With its luminous beauty and classic charm, milk glass is a great choice for antiques collectors. Identifying antique milk glass comes down to knowing a bit more about this beautiful type of glassware. Learn what to look for and how to determine the value of milk glass pieces you may find in antique shops and online.
How to Identify Milk Glass
Most of the milk glass collectors encounter today was made during the Victorian era or later. Country Living reports that opaque white glass came into fashion during the Victorian years because it offered an economical alternative to fine china and porcelain. Popularity decreased during the 1930s as colored Depression glass and carnival glass came into fashion, but milk glass had a resurgence in the 1950s and 1960s. No matter when it was made, all milk glass has certain characteristics that you can use to identify antique glassware.
Milk Glass Is Opaque
Like milk, this type of glass is mostly opaque. If you hold a piece of pink Depression glass up to the light, you can see right through it. In contrast, the opaque milk glass blocks most of the light.
Milk Glass Is White (and Other Colors Too)
Most milk glass is a classic, pure white. It's a beautiful neutral that goes with any type of dishes or decor. However, many people don't realize that it came in other colors too. Some of the other shades include a lovely pale green, robin's egg blue, soft pink, and even black. As long as these shades are opaque and made during the milk glass era, they are still considered milk glass.
Milk Glass Only Came in Certain Styles
If you see a full set of white glass dinner plates, you can rest assured this isn't milk glass. That's because dinnerware and similar full sets of dishes were never available in milk glass. Instead, manufacturers mostly used this type of glass to create decorative items like vases and dresser trinkets or serving pieces like pitchers, cake stands, and covered dishes. You'll also see sets like punch bowls, tea cups, or dessert dishes.
Architectural Antiques Feature Milk Glass Too
Milk glass isn't limited to dishes and knickknacks. If you own an old home or enjoy shopping for architectural antiques, you'll also see milk glass in this setting. This Old House reports that milk glass doorknobs and cabinet knobs weren't as popular as their clear glass counterparts, but they still exist in homes built before 1950. You may also encounter things like vintage milk glass lamps. These lamps and light fixtures have milk glass shades, often with a simple hobnail pattern. They offer a lovely upgrade to a home of any era.
Factors Affecting the Value of Antique Milk Glass
If you are considering buying some antique milk glass or you have a few pieces already, it's helpful to know how to determine the value. Most milk glass you find in antique stores, garage sales, and online will sell in the range of $10 to $30 per piece. However, some items sell for far more, and there are several factors that can affect the price of milk glass.
Age of the Piece
In general, older milk glass is more valuable than vintage pieces from the 1960s. According to Collectors Weekly, some of the most valuable milk glass is from France and was made in the 19th century. American-made milk glass from the late 1800s is also among the most valuable. Determining whether your milk glass piece is old can be challenging, but there are a few clues:
- Look for the "ring of fire." If you hold old milk glass up to the light, you should see a rainbow of subtle colors. Before the 1960s, milk glass manufacturers used iridized salts to produce the glass, creating an iridescent effect.
- Examine the texture. Rough or bumpy milk glass tends to be newer, while smooth milk glass is likely old.
- Watch for markings. Many older pieces feature markings to indicate the manufacturer or pattern number. Some even include a patent date.
A variety of manufacturers produced milk glass over the years. Many of these manufacturers used marks to identify their pieces. To see if a piece is marked, turn it over and examine the bottom. The mark will appear near the center in most cases. Examine it carefully, and then compare it to the library of marks at 20th Century Glass. Some of the oldest and most valuable manufacturers include the following companies:
- Atterbury & Company - Famous for making figural milk glass pieces like the "Atterbury duck," this company stamped most pieces with the patent date.
- Bryce Brothers - Many Bryce Bothers pieces are unmarked, but they are famous for their children's figural mugs with animals and people on them.
- Gillinder & Sons - Gillinder & Sons did not mark most of its milk glass, but you can recognize some of its distinctive designs, including busts of famous presidents and figural sculptures.
- New England Glass Company - This company, which made a variety of designs, often used initials in an oval with an eagle near it.
Condition has a huge impact on the value of antique and vintage milk glass. Pieces with chips, cracks, or crazing will be worth less than those in excellent condition. Stains can also have a negative effect. Look for chips along the rims and edges of pieces, since this is where they get the most use.
Especially Valuable Pieces
While most milk glass is affordable and great for beginning collectors, there are a few rare milk glass pieces that sell for especially high prices. When you're comparing values, always check the sold price of similar items. Someone can ask any price for antique glass, but what matters is what the buyer is really willing to pay. The following notable pieces sold recently on eBay:
- A set of four McKee milk glass shakers for flour, sugar, salt, and pepper sold for almost $900. The set was in excellent condition with clear marks and no damage.
- A milk glass Easter bunny candy dish by E.C. Flaccus sold for $860 in early 2020. It was in excellent condition and featured a rare design.
- An adorable piece by Greentown glass featuring a cat on a hamper sold for $700 in early 2020, even though the lid had very minor stress cracks.
A Wonderful Hobby
Even if you don't have one of these valuable pieces, collecting milk glass is a wonderful hobby. From vintage milk glass baskets to simple vases, there's so much variation in the styles produced that there's a piece to match anyone's decor and personal preferences.