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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Lydia Davis's radical fiction.New Yorker, March 9th
Davis is sixty-six, with chin-length once blond hair, pale lashes, and eyes the color of blue milk glass. Her eyeglasses are lined with pink, like a conch. She wears small earrings in flattering shades of blue, and the loose, dark clothing of a city...Read more
Thief steals U-Haul, car of nurse moving to Alaska for jobHeraldNet, March 6th
What bothers her more, though, is her mother's antique dish set made of opaque white "milk glass." Her mother passed away more than a decade ago. "I don't have my mom in my adult life, so what little stuff I have of hers, it's the stuff that means the...Read more
Here's a Milk Glass Made From a Cookie, You're WelcomeGeekosystem, March 6th
Some days you write about life-enhancing advancements in medicine and science, some days you cover revolutionary dessert breakthroughs. Thanks to master pastry chef Dominique Ansel, I think today is both of those days. Ansel created New York's ...Read more
Michigan Reflections: Girl Scout cookies and a lesson on lifeDetroit Free Press, February 28th
A lady invited me in to warm up and gave me caramels from a milk-glass dish. Midafternoon, the sky turned grayer. The wind picked up, and the snow was really blowing. I was on Jackson Street with just three more boxes to deliver. I walked up the steps...Read more
Apartment living in WilliamsburgNew Zealand Herald, February 27th
Gould is also a fan of milk glass, with vases in the living room, spare room and bedroom; one holds a collection of matches. Elsewhere there are hints of the couple's travels: above two editions of The New York Times' 36 Hours travel guide series sits...Read more
A big weekend of charity auctions for St. Benedict School in Cambridge and the ...The Daily Jeffersonian, February 26th
Among the exciting items up for bid this year are Cambridge Glass pieces in the following patterns: Mt. Vernon; Rosepoint; Everglades; Crown Tuscan; Milk Glass; Candlelight; Diane; and multiple colors in Georgian Tumblers. More than 60 pieces! Also on...Read more
Benchmark Milk Price Hits RecordFarmer's Exchange, February 13th
He admitted, "We didn't wind up precisely where we wanted in terms of the dairy program," adding, "But the milk glass is more than half-full. The new farm bill replaces three outmoded programs intended to help farmers but that often failed in that...Read more
My childhood glass: Always half-full, preferably with milkWashington Post, February 11th
My parents have owned the same house for more than 25 years. When I visit, it's like a trip back in time. I use my old pink towel. I sleep on the same Laura Ashley hearts-and-flowers bedsheets. And every morning at breakfast, I pull my favorite glass...Read more