Milk glass has been around since the 16th century, but the term itself was coined in the 20th century to describe the opaque white plates, goblets, serving items, and decorative objects that became popular in the late 1880s.

France was the first place milk glass came into vogue, and 19th-century French milk glass is highly collectible today. By the early 1900s, milk glass was a symbol of the style and taste of American households enjoying the fruits of the Gilded Age. These privileged individuals filled their homes with milk glass produced by 19th-century U.S. glass manufacturers, including New England Glass Company, Bryce Brothers, Gillinder & Sons, and Atterbury & Company.

Milk glass plates are one of the most popular collectibles from this era. One particularly rare plate featured the face of George Washington and had a border of thirteen stars. Other plates sported relief portraits of Christopher Columbus at their centers, and in 1908, plates were produced to help spur the presidential campaigns of William Jennings Bryan and William Howard Taft.

Regardless of the imagery at its heart, whether it was relief flowers or painted birds, the borders of milk glass plates were often pressed or molded to resemble latticework or pinwheels. Some edges were scalloped, others were beaded like frosting on the rim of a wedding cake, and a few were even smooth and round, with undecorated centers to go with these uncharacteristically understated edges.

Platters were a step up from plates—unlike dinnerware, which demanded a certain minimum level of functionality, platters could go all-out when it came to decorative effects. The relief on a rare Lincoln platter from the late 1800s is so great that it must have been used exclusively as a commemorative object. At the other end of the utility spectrum were waffle platters, whose gridded surfaces resembled those of the popular breakfast item they were designed to carry. Somewhere in between was the retriever platter, which depicted a three-dimensional dog head breaking through cattails at the bottom of the platter.

For objects such as serving dishes, compotes, and bowls, milk glass was often pressed so that its surface had a diamond-cut pattern—collectors refer to these as Sawtooth pieces. Manufacturers known for Sawtooth patterns include Imperial, McKee, and L.E. Smith.

One of the largest makers of milk glass was Atterbury, which made so much of the stuff that the company’s Pittsburgh factory was often referred to as the White House. Atterbury w...

Jugs and pitchers were another favorite form for milk glass. Geometric and basket-weave reliefs graced the outsides of these handsome objects, and Hobnail patterns were very popular on everything from flower vases to syrup jars.

During the Depression and into the 1940s and ’50s, milk glass lost some of its luster as a symbol of domestic status. Respected glass companies such as Akro Agate, Westmoreland, Fenton, and Fostoria made milk glass, but the style seemed a throwback to an earlier, fustier age.

Akro Agate made powder jars, whose lids were in the shapes of Colonial-era women wearing billowy dresses. Fostoria made a pink version of milk glass, while Westmoreland made things like covered dishes whose tops and bottoms formed a kneeling camel. It was all very charming but seemed out of step with the evolving styles of the day.

Despite this, some companies actually made a name for themselves with milk glass. In particular, Fenton’s line of Hobnail milk glass—from fan-shaped vases to toothpick holders to candlesticks—became the company’s flagship pattern in the 1950s. Indeed, the company’s prodigious output and success with Hobnail milk glass contributed to a resurgence of interest in this retro form during the early 1960s.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Milk Glass Collectors Society

Milk Glass Collectors Society

This excellent milk glass reference site is definitely not for the lactose intolerant. Includes seven high resoluti… [read review or visit site]

