Does Vaseline Glass Contain Uranium?

by Frank Fenton
Volume 20 No. 10 - June 1994

Editor's note: Last December this desk received a letter from Jim Garrison (OK). He shared an article brought to the Greater Tulsa Depression Era Glass Club by Ronnie Morgan. The article consisted of a letter written and given to a newsletter. That newsletter secured an answer from Mr. Frank Fenton. So far I have not leaned the name of that Fenton logo newsletter, however, I called Mr. Fenton and asked his permission to reprint his letter. After reading him his answer to remind him of the subject matter, he graciously granted my wish. The article did not include the date of Mr. Fenton's letter but I could figure out that it was in June 1991. The letter included in this article was very technical and very interesting. I regret that I could not find enough sources to get permission to run the article. If the original source of the other letter will contact us, we will print the other letter with due credit.

Does Vaseline Glass Contain Uranium?

You should inform Carnival Glass collectors that, to the best of my knowledge, uranium is the material which is used to make the Vaseline Glass. I imagine that, in other glass companies, there are various salts of uranium that have been used to get the coloring. In our factory, at the present time, we use uranium oxide depleted. That means that the major radioactive isotopes (the ones that are used to make atomic bombs and so forth) have been taken out. Uranium oxide depleted is still radioactive, but not to the extent that it would be without the necessary processing.

Burmese Custard We are licensed by the Atomic Energy Commission to buy this uranium in the small quantities that we use for coloring the glass. A number of years ago, we received letters from individuals indicating that our Custard and Burmese glass (both of which have about the same amount of uranium in them as does Vaseline) were hot and were radioactive. Since our decorators worked on the Custard (right) and Burmese (left) pieces regularly, we felt we had to check this out. We employed a licensed health physicist from Ohio State University who came down and checked our operations. It is true that, if you put a piece of glass right next to the Geiger counter, you will get an indication that it is radioactive, and the Geiger counter will do its clicking. On the other hand, if you put the piece of glass 12" away from the Geiger counter, you can't get a response.

The physicist explained it to us:

If the decorators were to hold the glass close to them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for a number of years, there might be some hazard involved. However, with the occasional handling just on the tips of their fingers, he saw no hazard. He said there was much greater hazard in going outside and standing in sunlight. He would get more radiation from sunshine than we would from handling Burmese and Custard glass pieces.

We are satisfied that there is no risk to the normal user of Vaseline Carnival glass. I suppose if you grind it up and ate it, and it stayed in your system, there would then be a hazard.

(signed) Frank M. Fenton
Fenton Art Glass Company

Fenton Factory Another note: If you have the opportunity to visit the Fenton Art Glass factory in Williamstown, West Virginia. do not pass it by. It is one of the few remaining glass factories producing glass today. Every ardent collector should have the experience of seeing glass made by hand. Also, this company has an excellent video of making Fenton glass. It would be a wonderful program for any club. For information about the video contact the Fenton Art Glass Company, 700 Elizabeth Street, Williamstown, West Virginia 26187. Thank you Jim for sharing this information. Another big thanks to Ronnie Morgan who brought it to the GTDEGC.