Milk glass is having it’s trend moment, and I love it. I have collected it for more than 40 years. I’d love to share with you my 5 best ways to collect and use vintage milk glass.
What is so special about milk glass?
To me, milk glass has always been special, as I received my first piece from my maternal grandmother when I was 14. A few years later, she gave me the punch bowl and cups that my parents used at their wedding. After that, I was hooked.
The trend for milk glass has come and gone many times over the last four decades that I have collected it and been paying attention to it. But what makes it so special right now to another generation, I believe, is its versatility.
Milk glass matches everything. It can cross over into many home decor styles, and it is quite usable.
my very first piece of milk glass
Fenton Perfume Decanter
This pattern is called Hobnail. It has a bumpy, raised pattern that mimics polka dots. It can be found in a variety of shapes, including; vases, pitchers, goblets, candy dishes, planters, compotes, and much more.
Is milk glass worth collecting?
The value of milk glass does not just lie in its monetary worth. Frankly, it has always been a cost efficient option to collect. But the value of milk glass pieces, to me, remains in how it functions.
Haven’t we all, over the years, succumbed to collecting the hot trend that has everyone abuzz? Only to have these pieces be forgotten as our lifestyle changes, or we redecorate. The difference with milk glass is that it can be incorporated into your daily life. That right there, makes milk glass worth collecting.
If you are into vintage, read this post about collecting.
What kind of milk glass should I collect?
The short answer is the pattern you like best and what you will use. The longer answer requires a bit more history of milk glass items.
I don’t want to bore you with too many technical terms about it, but if you are into milk glass, they will be good to know. I will share more history and a few milk glass manufacturers below.
However, the kind that is popular today and making a trend spot is opaque white glass. The opaque glass is mainly what you see most people sharing on social media. This is the heartiest of vintage milk glass dishes and was mainly manufactured in the 20th century between 1940-1960s.
This is the kind of collectible glass I like, and you may like it too. Mainly, I like to just throw stuff in the dishwasher and not have to worry about it, and this can handle it.
But collecting milk glass has become more than just a hobby for me, and I have been doing it a very long time (yes, I am old). I started way before the milk glass popularity began in the early 90s. At this point, I feel like it’s part of my identity!
When starting any collection, it will stay with you long term if you truly love it and use it. Milk glass collectors like me know that this white milk glass can add personal style to your decor but also provide practicality and pretty to household items. Get tips for collecting vintage here.
What patterns of opaque glass should I look for?
This is truly subjective to your likes and dislikes and how you want to use it. I stay very consistent with the patterns that I purchase so they end up as full collections that are useful. Let me show you a few:
The vintage milk glass bubble bowl
The bubble bowl was manufactured by Anchor Hocking until the 60s and is one of my most favorite patterns. It features a scalloped edge on the top (soooo cute!) with ‘bubbles’ that cover the bowls surface. We literally use these everyday as our dinnerware, as they work great serving up salads, pasta, chili, and anything with a sauce.
They are approximately 8″ wide and almost 3″ tall and are the perfect size for individual servings. I also use them as serving pieces, when it is just my husband and I eating, and the portions are smaller.
I have literally collected stacks of these bowls, one by one, across the country. Not only for me, but I have found stacks for my daughter and my BFF, who all use them as everyday dishes. They are truly versatile and one of my favorite milk glass items. They can also be found in the berry bowl size.
Lace edge scalloped plates and chargers
The scalloped edge plates are among the most used milk glass items I own. There are two patterns that I like, both very similar, and manufactured in that same timeframe. One was made by Anchor Hocking Glass Company and one by Hazel Atlas Glass Company (which made depression glass as well).
Whichever one you prefer, or whatever plate pattern you end up buying, you may want to be consistent. That way you will end up with large quantities that can be used everyday or at parties. Of course, you can always mix and match, but any seasoned collector knows there is power in quantity.
My absolute favorite size of this particular pattern is the large charger size plate. It is about 13″ across and I use it as a platter. They always make their debut at my annual holiday cookie party, read here how to host a holiday cookie exchange. When used as a charger in a table setting, they are super beautiful.
It’s such a pretty layer, and the older glass versus newer plates, work seamlessly together. With collectible glassware, I feel strongly about using it and not just looking at it. I also have this pattern in a variety of compotes and sherbet glasses.
