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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Recent News: Milk Glass
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Letter from Birdland: Nice to see people readingChampaign/Urbana News-Gazette, February 22nd
Hers, like mine, has a milk glass bowl and juicer that sits on top. She tells me she used hers only last week to make divinity. Steve from Newman sent me a couple of articles from Mother Earth News. I read these with interest, but without surprise. I...Read more
How to design gorgeous, homegrown (and free) backyard bouquetsNOLA.com, February 20th
Designed by Denise Richter and Megan McHugh of Pistil & Stamen Flower Farm, this arrangement features rieger begonias, nandina foliage, jonquils, camphor leaves and berries, and magnolia foliage in a white milk-glass vase. "We wanted to go for an ...Read more
Photographer Erin Hanson captures life's sweetest momentsGreen Bay Press Gazette, February 17th
From the long farmhouse table surrounded by mismatched chairs to the milk glass collection lining an open shelf, everywhere you look is something adorable just begging to be photographed. "[My house] is constantly changing. I just can't leave things...Read more
Pyrex turns 100; producer will celebrate in CharleroiTribune-Review, February 13th
The Charleroi plant began producing Pyrex about a decade after Corning Glass bought it. Some Pyrex products are clear, such as the large measuring cups. Others are opal glass, milk glass with ornamental designs. Scheffki said “tens of millions of...Read more
Milk Glass Mrkt brings biscuits, baked goods to North Portland: Cheap EatsOregonLive.com, December 30th
Opened in November, Milk Glass Mrkt has its roots in a food cart -- owners Nancye Benson and Williams Macklin's sorely missed Moxie Rx -- and has an aesthetic reminiscent of two other popular breakfast spots -- Sweedeedee and Woodlawn Coffee & Pastry ...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
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
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