A Complete Guide to Milk Glass [History & Values] • Adirondack Girl @ Heart (2024)

Have you ever wondered about the history of milk glass? First produced in the 16th century, it quickly gained popularity for its beautiful simplicity. Today, collectors and decorators alike search thrift stores and estate sales for vintage milk glass.

In this article, we will take a closer look at the history and value of milk glass. Whether you are a seasoned collector or just starting out, this guide will provide you with all the information you need to get started on your own milk glass collection.

I keep several vases of all sizes and shapes on hand for flower arranging. The pure white sets off just about any color flower with perfect simplicity. I recommend picking up a few if you don’t already have some in your stash. Like ironstone, its effortless beauty makes it easy and satisfying to decorate with.

Be sure to scroll toward the end of the post because I’ve got 14 fabulous ways you can use milk glass in home decor!

Related posts: and Collecting Antique Calling Cards

Check out my milk glass video to listen to
some milk glass history and see real life examples 🙂

Milk glass has experienced somewhat of a roller coaster ride in popularity over the years. Venetian glass makers developed this milky white glass sometime in the the 16th century and called it opal glass. The addition of certain ingredients like bone ash, arsenic, or tin oxide gave the glass its opacity.

The term we use today, milk glass, may have first been used by 19th century Victorians who fell in love with the glass. Their love affair was likely due in part to its similarity to porcelain, something only the very wealthiest of families could afford.

After falling out of favor in the early 20th century, companies like Fenton, Westmoreland, and Indiana Glass ushered in a “golden age” of milk glass that extended from about 1940 to 1970.

After another serious down-turn, this simple white glass entered our decorating consciousness again in the 2000’s and it remains popular even now, in 2020.

Victorian Milk Glass

A Complete Guide to Milk Glass [History & Values] • Adirondack Girl @ Heart (2)We can usually recognize a Victorian piece of milk glass by its ornate decoration–some might think of it as fussy. Antiques from this period have mostly grown out of favor in the past couple of decades.

This dish serves as an example of a “pressed” glass piece, meaning the glass was pressed into a wooden mold, as opposed to being hand-blown. It’s also an example of a cheaply made piece as it’s edges are not smooth and rounded but are rather quite sharp and chipped looking in spots.

Early in my antique career, a piece like this might have sold for $25-30. If I were to try to sell it from my antique booth now, I’d price it at $12. However, it has happily joined my vanity jar collection 🙂

A Complete Guide to Milk Glass [History & Values] • Adirondack Girl @ Heart (3)Did you know that milk glass comes in more colors than just white? This ruffled vase serves as a good example of blue milk glass, but look for pink, yellow, brown, and black as well.

This piece is very delicate and translucent. We know it was hand blown because it has a rough pontil mark on the base. A pontil mark denotes the place where the glass blower broke the piece off of the rod on which he was creating it.

Westmoreland Milk Glass

Westmoreland Glass produced a large variety of glass over the course of it’s nearly 100 years of business (1889-1984) in the Pittsburgh area, where my sweet husband is from(!).

Throughout the Depression in particular (and beyond), milk glass served as the company’s staple, keeping it afloat into the 1950’s. Experts consider their glass to be among the highest quality from their era of production.

While still very popular among collectors, its values have dropped significantly over the past couple of decades, like quite a lot of mid-range glass wares. Unusual pieces like children’s toy sets and rare carnival glass pieces sell much better than average pieces, as do larger pieces like punch bowl sets and cake stands.

Milk Glass Plate

A Complete Guide to Milk Glass [History & Values] • Adirondack Girl @ Heart (4)This ornate milk glass plate, marked WG (see the photo below), depicts cupid pointing an arrow at a young girl in a raised design; it is likely a copy of an early Victorian piece.

A Complete Guide to Milk Glass [History & Values] • Adirondack Girl @ Heart (5)The “W” superimposed with a “G” mark dates to the late 1940’s through 1982. On the right is a Westmoreland sticker found on the piece below.

Milk Glass Vase

A Complete Guide to Milk Glass [History & Values] • Adirondack Girl @ Heart (6)“Paneled Grape,” one of Westmoreland’s most popular patterns, has an attractive arrangement of well-defined grapes and trailing leaves.

Their high quality, opaque milk glass is distinguished by its smooth glossiness, which you can get a sense of from this photo.

Milk Glass Candlestick

A Complete Guide to Milk Glass [History & Values] • Adirondack Girl @ Heart (7)This dolphin candlestick, based on a very early design by the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company, has no mark but I’m fairly certain it is Westmoreland. It sold a couple of years ago for $15. It was sadly missing its partner.

