A collection fit for a farmRhonda Rademacher likes chickens. She really, really likes chickens. She used to keep some chickens outside her Castle Rock home, but eventually, let those go. When she picked up a white glass chicken with paint peeling from it at an auction 10 years ago, though, Rademacher stumbled onto a new hobby.
By: Nathan Hansen, The Farmington Independent
Rhonda Rademacher likes chickens. She really, really likes chickens.
She used to keep some chickens outside her Castle Rock home, but eventually, let those go. When she picked up a white glass chicken with paint peeling from it at an auction 10 years ago, though, Rademacher stumbled onto a new hobby.
It was a white rooster, a figurine-turned-dish of some sort. The rooster’s head and upper body were a separate piece from a basket-looking base. Both pieces were elaborately etched. The rooster’s comb and waddle at one point had been painted red, the beak painted yellow.
Rademacher didn’t really know what she had found. She just thought the piece looked kind of neat. She took it home, she cleaned it up. And then she turned to the Internet, where she started digging into the piece’s history.
It turned out she had stumbled across a piece of milk glass. The piece she bought was produced in the 1890s. Intrigued, Rademacher looked for more milk glass chickens. She also learned what milk glass was, its history and so on. And then she was hooked.
“You’ve probably seen it a hundred times and didn’t know what you were looking at,” Rademacher said of milk glass. “Some people collect bowls and dishes, but milk glass can be anything from buttons to jewelry, too. It’s a lot of strange stuff.”
Milk glass is a thick, opaque glass. It comes in many colors, though most often white, green or blue. It was, Rademacher said, the “poor man’s glass” of its time, because it was cheap for glassmakers to make.
Years ago, glass makers produced just about anything and everything in milk glass. There were chicken figurines, toothpick holders, salt and pepper shakers, plates and lamps. Some pieces were sold, but a lot of times, Rademacher said, smaller pieces would be included in boxes of other products like laundry detergent, kind of like a toy in the bottom of a cereal box. There are hundreds of pieces of milk glass-based jewelry out there, serving platters, goblets and candlesticks. The possibilities were endless.
Most of the glassmakers in the United States were along the east coast because that’s where the early settlers landed, and that’s as far as early gas lines ran, Rademacher said. However, the nature of the business often meant many glassmakers lost parts or all of their buildings to fire.
“There are very few glassmakers in the United States left,” she said. “There just are not a lot left out there.”
Somewhere along the way, Rademacher got hooked on the milk glass chickens. But, it turns out, there are not a whole lot of people around with whom she could share her interests. One day, she stumbled across the National Milk Glass Collectors Society, and there she found lots of people to talk with, if only – at first – by Internet or telephone.
Again, one thing led to another. Before long she learned about the NMGCS annual conventions. Pretty soon she and her husband were on their way to check out a convention. There was a trade show, classes and lots of chances to have questions answered.
A massive collection
Ten years has come and gone since Rademacher picked up her first milk glass rooster. And in that time, her collection has taken over a good portion of her home.
It seems one chicken has spurred several collections. Her milk glass collection is the biggest, with about 800 pieces. While a good portion of her collection are the chicken and rooster covered dishes, she’s got covered dishes galore, some with rabbits or frogs or lions on them. She’s got some covered dishes with a lace-like design on the edges, she’s got plates and covered candy dishes. She has plates that have been painted, and two-globed oil lamps.
But then there are the chickens.
Somewhere along the way, she started to accumulate extra glass covered dishes – pretty much all with the chicken or rooster pattern on them. Those stand, for the most part, in a separate display case. There’s about 600 glass chickens in her collection.
But then, there’s the chicken wall hangings, chicken serving pieces, chicken towels and other little pieces that decorate her home. Of those, there is no real number.
“I like chickens,” Rademacher said by way of explanation.
Of course, as so often happens when one starts a collection, friends and family started to contribute pieces through gifts, too. Rademacher usually brings home a couple totes full of new pieces from the NMGCS conventions, too, but most of her pieces still come from auctions, both live and online.
“Auctions are what got me into trouble to start with,” she said.
Over time, Rademacher has become more involved in the National Milk Glass Collectors Society. She currently serves as the organization’s treasurer.