Pattern Glass School

Pattern Glass School

If you need schooling on Victorian-era pressed glass tableware aka EAPG (Early American Pattern Glass) aka Pattern … [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Czech/bohemian Hand Painted Cut To Clear Emerald Milk Art Glass Vase Yqz1965 Fire King Snoopy Curse You Red Baron Peanuts Coffee Mug Cup Milk GlassAntiq Opaque Blue Melon Rib Lobed Boston And Sandwich Glass Newel Post FinialVintage 50's Jeanette Harp Shell Pink Milk Glass Pedestal Cake Stand 10"Massive 200cm Vintage Strand Opaque Murano Glass Beads Aventurine & Yellow SwirlVintage Fenton Spanish Lace Milk Glass Cake Stand Plateau Silver Crest Rim Eapg Dithridge Jadite Look Net & Scroll Salt Shaker Victorian Green Opaque GlassVictorian Glass Blue Opaque Clemantis & Scroll Salt ShakerLynn Fenton Hand Painted Glass Basket Clear Purple, Milk Glass Cased #783Pyrex Friendship 475-b 2.5 Qt Casserole & Opaque Lid!Vintage Fire King Milk Glass Mcdonald's "good Morning, Pittsburgh" Mug Victorian Glass Green Opaque Net & Scroll Salt ShakerAnchor Hocking Fire King Snoopy "curse You Red Baron" Mug Milk White VintageFenton Hobnail Milk Glass Cookie Jar Large Pre Logo With Lid 11"Milkglass Turquoise Mug Serro Scotty Sportsman Trailer People!!Vintage Fenton Vase Aqua Blue Colored Hobnail Ruffled Milk Glass Pre-logo Rare!Mt Washington Victorian Cruet Glossy Cut Velvet Red Outside Milk InsideWalt Disney Mickey Minnie Mouse Milk Glass Footed Mugs Anchor Hocking Mixed LotLot 24 Vintage Federal Fire King Galaxy Milk Glass Bake Coffee Mugs Cups VarietyWestmoreland Cake Plate Stand - White Milk Glass - Lattice Edge - SignedWestmoreland Milk Glass Thumbelina Mini Child's Punch Bowl Set & Box W/ HooksImperial Poinsettia Smoke Antique Milk Pitcher-tough ColorVintage Hobnail Milk Glass Cookie Jar Pitcher 5 TumblersVintage Federal Glass Soup N Sandwich Set 4 Plates 4cups Milk White Color W/box40 Plus Pieces Milk Glass Cosmetic Jar Collection 30s Through 50s Vintage Kemple Milk Glass Cow On Basket Covered Dish Beaded Edge Base Vintage Waterford Tramore/maeve Water Or Milk PitcherVintage Milk Glass Cake Plate Serving Platter Tray 13" Diameter Heart Lace EdgeWestmoreland Glass Cat Milk Glass Decorative FigurineWestmoreland Milk Glass Pg-145 Lipped 9 1/2" Bowl, Skirted Foot Compote-grapeVintage White Fire King Mugs With Jadeite & Milk Glass Plates, Lot AssortmentBeautiful Blue Dolphin Milk Glass Candlestick Approximately 9 1/2 Inches TallFenton Silver Crest White Milk Glass Pedestal Cake PlateSet Of 4- Vallerysthal French Blue Milk Glass Salt Cellar Dips Fenton White Milkglass Hobnail 32oz Squat Jug/juice PitcherFive (5) Lovely Vintage Fenton Milk Glass Silver Crest 7" BowlsFenton Bridesmaid Girl Milkglass Iridescent GlassWesmoreland Glass Milk Glass Rooster Decorative FigurineLarge 13 1/2" Pair Of Very Elegant Vases In A Milk Glass Red Color ~no Damage~!Jadeite Jadite Green Glass Serving Domed Butter Dish Jade Milk Tub 1 Pound RoundWestmoreland Grape White Milk Glass Gravy Boat W/serving Tray UnderplateWestmoreland Marigold On Milk Glass Compote Fenton Milk Glass Hobnail Fairy Lamp- Mint Condition!7 Hazel Atlas Aqua Pastel Blue Crinoline Ripple 9" Dinner Plates 50s Milk Glass100 Years Ago Liberty Bell John Hancock Milk Glass Platter (1876), Adams GlassAntique Milk Glass Dresser Tray With Japanese/geisha Motif (rare)Vintage White Milk Glass Cake Stand Colony Lace Lattice 13.75 InchesFenton White Milk Hobnail Art Glass Ruffled Centerpiece Flower Epergne 3 HornLarge Jadeite Jade Green Glass Water Serving Pitcher Jadite Milk Diamond PatternFenton White Hobnail Milk Glass Lidded Butter DishVtg 1930's Mckee Jadeite Sunkist Reamer/juicer Green Milk GlassJadite Salt/pepper Shaker Fire King Glass Anchor Hocking Opaque Green JaditeVtg Aloha Hawaii Anchor Hocking Oven Proof Made In Usa Milk Glass Coffee Mug CupSet Of 4 Pink Federal Coffee Mugs, Cups Vintage, Retro Milk GlassVintage, Milk Glass Salt And Pepper Shakers, 2 1/4" Tall, WhiteVintage Milk Glass Candle Holder Vintage Deviled Egg Plate White Milk Glass 12 Spaces 10"Milk Glass Handpainted Bell Christmas Scene Nativity Signed B. Paugh Fenton?Fenton Milk Glass Hobnail Ruffled Rose Bowl / Vase With LabelFenton White Hobnail Milk Glass Artist Signed Alice Farley Student Lamp Ec !