Milk Glass Vase

A Complete Guide to Milk Glass [History & Values] • Adirondack Girl @ Heart (8)I sold this beautiful horn of plenty vase by Westmoreland (unmarked) a few months ago for $12, without conducting any research on it before hand. Had I known it was Westmoreland, I would have likely priced it higher. It’s lovely, isn’t it?

Fenton Milk Glass

I wrote an extensive article about Fenton Art Glass not too long ago, and in it I mentioned that hobnail milk glass served as their cash cow for much of the mid-20th century. In the post I included a photograph of a piece of yellow milk glass.

The manufacture of Fenton’s milk glass involved hand-pressing glass into a mold and then hand-finishing the piece afterwards. This process contributed to its rating as a high quality glass producer.

White Hobnail Milk Glass

A Complete Guide to Milk Glass [History & Values] • Adirondack Girl @ Heart (10)In my own home growing up, we had a hobnail condiment set with salt and pepper shakers sitting in the center of our kitchen table for as long as I can remember.

White hobnail milk glass holds a lot of nostalgia for many people and is one of the reasons I have this little white hobnail vase in my collection of small vases.

Hobnail Milk Glass Knock-Off

A Complete Guide to Milk Glass [History & Values] • Adirondack Girl @ Heart (11)In this photo, one of the pieces is not Fenton. Can you tell which?

The piece in the front has a yellow-ish cast and the “hobnails” are less defined than those on the other pieces. It’s a knock-off.

I honestly never noticed the differences between the pieces until taking these photos with the vases all juxtaposed against each other.

A Complete Guide to Milk Glass [History & Values] • Adirondack Girl @ Heart (12)While we’re talking about flaws, let’s take a look at this hobnail trumpet vase. It appears to be Fenton in that it’s quite white and the hobnails are a bit pointy, but notice the “shmushed” hobnails near the top.

Fenton would never allow a damaged piece like this to enter the retail market.

A Complete Guide to Milk Glass [History & Values] • Adirondack Girl @ Heart (13)In addition, if you look very closely at the base, you’ll see mold lines (there are four), which Fenton would have buffed out since they were extremely particular about the quality of their glass. This is a tell-tale sign of lower quality milk glass.

Blue Hobnail Milk Glass Vase

A Complete Guide to Milk Glass [History & Values] • Adirondack Girl @ Heart (14)Fenton also produced colored milk glass, like this pretty blue hobnail vase. You can find Fenton milk glass in pink, green, and brown as well.

Silvercrest Milk Glass Vase

A Complete Guide to Milk Glass [History & Values] • Adirondack Girl @ Heart (15)“Silvercrest,” another popular Fenton line, combined milk glass with a clear glass trim, as you see in this photo.See more examples of Fenton Silvercrest milk glass in my Fenton Art Glass article.

Milk Glass Basket

A Complete Guide to Milk Glass [History & Values] • Adirondack Girl @ Heart (16)For our last piece of Fenton, we have a daisy and button patterned milk glass basket. It can also be found in clear blue and clear amber.

Indiana Milk Glass

Operating out of Dunkirk, Indiana for almost 100 years (1907-2002), Indiana Glass Company produced vast quantities of glass, including carnival, Depression, and milk glass. Interestingly, they produced glass mugs for A&W (a favorite of mine), as well.

Milk Glass Vase (Short)

A Complete Guide to Milk Glass [History & Values] • Adirondack Girl @ Heart (18)Like Westmoreland glass and others, Indiana developed a line of milk glass decorated with grapes. They called their pattern “Harvest Grape.” Neither this piece, nor the one below are marked in anyway.

Milk Glass Vase (Tall)

A Complete Guide to Milk Glass [History & Values] • Adirondack Girl @ Heart (19)You can tell the difference between Indiana and Westmoreland grape patterns easily, once you have seen examples of both. Westmoreland grapes protrude more and their leaves are fully dimensional, while Indiana’s are not.

In addition, Westmoreland’s glass is of generally higher quality; it’s glass is extremely smooth and glossy, while Indiana’s has a very fine texture and therefore has very little shine.

Vintage Jeannette Glass Pink Milk Glass

Pink Milk Glass Dish

A Complete Guide to Milk Glass [History & Values] • Adirondack Girl @ Heart (20)From my experience pink and other colored milk glass tends to sell better than plain white. Jeannette Glass (another Pittsburgh area company) made this pretty grape-patterned dish (missing its cover). I sold a few years ago from my antique booth somewhere in the $6 range.

Pink Milk Glass Gondola Center Bowl

A Complete Guide to Milk Glass [History & Values] • Adirondack Girl @ Heart (21)I bought this Jeannette pink milk glass gondola center bowl over the summer for a dollar. Crazy right?It has a smooth glossy finish and no mold marks as you would expect with a piece of higher quality glass.