Paneled grape pattern
These footed goblets, both tall and short, have seen a lot of usage over the years. Even when my children were younger, we used these as our everyday glasses. I was never worried about them handling glass, once they were over the age of 4-5, and they never once broke any. My dad was the only one who ever broke one, by accidentally dropping it in the sink. It was quickly replaced the next time I made trips to flea markets.
This design is not my favorite, as the grapes raised patterns can be a bit fussy for me, but I have still bought many milk glass vintage items in this pattern. I tend to stay away from shapes in this pattern that could feel a bit too granny, like covered dishes and candy dishes.
Hobnail is the pattern that started it all for me with the older milk glass perfume decanter. It was made by Fenton Art Glass Company, who also made carnival glass. Hobnail is the ultimate vintage milk glass pattern that everyone loves because the ball pattern mimics polka dots. And everyone loves classics like polka dots, stripes, and gingham right?
I tend to buy hobnail for serving pieces. We use these small pitchers (creamers really) for things like salad dressings and gravies. Of course, I always sit them on a milk glass plate to catch all the drips!
What can I do with old milk glass?
The short answer to this question is anything and everything. But I promised to share the five BEST ways to collect and use vintage milk glass in your life, so here they are:
Use as everyday dishes
As seen above, you can see how vintage milk glass works beautifully for everyday use. Being that it is white glass, it matches everything. My everyday dishes are divided basically between antique milk glass, clear glass, and other milk white dishes like ironstone that pair great with the opaque white glass that I love.
Put it to work
I love to use white milk glass for many things. Rather than shop for working decor in my home if I need it, I first consult my milk glass storage cupboard.
Milk glass works great for soap dishes, pencil cups, office supply storage, makeup tubes, and so much more. There are many ways to utilize milk glass and put it to work. I especially like to use the more rare items out in the open, as they look really special while doing their job.
Don’t forget to use antique milk glass as it was intended. Items such as; toothpick holders, knobs, cake stands, bud and flower vases, candlesticks, small lamps, and replacement lamp shades put the opaque glass front and center. Many milk glass parts were featured on a brass lamp base, and are still so cute to use today.
Bring it out for parties and gatherings
The value of milk glass really comes home around the holidays when we have more parties and gatherings. Use your milk glass when setting out a buffet or charcuterie. Many of the smaller bowls become great serving pieces for nuts, candies, and other items placed within a big display. Milk glass vases can be placed around your home to hold flowers and greens that fit your party theme.
I have a friend who loved to collect the luncheon plates, not only milk glass, but carnival glass as well. Whenever she had gatherings at her home, these would come out front and center. Their size makes them great options as appetizer platters.
And of course, any reason to pull out my beloved milk glass punch bowl is a win. We even used milk glass vases on the tables at my youngest daughters wedding.
Allow it to make the holidays special
When I begin to decorate for Christmas, my milk glass storage cupboard is the first place I go. I pull out vases and compotes, candlesticks and more. The bud vases that hold my collection of vintage tree toppers are my first things to display. This makes it feel like Christmas.
I use milk glass compotes and urns to hold mini trees, bulbs, pinecones, greenery and more. The more you use it, the more you will want, and the more you will find! Each holiday, it will become a pleasure to incorporate milk glass into your seasonal decor.
Feature it in your home decor
Because milk glass is a neutral white, it goes with so many styles and colors, and can easily be added to vignettes when decorating. Small planters, compotes, and pitchers make great decor accessories when featured in collections.
I love a collection of covered animal dishes in a hutch! I have seen hens, bunnies, lambs, cats, and even dogs before. But the hens are the ones most readily available when you are out scouring the antique malls.
If you end up liking the look, search for hand painted milk glass. There was a period in the 40s-50s where it seems that must have been the thing to do to entertain yourself because I have seen a ton of hand painted pieces from that era. You will find milk glass was hand painted with pictures of fruit and flowers mostly.
Many collectors search for these items, but I am more of a purist, and like the simple opaque glass.
5 BEST ways to collect + use milk glass
How much can I expect to pay for antique milk glass?
This is the part that is a bummer. Let me share a quick story. When I first began collecting milk glass back in the late 70s-early 80s, I could find it for CHEAP! Like 5-10 cents each type cheap at thrift stores.
