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 50's Hazel Atlas Candy Striped Milk Glass Tumblers Rainbow Colors Set Renaud Art Deco French Opaque Green Slag Glass Perfume Scent Bottle & StopperVintage Mckee Milk Glass Red Checkered Gingham Bows Refrigerater DishVintage Pyrex Butter Dish Turquoise Amish Print Milk GlassVintage Blue Hobnail Milk Glass 3 Fluted-horn Epergne Flower Vase See PhotosAntique Wavecrest C F Monroe Gilt Bronze Enamel Milk Glass Pin Ring Dish BowlWestmoreland Ring & Petal White Milk Glass Square Pedestal Cake Stand 10 7/8"White Glossy Milkglass Mouse – H/p - Cute! – Fenton – 5148lxVintage Mckee Milk Glass Red Checkered Gingham Bows Refrigerator DishesRetro 1960s Murano Cobalt Art Glass With Abstract Trailed Milk Glass DecorationVintage Pyrex Butter Dish Turquoise Amish Print Milk GlassVintage Fenton Milk Glass Nymph Flower FrogFire King Milk Glass Turquoise Cottage Cheese BowlVintage Fire King Snoopy Peanuts 1980 Election Cup Mug Set Anchor Milk GlassVintage National Biscuit Co Carmel Chocolate Glass Uneeda Milk Biscuit AdvertiseJeannette Delphite Blue Milk Glass Ribbed Tea JarVintage Pyrex White Milk Glass Square Hostess BowlVintage White Milk Glass Pineapple Shaped Jam Jar/sugar BowlHand Blown Jadeite Green Milk Glass Art Nouveau Style Water Pitcher Serving JugHobnail Milk Glass Assorted Items Fenton???Vintage Westmoreland White Milk Glass Hen Chicken On Sleigh Covered Animal DishVtg Lot White Milk Glass Westmoreland Hobnail Grape Vine Tea Cup Plate DishesVintage Rooster On Nest Milk Glass Imperial Glass Covered Dish Lace EdgeEapg Scroll,two Band Pattern Milk Glass Salt Shaker New Martinsville 1902-1905Genuine Antique Milk Glass Covered Battleship Wheeling Pitcher Dish Vintage Milk Glass 5" Cereal Soup Chilli Bowls Termocrisa Lot Of 3 TulipsVtg-fenton-milk Glass Hobnail-pedestal Cake Plate-12 1/2"-near Mint A+cond!-nr!Vintage Bohemia Czech Crystal Milk Glass Decanter W/ 6 CupsEapg Northwood Glass Co's Pair Of Opaque White Quilted Phlox ShakersVintage Kitchen Milk Glass Bowl Pyrex Mixing Serving Nesting Primary Green 60s Eapg Sawtooth Pattern Blue Milk Glass Victorian Salt Shaker 1898-1903 Vintage Milk Glass Dolphin 8-1/4" Candle Stick Set Heavy & Nice ConditionFenton Hobnail Milk Glass Cookie Jar Large Pre Logo Lid 11"Eapg Atterbury Glass Co's Opaque White Ceres Covered SugarImperial Milk Glass Chicken Rooster On A Nest 8" Signed Mint ConditionJadeite Green Glass Deviled Egg Serving Plate Platter Tray Jadite Jade Milk PostVintage Hobnail Milk Glass Drinking Glasses Set Of 6Fenton Milk Glass Hobnail Ruffletop Jug Pitcher Jelly Jar And Serving Dish LotMilk Glass Candy Dish With LidFenton Milk Glass Floral Pink Crimped Edge Vase QvcHtf Westmoreland Paneled Small Grape Milk Glass Font Wall Pocket Vase PlanterGenuine Antique Milk Glass Covered Dolphin Pitcher Dish Vtg Lot 6 Fire King White Milk Glass Restaurant Style Coffee Cup Mug D HandleVintage Fenton ? White Milk Glass Hobnail Pedestal Ruffled Cake Stand Plate3 Vintage Ah Fire King Mcdonald's "good Morning" Milk Glass Coffee Mugs +canadaVintage 1950's Shell Tuscany Pink Round Milk Glass Ashtrays Lot Of 2 Vintage Fenton White Milk Glass Hobnail Toothpick Holder With LabelFenton Milk Glass Butterfly2 Vintage 1960's Fire King Bowls Milk Glass Bowls W/ Gold Flower 6.5" 8"Circa 1930-50 Hand Blown Citrine & Opaque Glass Jack-in-the-pulpit VaseVintage Art Glass/ Milk Glass, Sugar ShakerFenton Cased Iridized Milk Glass Inner Irridized Teal Blue Outer Glass Pitcher Vintage White Milk Glass Rooster Candy Dish Companion For Hen On A Nest ChickenPair Of Jadeite Green Milk Glass Panel Pattern Tumblers Cups Goblets Jadite Jade2 Tier Fenton Milk Glass, Candy Dish / Serving Dish ,silver Crest. Ruffle Style3 Vintage Milk Glass Decorative Plates2 Fire King Milk Glass Pink & Aqua Blue White Fade 5" Cereal Bowls Vintage Anchor Hocking Deviled Egg Plate - White Milk Glass With Gold Trim Set 3Vtg Lot 8 Blue Milk Glass Opaline Children's Kitchen Play Set Toy Creamer PlatesVintage Milk Glass Swan