The term milk glass almost always refers to the white glass that was popular from 1835 through the 1980s in America and England. Considered porcelain for the masses, white glass was an inexpensive substitute for luxurious tableware and accessories made by companies such as Wedgwood and Spode.
How It Was Made
To create milk glass, early manufacturers added arsenic to their standard glass recipes, which yielded a faintly grayish but nicely opalescent effect. Later they used tin oxide, feldspar, and other additives to achieve the more saturated, denser whiteness they desired. Milk glass was turned into bowls and compotes, and later, fanciful dresser sets were the rage. Around 1900, novelty pieces became popular. There were milk glass Easter eggs, covered dishes in the shape of nesting chickens, and souvenir pieces from places like Niagara Falls.
Distinguishing Between the Old and the New
Milk glass has been in constant production for so long that collectors have many items to choose from. One of the largest producers in the twentieth century was Westmoreland Glass Company of Grapeville, Pennsylvania; its factory closed in 1985. Only a handful of companies still manufacture milk glass, including the well-known Fenton Art Glass Company of Williamstown, West Virginia. Prices can range from just a few dollars to several thousand. However, because few American manufacturers marked their glass, it can be difficult to tell when, where, or by whom a piece was made, which is important in determining the value. For example, an old, rare piece of milk glass can fetch several thousand dollars, while a charming hobnailed butter dish can be bought for $10.
Did You Know?
Some older milk glass contains quantities of lead and will ring like a bell when tapped, and may also display brilliant colors around its edges when held up to the light. But newer milk glass certainly has its selling points: it's plentiful, undervalued, and so sturdy that you can put it in the dishwasher.