Miscellaneous Milk Glass

A Complete Guide to Milk Glass [History & Values] • Adirondack Girl @ Heart (22)L.E. Smith, yet another Pittsburgh area glass company produced this footed dish (signed on the bottom), which they called a “fern bowl,” for reasons I’ve yet to determine. I use it to hold makeup in our bathroom.

A Complete Guide to Milk Glass [History & Values] • Adirondack Girl @ Heart (23)I’ve not discovered the maker of this “moon and star” patterned compote. Many companies over the years developed their own version of this design, which is based on much earlier pressed glass varieties.

This compote is a nice example, similar to Fenton and Westmoreland quality with very smooth, glossy glass.

Florist Grade Milk Glass

A Complete Guide to Milk Glass [History & Values] • Adirondack Girl @ Heart (24)I’m not sure if “florist grade” is a real term or not, but I’m using it to describe lower quality milk glass produced from the 1970’s to the present primarily for the florist trade. This milk glass bud vase actually falls on the nicer end.

A Complete Guide to Milk Glass [History & Values] • Adirondack Girl @ Heart (25)As does this one, though on close examination, you can easily see the texturized surface and mold lines that were not buffed out. Cute design, though, right?

A Complete Guide to Milk Glass [History & Values] • Adirondack Girl @ Heart (26)These two pieces definitely fall on the lower quality end; they are translucent rather than opaque (not in a pretty way) and have lines on their surface from defects in the molding process, and their color is quite uneven.

What rescues them from obscurity (and the thrift store donation box) is their shape and simplicity. They really do set-off bright floral arrangements nicely.

New Milk Glass

A Complete Guide to Milk Glass [History & Values] • Adirondack Girl @ Heart (27)I picked up this newer cake stand at a garage sale recently for a dollar; a sticker on the bottom indicates that it was made in China. Careful inspection of the surface reveals imperfections identical to the vases above.

Buying & Selling Vintage Milk Glass

A Complete Guide to Milk Glass [History & Values] • Adirondack Girl @ Heart (28)In my neck of the woods (upstate New York), milk glass is quite easy to find at low prices. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been actively looking in order to have a variety of pieces for this blog post.

I found numerous pieces, all less than $4, and most about $2 each at thrift stores and estate sales. But during garage sale season, it’s often possible to find pieces for a dollar or less.

At this point in my blogging career, I’ve only sold milk glass (primarily pink) from my antique booth. It definitely sells on eBay (just check the sold listings), but the prices are rather low. I suspect they are on Etsy as well, but if anyone has insight into this, please tell us in a comment.

Other Milk Glass Uses

Any product made out of glass can likely be found in milk glass, as well:

  • Lamps, lantern bases, and lantern shades,
  • Buttons (scroll toward the end to white & black examples),
  • Door knobs, and
  • Medication and toiletry jars.

How to Decorate with Vintage Milk Glass

Milk glass works with a variety of home decorating styles because of its simplicity. It shows off flower arrangements beautifully but makes a real statement “bare” when grouped together against a dark background. Here are 14 different ways that you can use milk glass to accessorize your home (and life!):

  1. WEDDING CENTERPIECES: Create stunning wedding centerpieces (here are some beautiful examples–scroll to the end!).
  2. GROUP DISPLAY: Set up a striking display of numerous pieces against a dark background.
  3. TOILETRIES: Use pieces as containers for toiletries (cotton balls, make-up, cotton swabs, etc.).
  4. GIFT: Gift a vase with a bouquet since pieces can be found so cheaply, e.g., Aldi’s $3.99 bouquet in a 25¢ vase!
  5. CHRISTMAS: Group a few on a tray and fill with Christmas bulbs or candy canes(!) for a pretty holiday display.
  6. CANDLE HOLDER: Create this Christmas candle holder (scroll down).
  7. PLANTER: Plant succulents in them.
  8. SILVERWARE HOLDER: Use pieces to hold silverware for a buffet.
  9. CANDY BAR: Fill with candy for a candy bar (or just because!).
  10. APPETIZERS: Use for serving appetizers, e.g., stand carrot and celery sticks in one compote and dip in another.
  11. CHRISTMAS TREE STAND: Turn a piece into a Christmas tree stand for a small faux evergreen.
  12. EASTER BASKET: Fill with Easter grass and pretty colored eggs.
  13. DESK: Use them on your desk to hold pencils, scissors, paper clips, and more!
  14. DINING TABLE CENTERPIECE: Line them down the center of your dinning room table for a spectacular effect–fill with candles (scroll to the end) or flowers.

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing a variety of milk glass and learning (I hope!) a bit more about it. Please don’t forget to check out my video on the topic (and grace me with a thumbs up), if you haven’t already 🙂 Thank you!!

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A Complete Guide to Milk Glass [History & Values] • Adirondack Girl @ Heart (2024)

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