bout no quality control WRT base glass color? Another point is that most of us, me included, tend to be definite about Renninger when it has that peculiar multi-colored, metallic iridescence. So again, we have an implied base glass color, affected by the iridescence. Nothing new here. Think about “electric blue” and “emerald green.”

Okay, on with “powder blue.” I was asked about a couple of Fenton pieces (sorry, can’t remember the patterns) that had a light shading of blue in the base glass. “Are these powder blue?” My mind immediately envisioned my powder blue Peacocks bowl (Thank you, Norene) second shelf right, right-hand side. I quickly responded, “No, that’s not what I call powder blue” to the question. I lamely expanded that the only “true” powder blue pieces I was aware of were Peacocks bowls (like my own) and I had personally only seen 2, maybe 3 of these. Again, my bias was showing. “How could it be powder blue, when it wasn’t even Northwood?” thought I. Was I right? Is “powder blue” limited to Northwood. Is there a name for light blue base glass (no, not ice blue or Celeste) that appears to be the result of John Smith not cleaning out the vat from the last batch of glass? Ditto the occasional light green pieces, mostly Fenton.

After pondering this question a bit more, I added that what I called powder blue pieces (both of them!) have a peculiar shading to them partly because of the base glass, partly because of the iridescence. Looking at my bowl, it has a ‘Jack frost’ texture and seems also to have almost a grayish color to the iridescence, or combination of iridescence and base glass, along with lovely blues and pinks. Oops, I should have said long time ago, my bowl, and the other example that I remember (a bowl that Tom Mordini had) are powder blue opal bowls. Not that that makes any difference to this discussion about what makes powder blue base glass.

One last thought on powder blue (opal) – one of Mrs. Hartung’s great quotes comes to mind and I’ll paraphrase it inserting powder blue opal (PBO) for red – “If you have to ask if it’s PBO, it isn’t.” Inserting “horehound,” or “clambroth,” or “emerald green” or “whatever”
here, also works.

So have I lost or bored you to death? Probably. Another color – clambroth. By another collector, I was asked to identify the color of a Northwood piece, a Poinsettia & Lattice bowl. “Is this clambroth?” Again, my bias for certain colors going with certain manufacturers took over. “No, that’s pastel marigold,” I responded (maybe too quickly.) And a most beautiful piece of pastel marigold it was. No question about this one. But trying to describe clambroth was a challenge for me. I know Mrs. Hartung said something about a ginger ale base glass, but don’t you believe it. To me clambroth (I once wrote an article saying there was no such thing as clambroth. Talk about controversial!) is a particular light shading of yellowish marigold found on some Imperial pieces. It has almost no, or no orange/marigold to it. Like Renninger, I believe it to be an ‘onpurpose’ production color. I might add that it seems like a lot of clambroth pieces, primarily water set pieces, appear to be iridized only on the inside. I referred the lady who asked the question to a Waffle Block water set I had seen at another Aussie’s home. “Look at that set, especially the tumblers, and you’ll see what clambroth is.” But again, I pretty much assigned this color, clambroth, to a specific manufacturer, Imperial. Right or wrong, that’s my bias. One last thought about clambroth. It almost always (always?) has a peculiar shading of a yellowish-green in the iridescence. Clambroth is really quite distinctive.

One last color, and this will probably be controversial too – horehound. Again, horehound is a color that is most often (always?) mentioned WRT Northwood pieces. I’ve seen more horehound Bushel Baskets offered for sale than I believe exist. (i.e. They weren’t horehound!) To me, horehound is a base glass color that has absolutely no shading of purple, violet, or lavender in it. It must be a decided shading of brown, or light root beer. I do believe that some horehound Bushel Baskets exist, but to my way of thinking, many fewer than are advertised for sale. I’ve seen some of those and they are offshoots of a light violet/purple or lavender, often shaded by the overlying iridescence.

I have a horehound stippled Three Fruits plate and recently was able to buy a PCE Peacocks bowl in horehound. Prior to finding this bowl, I’m not sure I’d ever seen another HH Peacocks, although I’m sure some that people think are HH have been offered for sale, or in auction brochures, or on eBay. Besides the pale brown base glass color, horehound bowls and plates have a very distinctive look when hanging on the wall or sitting in your china cabinet. I’m not sure I can do justice to a verbal description to the overall look, but think of a soft pastel marigold look, mixed with a brownish kind of a ginger-ale appearance. Shades (pun intended) of Mrs. Hartung!

Which brings me to a point I’ve been dying to make about these odd colors. I know that everybody likes ‘a find.’ It’s great when you buy a marigold piece and find out when you get it home that it turns out to be red. But one of the core feelings when this happens, (Dare I say it?) is value. We paid $35 and now have a piece that’s worth a gazillion dollars, we think! In rare cases that may be true. But with some of these more subtle colors, for me anyway, if you can’t tell it’s, say horehound when it’s displayed, and in fact have to hold it and turn it every which way in the light to ‘prove it,’ what good is it to be horehound?

And that sports’ fans, brings me to my final point. And don’t say I didn’t warn you! What really is the big turn-on WRT our great carnival glass is the quality of the iridescence, not the base glass color. As I started out a seminar that I gave years ago at HOACGA, “There’s one reason we’re all in this room together, and that reason is iridescence.” ‘Nuff said.