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- Inside Antiques,
by Robert Reed
- Inside Antiques:
- Enduring Milk Glass
- By Robert Reed
Often unheralded but never unknown, milk glass has charmed beholders
for centuries as tableware and in novelty items.
- The place and quality of manufacture may have changed over
the decades, but since the 1700s pitchers, plates, mugs, bowls,
animal figures, jars, and decorative objects have made of milk
- In 1740, England the light-hearted spirit of opaque white
glass was accepted in part because it resembled costly porcelain
which was very much in vogue both in that country and in Europe.
- Back in 1743, the Countess of Hertford wrote to her son while
he was on the Grand Tour in Great Britain: They have made
a great improvement in Southwark upon the manufacture of glass,
and brought it so nearly to resemble old white china, that when
it is placed upon a cabinet at a convenient distance, it would
not easily be distinguished by an indifferent judge. They make
jars, beakers, flower-pots, sauce-boats, salt-cellars and milk
pots of it, which look extremely pretty.
- By the late 1750s, very attractive milk glass canisters were
being produced in England for tea and other items of the kitchen.
Often they were given caps of painted enamel on copper.
- In the Victoria and Albert Museum of London, there is a milk
glass, enamel-decorated finger-bowl. The treasure bears the initials
of the artist and 1764 date, although such marks were rare on
coloured glass of that period.
- For all of its popularity in England, milk glass or Opal
Ware as it was called by the early glassmakers, did not become
fully established in America until nearly a century later.
- The process of producing this opaque style of pressed glass
that looked very much to Americans just like milk, was mastered
in the U.S. by the 1860s. Major production, however. did not
begin until the 1870s.
- Cheap colored glass (milk and other colors) was perfected
in the 1870s, according to Christopher Pearce, author of
the Catalog of American Collectibles, and by the 1890s
there were over 400 factories producing large quantities of colored
- From this background and period come the bulk of glass collectibles.
- Customers could choose from milk glass products made by the
Atterbury Company of Pittsburgh, Pa., the Indiana Tumbler and
Goblet Company of Greentown, In., or the Challinor, Taylor Company
of Tarentum, Pa.
- This seeming golden age of milk glass production saw the
famous Atterbury ducks, covered dishes of the 1880s, considered
by many to be the most outstanding specimens of the glassmakers
- A covered animal dish of a hen on the nest, made by the McKee
Brothers of Pittsburgh, Pa. in 1885, is now in the Metropolitan
Museum of Art, and a cracker jar produced by the Mount Washington
Glass Works of New Bedford, Mass., complete with opal and gilt
beads, is now in the Coming Museum of Glass.
- Naturally milk glass
of this grand era is still considered by many to be quite collectible.
- One of Schroeders Antiques Price Guides notes pieces
not only produced in this country but in England and France as
well during the 1870 to 1900 period, are highly prized
for their intricate detail and fiery, opalescent edges.
- Writing in the 1949 book, Milk Glass, author E. McCamly Belknap
offered another suggestion: Probably the most popular collectors
items in milk glass are the hundred or more patterns of milk
glass plates. There are flower, childrens, lacy edge, comic,
historical, bird, and geometric design plates.
- Interestingly, many of the older milk glass plates are still
available to the collector today for under $25, as are some creamers,
cups, covered dishes with animal figurals and shakers.
- As the Edwardian era began at the turn of the century, and
women sought out the hourglass silhouette and men opted for long
narrow fitted suits, milk glass was decidedly extended into the
- Delightful covered dishes with animals on the top became
quite the rage. Makers offered a wide variety of animals, from
cows to cats and from dolphins to doves. Some of the finest examples
of the divided animal dishes came from the McKee Brothers factory
in Pittsburgh, which later became a major concern as the McKee
Glass Company. Often the name McKee was included on the base
of the dish.
- While a few of the milk glass animal dishes were made in
France or England, the majority of those kinds of dishes
were as American as the Fourth of July, according to author
- During the 1940s, Belknap said one major reason that more
animal covers than bases were being found hidden away in American
homes was the popularity of canaries and other small birds in
the early 1900s.
- The author said the bottoms of milk glass covered dishes
were used in the bird case, while the cover was put up in the
pantry. The result was shorter life for bases, and covers being
discovered years later.
- While white milk glass was the most predominating colour
of such production in both the 19th and 20th centuries, it was
not the only one. There were various shades of blue, deep - nearly
black - amethyst (violet) and green, among others.
- A great deal more kitchenware of milk glass in various colours
was made during the first half of the 20th century. They included
syrup jugs, salt and pepper shakers, butter dishes, flour canisters
and sugar bowls.
- Beyond the Great
Depression of the 1930s, milk glass remained one of the specialties
of the McKee Class Company of Jeannette, Pa., into the 1940s
- McKee produced both kitchenware and novelty items in milk
glass during that period as did, to a limited extent, the well-known
Anchor Hocking Glass Company at nearly the same time.
Covered dishes with animal figures continued to be a fond and
prominent product nearly a century after they were first mass
- Writing in 1972, Emma Papert said in The Illustrated Guide
to American Glass that Westmoreland Glass Company of Grapeville,
Pa. was still making items similar to the 1890s.
- Papert observed: Their famous chick and animal covered
dishes and other vessels of gleaming milk glass have been in
continuous production. Since the original molds have worn out,
these lovely objects are now made in reproduction molds. Such
pieces are highly prized and enjoyed by their owners.
- While milk glass manufactured prior to World War I has the
greatest value on the current market, pieces made since that
time are certainly collectible and affordable.
- Milk glass, regardless of its age, is still milk glass,
advise noted experts Ralph and Terry Kovel, authors of dozens
of books on antiques and collectibles, including How To Know
Your Antiques. It may be difficult to determine its age,
but it will always be easy to recognize enduring milk glass.
- 1 - Hazel Atlas manufactured Hen on a Nest
- 2 - A milk glass lamp shade
- 3 - Salt and pepper shakers made by Tipp, USA
- Robert Reed has written on antiques and collectibles for
more than two decades. He has also authored 15 books, including
his recently released Antiques and Collectible Dictionary, available
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