It couldn’t unify Italy during the 16th century, but the genesis of milk glass in Venice around the same time would ultimately unite glass collectors throughout centuries. Milk glass, originally called opal glass, is a milky colored, or opaque glass, that was blown or pressed into decorative moulds to form cups, dishes and figurines—an ideal collectible as it is as useful as it is beautiful.
Historically, milk glass came in myriad colors: brown, pink, blue and even black. Despite the hue, the signature thick milky color remained in tact. Milk glass exists in these colors today; yet opaque white of milk glass wins most popularity contests among collectors.
Early milk glass was created with fluoride, an element that added fluorescence in certain light. However fluoride quickly corroded the moulds used to the items, making the molds costly. Presently, plain glass and paint is used to mimic the appearance of milk glass. A few of the many manufacturers of milk glass include Fenton, Westmoreland, Anchor Hocking, Imperial, and Fostoria. Many of these manufacturers will have markings or specific patterns on their milk glass; counterfeit milk glass generally has neither. Knowing the distinct styles of these and other manufacturers is paramount to keeping authenticity to your milk glass-collection.
The most valuable items you will find on the milk-glass market are those that were made in the 1800s. Pieces yielding from the 1700s are even more valuable but they might be out of the price range for the casual collector.
Milk glass often came in bowls, glasses, vases, toothpick holders and pedestals. Less commonly they can be found as lamps, dinner sets and even costume jewelry. Objects outside of this group may signal a phony, so investigate further for authentication.
Join a trusted authority in milk glass, like the National Milk Glass Collector’s Society at nmgcs.com, for lists of conventions, resources and collecting tips.
The 1840s through ’70s saw the combination of fluoride with flint glass to produce a mild white milk glass that when flicked rang like a bell—an easy and fun way to date a piece. In the 1960s, the growing presence of fluoride runoff in the United States’ streams and rivers meant that the old process of manufacturing the glass had to be halted in favor of more environmentally friendly processes. This led to a decline in production as manufacturing process were reinvented.
The Internet is a vast marketplace for milk glass but searching online doesn’t allow you the luxury of touch. Explore antique and collectible stores, and investigate conditions and specific traits that define milk glass to become more familiar with identifiers. When you navigate the Web, you’ll know what to look for.
Milkglass.org is a helpful source for reputable links or use search terms like milk glass, Fenton and hobnail. Try misspelling popular terms (i.e. Finton instead of Fenton glass or Westomoreland instead of Westmoreland).
Value is based on age and shape; the manufacturer and condition also play a role. Milk glass from the 1950s and ’60s can range from $40-$60. Rare finds such as the Fenton Hobnail punch bowl and 12 cups is valued up to $650. Hobnail, named for its likeness to the thick-headed nails that once secured and protected boots, is a style in milk glass that is highly recognizable and very beautiful.
Did you know?
During the 20th century, America’s Gilded Age, milk glass went hand in hand with wealth and prosperity in American culture. Its delicate styling and effortless elegance makes it highly alluring even today.
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By Brittan West
Photography by Jaimee Itagaki