You'll always see milk glass in Etsy's best vintage shops and there's hoards of it to be found in the some of the loveliest flea market stands—heck, even we always offer our own pretty selection of vintage milk glass on our site—but why does everybody (including Martha Stewart) seem to covet it?
Image by BarkingSandsVintage via Etsy
Attractive, ornate, and opaque, milk glass (contrary to what you might think) comes not only in white, but also in a range of other colors like black, yellow, green, and pink. Its colorful versatility and range of shapes and patterns may be the first and most prominent reason it's sought after by practiced collectors and amateurs alike. Ranging from decorative vases to utilitarian dinnerware, to translucent to highly opaque in appearance, and ranging from bumpy to smooth to textured, milk glass is just one of those quintessentially American creations that has earned itself mass appeal. Milk glass has even been used in architectural applications: The four faces of the clock currently keeping time inside NYC's iconic Grand Central Terminal are made of opalescent, or milk, glass!
Image by Morgan Sung
Developed in 16th-century Venice, milk glass was initially very pricey. During the Gilded Age, milk glass became a status symbol in upper class American homes: The intricate sculptures and imitation latticework pieces often decorated mantles and side tables. Eventually, prominent 19th-century American manufacturers such as Anchor Hocking, Fenton, and Westmoreland began producing milk glass (made by pouring molten glass into molds) as an affordable alternative to fancy-schmancy European-made glass and china. Since most milk glass products were produced in the United States, many people see it as a bonafide piece of American history. (Milk glass has even been used to produce collectible propaganda plates for presidential campaigns.) Covetable milk glass is begets the concept of "buying American." We can't tell you how many times people have told us how happy they were that what they bought from us was produced in this country...
Image by Melissa Esplin
As the Great Depression arose, however, the quality of—and demand for—milk glass waned. Once a sign of luxury and opulence, milk glass became seen as old-fashioned and frumpy. In fact, milk glass produced in 1930s-40s America is considered lowest in quality because of manufacturing constraints observed during those leanest of economic times. But the creamy, weighty milk glass produced during this era is still quite beautiful and desirable. The fact that it is so readily available makes it a boon for creative floral design—and brides-to-be—wanting to craft memorable, often romantic centerpieces. It's actually very easy to find identical milk glass vases, compotes, and serving pieces in different thrift shops, flea markets, and estate sales throughout the country, making it relatively easy to start—and complete—a collection.
Image by Garden & Gun via Summerfield Design
Another reason why people covet milk glass is due to the scarcity of certain patterns. Most of the molds used in the production of early milk glass became corroded over time by the calcium fluoride used during the manufacturing process. Since it was often too expensive to replace these molds they'd be disposed of, thus prematurely ending the run of a specific pattern and/or shape.
Image by Country Living
Today, antique milk glass pieces (lamps, jugs, perfume bottles) are coveted by serious collectors because of their superior quality and their ornateness. Rule of thumb? High opacity signifies higher-quality milk glass. If you're looking to start collecting, or are simply interested in how to identify milk glass, there are hundreds of informative websites solely dedicated to milk glass: It's a real testament to just how much it's loved.
Image by Vivian Panagos via ish & chi
If you're one of those people who's buying milk glass for pure pleasure, and buying based on aesthetics alone, just choose what you like—it's much more enjoyable if you start a collection this way instead of pouring over book after book, seeking only the most valuable, hard-to-find pieces. And don't be afraid to use your milk glass for its intended purpose, either—it's so strong it can even be thrown into the dishwasher and come out looking like new. Careful, though! Not all white glass is milk glass...
Would you like to know more about milk glass? Whether you'd like to see more coverage of milk glass on the blog, or if you have a specific question, drop us a line!