Weekly Feature #23—Milk Glass

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Wild About White


Feature #23 Milk Glass

I never set out to collect milk glass. Like so many things in a thrifter/picker/junker/shop curator’s life, it sort of snuck up on me. There are pieces of milk glass in the house I have had for years—a couple of compotes and a vase or two. I picked them up along my thrift shopping journey because I liked them or had a decorative idea or two about them. A small compote I have had for five or six years comes out at Christmas filled with vintage baubles every year. 

It never entered my mind to consider their value as vintage goods or wonder much about their origins. I have never been a person who used much white in her decor, though I do like the occasional piece as an accent. Somewhere along the way, these pretty pieces of glass—some almost totally opaque, and others that shimmer in the light like opals— ingratiated their way into my home, my heart and my shop.

Anyone that sells vintage goods knows that what is available and what is trending are constantly changing. Much of it has to do with what style-setters and decorators are using. There is also the fact that popularity and availability follow cycles, some of them as easy to discern as the age of the last generation to collect or be drawn to certain items. Much of what is now being offered at thrift shops, estate sales, etc. is driven by the interests and likes of the generation currently retiring, passing away or downsizing because of age.

Mid Century trends and Farmhouse decor are good examples of styles fueled by what’s on the vintage market. I remember seeing a good bit of milk glass as a child, but never really gave it a second thought. Milk Glass has been a staple of the florist industry for many years, of course. Almost any flowers look good in white vessels. 

At this point, I would separate milk glass into different categories. That made before the Great Depression is truly antique and was considered a collectible of the very well to do. Accessibility changed during the Depression years, but so too apparently did quality. This was not due just to economic times, but to the very nature of the glass industry and the great changes that industrialization and mass production brought to the process. Most of the milk glass commonly available today was made from the 1940s through the 70s. Values vary widely, according to manufacturer, availability and quality. The flood of Hobnail, Stars and Bars and ribbed patterns during the 60s and 70s for florists assures that these vases, so popular for weddings and summer parties are inexpensive and easy to find.

I currently probably have thirty to forty milk glass vases, though I have by no means bought even a fraction of those I find. Most of these will eventually find their way into my Etsy Shop, usually in a lot or group because they are not very expensive. Occasionally, I come across one that I include in my collection, like the Fenton Hobnail Swung bud vase pictured below on my mantle. I have only come across one of these so far, and I find it lovely and unique.

Fenton Swung Bud Vase
Fenton Swung Bud Vase


Milk Glass Manufacturers

The collectible value of milk glass inspired a good number of glass manufacturers to make a line of this white glass.  Some of the best known are Anchor Hocking, E.O. Brody, Fenton, Hazel Atlas, Imperial Glass, Indiana Glass, Napco, and Westmoreland. There are others—I certainly don’t claim to be an expert. I am just an accidental collector with a lot of interest these days since it adds to my overall knowledge for my business. At present, my own collection contains at least one piece and in some cases several from each of these makers  and distributors. 

With the exception of Anchor Hocking, most of the companies I mention above are no longer in business. However, for those who are interested there are collector websites, museums and galleries dedicated to the products of these companies. Each had its specialties, its trademark patterns and so forth. However, some patterns may be found in more than just milk glass or made by more than one company as molds were used for different pieces or sold. 

The story of Hazel-Atlas Glass Company (1902-1956) is among my favorites.  The company made a type of glass called Platonite, which is semi-opaque and often mistaken for milk glass. I have several Hazel-Atlas vases and you can find a pair of lovely white sherbet dishes made in the 1940s or 50s in the Moderntone Pattern on my Etsy Shop for $12.00.

FentonArt Glass Company, known for the beauty, variety and quality of their wares is among the most desirable of collectibles. Fenton introduced the always popular Hobnail pattern in the 1930s and the hobnail has become synonomous with milk glass since. During the nineteen fifties, the Hobnail Pattern was called “our bread and butter line” by Bill Fenton. I am the proud owner of several of these pieces, including vases, candy dishes and the Swung bud vase pictured in this post. 

The E.O. Brody Company was founded in 1958 specifically to cater to the florist industry with vases and urns. It was a highly successful notion. In 1971 the company was taken over by Lancaster Colony Corporation. In 2007, both E.O. Brody and Indiana Glass were bought by and merged with Anchor Hocking. Indiana Glass was perhaps best known for their Harvest Pattern in Milk Glass, Carnival Glass and other colors. I have at least two pieces of this pattern which will be listed very soon.

Milk Glass Vases
Milk Glass Vases

Napco, or National Potteries Co., produced mainly ceramics but also some glassware. However, they are most well known as importers and distributors of fine ceramics, glass, trinkets and novelty wares from Japan. This  large milk glass vase or urn from the 1960s on O Deer Mercantile is an example of an imported version of “milk glass”.  The Imperial Glass Company, closed in 1984, was well known for their milk glass but were also successful with lines of carnival glass and other art glass pieces. The Candlewick Pattern (Very similar to Anchor Hocking’s Boopee or Berwick Pattern) was perhaps their most successful.  

From the 1920s to the 1950s, Westmoreland Glass Company’s main product was milk glass and they did it very well. They company became known for the very high quality of its glass, and its products are in high demand as collectibles. One of the best known is the iconic dish called Hen on Nest. Some of Westmoreland’s most popular patterns in the 1950s were Paneled Grape, Old Quilt, Quilted, English Hobnail, Beaded Fruit, and American Hobnail.  These hearkened back to earlier and very successful patterns. The company finally succumbed to the tides of time and popularity in the 1980s and closed down.

The history and lore of milk glass continue to fascinate. A web search yields a wealth of information, so many interesting facts and galleries of eye candy. This article barely touches upon it.

Here are some of my current offerings on O Deer Mercantile:

Pair of Anchor Hocking Tall Trumpet Shape Hobnail Vases: Ruffled Edge, Milk Glass Dots and Bars~ $40.00

Two Milk Glass Urn-Compote-Vase-Pedestal Bowl in Ivy Leaf or Heart Leaf Pattern~ $14.00

Three Randall and Anchor Hocking Milk Glass Vases: Stacked Donut Bee Hive, Ribbed Scalloped and Stars & Bars Milk Glass Patterns~ $19.00

Three Milk Glass Vases: One Hazel Atlas Starburst Pattern and Two (Probably Anchor Hocking) Dots and Teardrop Pattern~ $27.00

That’s it for today, but I will be listing a dozen or more new milk glass items in the next few weeks, including Fenton candy dishes and a Westmoreland candle holder and Indiana Glass pedestal wedding dish.

Till next time… smile!

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Vintage Milk Glass- Feature #23 O Deer Mercantile