Collecting Milk Glass: Tips And Prices

Once considered the poor man's porcelain, today Milk Glass can command top dollar. Milk Glass is easily found and with just a little background information, you can begin collecting.

Milk Glass, produced by large glass manufacturing companies in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana, was a "poor man's" porcelain. The glass today fluctuates in popularity and price. The best time to start a collection is when the market is at a low point, and the best place to look is the geographic area surrounding manufacturing plants. The first thing to consider is the area of concentration for your milk glass collection.

Due to the volume of items produced and the years of production, unless you decide on a focus for your collection you could be forced to move from your home before your collection is complete. The earliest items produced in the milk glass are the most valuable. Early glass is easily recognized by an almost transparent swirl quality on the edges of the item. Held to the light, the swirls of the glass color can be easily seen even in tinted objects. Transparency is not a collectible feature for milk glass produced after the 1930s. Later pieces are usually thicker glass and are mostly utilitarian items. The early glass features finer detail. Items are also unique eye-catching pieces today, such as gas light shades and compote inserts for silver plated baskets, sometimes called "Bride's Baskets." Avoid buying inserts or items that require holders. They are difficult to locate.

Available funds can have the most impact on the selection of objects to collect. Milk glass eggs are a highly collectible market, but are not recommended for beginners due to price and availability. The eggs sometimes have interior scenes, and these are frequently views of nature scenes at the turn of the century. Such eggs can command thousands of dollars at auction.

Another collection focus is on one type of object. While mugs, vases and boxes are in abundant supply, specialty items such as shaving mugs and certain types of Fenton vases have many collectors so they sell for much higher prices than generic items. Perfume bottles have the largest number of theme collectors, with those interested in toothpick holders a close second. It is worth researching at least one other area of milk glass collecting, so that when you see a find at an auction or garage sale you know to pick it up for future trades in your specialty area.

Hobnail milk glass attracts a large number of collectors. Fenton Art Glass Company produced the easiest identifiable glass in the 1930s and reintroduced the lines during tough economic times in the 1950s. "Hobnail" design has raised patterned dots over the surface. Fenton reproductions are clearly marked with an initial or a number representing the year and pattern.

Kitchenware is a hot market today, but interests and prices vary. Milk glass items can be used in the kitchen as decoration, and even vintage items such as salt and pepper shakers and mixing bowls can be used for actual cooking. It is important to use care in washing vintage items. They should not be placed in the dishwasher or washed with extremely hot water. Cool water and hand-drying are recommended for years of enjoyment. These items were made to withstand hard use in kitchens where meals were cooked three times daily. Pale green and blue tinted glass made by Hazel Atlas, Federal Glass and others are rarer than white. Salt and pepper shakers should have silk-screened letters that are clear and not worn. They should also have the original lids. Vintage lids are easy to determine because they will have a few dents. The best sets have a few dings, but not enough to alter the original shape of the lid. Avoid painted lids, as they usually indicate that the originals had rust. Many shakers were made through the 1950s and they frequently were shipped with new stoves, so clean lettering and quality lids are something to hold out for. Refrigerator dishes are another easy milk glass find. Collectors should look for glass lids without chipping around the edges of the bowls and lids. Refrigerator pitchers, with cork inserts inside the lids, are also available in large supply. Consider collecting pitchers and searching for matching lids separately, since many lids were broken in use over the years.

When the term "milk glass" is used today, for many collectors it means molded milk glass. Many US companies produced molded milk glass, including Westmoreland Specialty Glass Company, U.S. Glass Company, L.E. Smith Glass Company, Boston and Sandwich Glass Company, Duncan Glass, Fostoria Glass Company, Hazel Atlas, and Federal. Glass manufacturers marked some with identification but many are not, so dating and identifying pieces is sometimes difficult. Research on the largest companies can be done through collector books that are available at bookstores and many libraries. These books are usually written by collectors, and vary greatly in scope and quality. It is best to read and study several books before you begin purchasing large ticket items. Some collectors focus on only one manufacturer and give price lists. Pricing varies with geography, as well as ups and downs in the market. Check copyright dates on reference books and confirm asking prices on online bidding services before you buy.

The most difficult problem in collecting milk glass is to determine reproductions from the vintage items. Given the high collectability of milk glass in the 1960s, and the poor economic conditions for glass manufacturers at that time, new glass produced from old molds (or recast molds using vintage samples) was introduced. Tiara ware, an Imperial Glass Company line, is impossible to tell from the early glass, except for the small "T" included in the new mold. On most pieces it is located on the bottom. Reproductions were originally sold with a paper "Tiara" sticker. Many companies did not bother to include a reproduction marking. Some unscrupulous individuals purchased molds at factory closing auctions and had the items reproduced in Japan. Some collector books list cautions for reproduced patterns, but the easiest way to identify a reproduction is to visit antique or collector malls. Window shoppers can quickly recognize an item in many stalls. While not a guarantee of a reproduction, the odds of seeing the same vintage item in so many stalls is not likely unless the items are reproductions.

The National Milk Glass Collector's Society has yearly conventions and collectors sell items, as well as display their personal collections. This is a fun way to find out more about the glass. Collectors attending conventions usually know more about the subject than can be read in books. Collectors often feature their items on their personal websites. A search engine survey will bring up hundreds of such sites.

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