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, milk glass was often pressed so that its surface had a diamond-cut pattern—collectors refer to these as Sawtooth pieces. Atterbury was especially well known for its covered Sawtooth dishes in the shapes of ducks, fish, and other animals. In fact, Atterbury made so much milk glass that the company’s Pittsburgh factory was often referred to as the White House.
In a class by themselves are the covered serving dishes, whose tops resembled roosters, chickens, hens, and swans, as well as lions and other less domestic beasts. Sometimes peop...
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.
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Two-sentence Thanksgiving fiction: New stories from Mona Simpson, Megan ...Salon, November 27th
but, coming on five o'clock, she'd landed instead at the Two-Way Inn on Mt. Elliott and was drinking her second Brass Monkey just as one of the regulars, a redheaded guy with a mean squint, came spinning in with a Ritz mock-apple pie on a milk...Read more
Hot property: Center Grove home with European featuresIndianapolis Star, November 21st
The antique brass chandelier was converted from an old English gas light — it still has the original milk glass bowls. There are five fireplaces, each with a story. In the master bedroom, the fireplace surround and cast iron grate were imported from...Read more
First look: Milk Glass mrkt, North Portland's brunch cafe and micro-supermarketThe Oregonian - OregonLive.com, November 20th
The "mrkt" side of Milk Glass is a small, well-curated selection of wines, beers, sodas, locally-made foodstuffs, pantry products, dairy options (butter, eggs, milk) and more -- things that Milk Glass might be currently using on their menu and products...Read more
Inside Milk Glass Market in North PortlandEater PDX, November 18th
Benson has stocked a small but well-curated selection of artisan items in the same vein as those carried at The Woodsman Market. Currently Milk Glass Market is open until the early evening, but the plan is to expand the hours into the night and add...Read more
Corning Museum of Glass Unveils 2014 Rakow Commission by Amber CowanGlobeNewswire (press release), November 17th
Like many of her pieces, the new Rakow Commission is made from found American pressed milk glass (opaque white glass) made between the 1940s and 1980s. Cowan collects long-forgotten objects like candy dishes, teacups, and plates from thrift shops, ...Read more
New artwork at Corning Museum of GlassElmira Star-Gazette, November 14th
Philadelphia-based glass artist Amber Cowan used found American pressed milk glass, made between the 1940s and 1980s, to create the piece entitled "Garden of the Forgotten and Extinct." Her work explores the idea of preserving the memory of old ...Read more
Drink your milk, or notAurora News Register, November 12th
The way I figure, I must have consumed about 9,000 glasses of milk during my “growing years.” But, I always had the habit of leaving just a small swallow in my glass and that seemed to irritate my conservative mom. I was always told that milk glass...Read more
Woodsman Pastry Chef Nancye Benson Opening Milk Glass Market on North ...Willamette Week, August 7th
Nancye Benson, pastry chef at the Woodsman Tavern and former head of the food program at the Woodsman Market, is opening a 28-seat cafe and market called Milk Glass Market at 2150 N. Killingsworth Street with partner William Macklin. Benson and ...Read more