I have even been to a garage sale where the seller handed me a box for FREE and asked me to just take it away when I was the only one ever looking at it. Ha!
I collected a huge amount of milk glass over the next decade, and became one of the only vintage glassware collectors in my large circle of friends and acquaintances. No one was really looking for it back then.
Then, in the early 90s it was featured on the cover of the newer magazine Martha Stewart Living, and the price shot up! Martha had clout and people listened! What had been pennies before, was now more money at several dollars apiece.
Over the last four decades I have seen the prices go up and down, along with the trends. Once again, milk glass is having a trend moment and prices are rising again. However, and this is key, it’s still affordable!
It is still an inexpensive substitute to the same old thing you can find at Home Goods, and the Victorian era glass still looks fresh and fun.
Prices will always fluctuate on the milk glass pieces. Their age, and the demand for certain types of milk glass items will affect the pricing. As I always say, just buy what you love, so there is a better chance you will use it.
Is milk glass always opaque white glass?
Get ready to freak out because the answer is…NO it isn’t always white! If you have fallen for this opaque glass then you will pee yourself when you see that there is colored milk glass out in the world.
My favorite ones are pale pink and aqua but I have also seen black and yellow as well. The colored ones are a bit harder to find and can be a lot more money than regular milk glass.
The green milk glass is known as Jadeite and has a whole other level of collectors and rabid followers. Frankly, I don’t even think of Jadeite as milk glass anymore, as it has earned its own name.
This was made in the early to mid- 20th century by many milk glass manufacturers and is still made today. You really need to know your stuff to differentiate the older from the green newer milk glass.
What milk glass pieces are most useful?
I believe most of it is highly useful, which is why I have stuck with collecting it for so long. But my favorite vintage milk glass things to find are door knobs, drawer pulls, chargers, cake plates, butter dish, and other unique pieces. Pretty much, I subscribe to the thought process of buy it now, ask questions later.
If you end up not loving it, you can sell off your pieces to refine your collection. I have done this many times over the years and it is a great way to hone in on what you want and will use.
How can I care for my milk glass and opal glass?
I am not too careful with my milk glass, as I treat it like any other glassware I have. I put it in the dishwasher.
The only pieces I wouldn’t do that to is the very old opal glass pieces. I have a few which are from the early Victorian era, which have a very translucent milky appearance, and are very delicate. I also would not put the hand painted milk glass in the dishwasher.
Where can I find good quality milk glass?
Milk glass is relatively easy to find. Search thrift stores, flea markets, antique markets and malls, garage sales, and estate sales. They even have glass shows for the really die hard collectors. Trust me, whatever vintage shopping experience you enter into, you will find milk glass!
Milk Glass Companies to Know
- Westmoreland Glass Company
- Anchor Hocking
- Hazel Atlas
A brief history, so you know what to look for
Okay, real quick on the boring stuff. Milk glass was first made in the 16th century in Venice. Oh leave it to those Venetians, they know their glass! We took a trip to Venice a few years back and went to the little island of Murano and visited where things all started. I will never forget the skill of that glass blower as he spun that molten glass into gorgeous art. It was crazy!
Fast forward to the Gilded Age, where many a glass company began creating lamps, vases, dinnerware, even jewelry from milk glass! I think the famous clock in NYC Grand Central Station has it’s faces (it is 4-sided) made of milk glass.
It definitely popularized throughout the 20th century, and here we are today, where there are still a few glass companies that manufacture it. When out searching, just remember, the really old stuff (like before Victorian era) is really translucent. It is very delicate looking, and less usable.
The white opaque glass that is old but still usable may have mold lines or seams. This is more desirable than the newer stuff. And I will venture to say that you will not be finding anything from the 16th century because if it has even survived all these years, it’s in a museum.
SO there you have it my friends! Not only did we find out the 5 best ways to collect and use vintage milk glass, but we got to talk about everything you didn’t even know you needed to know about milk glass.
If you’ve been wondering whether or not you want to jump in on the trend, I’d say DO IT! You never know, it could just end up being the thing you love to use and can pass on to your granddaughter one day.
If you’d like to read a bit about how my design journey started and what things influenced me, check out my story.
Do you have any milk glass? Tell me in the comments below what your favorite piece is.