Developed in Venice, Italy in the 16th century, milk glass was a less expensive alternative to pricier porcelain and glass decorative items, lights, and housewares. It wasn't until the 19th century that milk glass boomed in popularity, and continued to be popular through the 1980s.
|Milk glass light fixture circa 1920.|
Image by Hannah Manning for Materials Unlimited
Milk glass gets its name for the rich milky white coloration. Using an opacifier such as titanium dioxide and iridized salts, glass manufacturers could achieve an milky opalescent white color similar to that of porcelain for a fraction of the production cost. While milk glass mimicked its more expensive cousin, it was easy produce milk glass on a wide scale and had a unique opalescent halo of reds, greens, and blues shimmering through its finish.
Early milk glass was delicate, intricate, and time-consuming. With ruffles, swags, and floral patterns being the most popular, these traditional motifs translated into sought after collectibles around the turn of the 20th century. As a result milk glass manufacturers began popping up all over the country.
Image by By Pete unseth (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Founded in 1889, the Westmoreland Glass Company of Grapeville, Pennsylvania produced all types of glass products from lamps to figurines, bottles to vases. In Ohio, Anchor Hocking opened their factory in 1905 and in nearby West Virigina the Fenton Art Glass Company was producing fine glass wares on a massive scale. Other popular companies of the era included the Libbey Glass Company, Imperial Glass Company, Wedgewood and the Indiana Glass Company.
Milk glass continued to be popular after WWII ultimately falling out of favor in the 1980s. Today, milk glass of all types is highly collectible, with the older pieces being the most desirable. To hunt for the best milk glass, look in vintage and resale shops for the best finds and don't forget to look for the opalescent shimmer it's the best indication of the milk glass' age.
Anchor Hocking Glass Museum
Libbey Glass Company
National Imperial Glass Collector's Society
Westmoreland Glass Club