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.
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
Milk Glass Collectors Society
Pattern Glass School
Clubs & Associations
- Milk Glass Collectors Society
- Early American Pattern Glass Society
- National Cambridge Collectors, Inc.
Other Great Reference Sites
Most watched eBay auctions
Recent News: Milk Glass
Source: Google News
Antiques: Fenton vase was sold on QVCPress of Atlantic City, April 24th
Question: About five years ago, I bought a blue glass Fenton vase at a thrift shop. Almost 10-inches high, it is a hand holding a cornucopia decorated with painted flowers. The vase is signed "T. Twyman" and a silver and black paper label on its bottom...Read more
Bethel Historical Society and Museum is openGeorgetown News Democrat, April 22nd
Special upcoming features include: The month of May brings two special display cases of milk glass and mustache cups. A unique display of old keys and locks dating prior to 1935, shown by a local collector will be available for viewing Saturday, May 2...Read more
Make iOS Folders More Interesting with FolderBluriPhone FAQ, April 22nd
There are 12 styles to choose from, including the stock iOS folder design. Transparent will eliminate the folder background entirely, while various levels of Milk Glass, Dark Milk Glass, and Blurried will interact with the home screen background in...Read more
Vern Walker's Enormous Automotive Neon Sign Collection Sells For $4.65 MillionHot Rod Network, April 20th
Mecum Auctions is well known among street rodders for its live auctions of street rods, hot rods, classic cars and trucks, muscle cars, and collector cars. Attending a Mecum Auction is like going to a top-level car show, except that virtually every...Read more
Tom Sisson's Bay Collects Its Mail, 1907SouthCoastToday.com, April 20th
Middleborough post office workers, photograph, April 15, 1902. The photograph depicts the Middleborough Post Office staff posed outside their new office for a photograph. Postmaster Augustus M. Bearse appears sixth from the right. Note the wagons...Read more
Upcoming culinary garage sale is home chef's goldmineKansas City Star (blog), April 18th
The 2013 sale was the biggest one yet. After two days of preparations, hundreds of carefully categorized cookbooks and food-oriented books lined several walls. Milk glass vases, tall apothecary jars, multi-colored cocktail shakers and dozens of wine...Read more
Inside Milk Glass Market in North PortlandEater PDX, November 18th
The charming, 28-seat Milk Glass Market serves up breakfast and lunch fare like cheddar biscuits topped with an herbed egg and smoky bacon, amid warm wood, creamy white paint, and walls of windows. Benson has stocked a small but well-curated ...Read more
Nancye Benson of Moxie RX Fame Opens Milk Glass Market on N. KillingsworthEater PDX, November 13th
The charming, 28-seat Milk Glass Market and cafe opened last weekend in the former Atomic Pizza space on N. Killingsworth Avenue, serving up small plates of breakfast and lunch fare. Warm wood, creamy white paint, and walls of windows provide the ...Read more