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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Treasure hunter paradiseCecil Whig, November 23rd
The Rental Showroom offers everything from eclectic décor to old widows, pergolas, milk glass, tables, even a vintage bicycle all in white. Those looking to up their game for the family portrait this holiday or after, can find the perfect element to...Read more
Looking for great classic giftsParis Post Intelligencer, November 23rd
Nell Taylor of Waverly looks at the large selection of milk glass at Straight From the Horse's Mouth, one of the antique stores in Hazel participating in the town's annual Christmas Open House. The Saturday event hosted by several retailers in the...Read more
Treating the Table: Do's and Don'ts for Thanksgiving TablescapesOver the Mountain Journal, November 17th
“Unusual containers like birch bark, carved out white or green pumpkins, old wooden boxes, galvanized tin, old china pieces, silver service, transfer wood or milk glass make for a vintage look,” Baker said. For decorators who love an amaryllis...Read more
Your Dream Weekend House in the HamptonsLonny Magazine, November 16th
Milk-glass fixtures in the kitchen have a similar effect, as does the silvery-gray hue of the wood flooring, reclaimed from a barn in Vermont and stained a chalky gray to give the illusion of a seamless space. “There's a crispness and a warmth to it...Read more
Trinity Episcopal to present A Taste of TrinityPine Bluff Commercial, November 12th
Several special items donated by local businesses and individuals will be up for bidding in a silent auction, including jewelry, handbags, milk glass, Waterford crystal, framed prints, home decor items, a hand-quilted Christmas throw, gift basket and...Read more
Mirror, Mirror: Kit & Ace's latest store wants the full-contact clientPhilly.com, November 10th
The milk glass and recycled-copper light fixtures are the work of Ian Chapin from Edsel, also in Fishtown. "We look for areas that have a creative class," said Wilson, who added that the company allocated about $50,000 for its hyper-local accessories...Read more
Auction watch: Fire up the computers for multiple online salesTribune-Review, November 1st
This initial internet sale brings to market a small selection of milk glass and a few antiques and is heavy on household goods. Details: 814-539-7653 or careyauctions.com. John Altdorfer is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media. Subscribe today...Read more
Collectors seek milk glass with hens, squirrels, cowsazcentral.com, July 14th
Question: My mom and dad were married in 1943. They received several pieces of milk glass as wedding presents and I inherited them. I have no intention of selling them but would like to know more about this type of glass and if it is considered...Read more