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Midcentury Collecting 101: Pyrex

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Having gone quickly from being a person that collected absolutely nothing to someone that has no less than fiveish collections of differing midcentury items, I have learned firsthand that mild interest can quickly change to rabid obsession when it comes to stylish midcentury goods. So, here on the blog we are going to start doing collection tutorials on some of the most popular midcentury collectibles.

Now there are scads of websites and info on collecting these mod items on the net; I will attempt to push you toward the most reliable sources I have found and used for these collectibles in the short time I have been seeking them out. Please do keep in mind that I consider myself a student of the history of these items and brands and by no means an expert! Today we are going to start  our series off with the highly-sought-after-but-still-made-today kitchenware: vintage Pyrex.

From top left: Pyrex creamer/sugar in Blue Snowflake, Pyrex Divded Dish in White Opal, Pyrex 073 Woodland Brown Casserole

Why Collect Pyrex?

The most obvious reason for many is the emotional connection component; vintage Pyrex was widely made and many people grew up with it in their homes in some shape or form. The fond and nostalgic memories associated with it come back ever time you see the pieces! In addition, it’s affordable, relatively easy to find at fleas markets,  resale stores & antiques malls, it’s still functional and still made right here in the USA! Pyrex was made in a truly varied amount of patterns and colors to match any kitchen or taste and also had special promotional items which can be rare and highly sought after.

Pyrex History

Pyrex was officially introduced to the public in 1915. According to the official Pyrex Website there is a fun piece lore connected to the beginnings of the first Clear Pyrex Ovenware that was introduced in 1915: “…came from the wife of a Corning Glass Works scientist who was frustrated with her unreliable casserole dish. Knowing the strength of the railroad signal lantern glass her husband worked with, she begged him to bring home something she could use in the kitchen. Voilà, the Pyrex baking dish was born.” And then, as the story goes, she baked a cake. How perfect!

Pyrex Colors

Although there are three types of collectible Pyrex, this article is only going to speak to Pyrex Colors, started in the late 1940’s. There are many differing types of mixing bowls, casserole dishes, baking dishes, refrigerator dishes, dinnerware and promotional items for the Pyrex brand. I have found the website, www.pyrexlove.com, has done a great job at categorizing these items by both color and pattern and put them into an easy- to-navigate format. I highly recommend this website for quick pattern reference; they also have a presence on facebook. 

Unique Attributes

One of my favorite categories of vintage Pyrex is the Cinderella bowl. According to another great midcentury kitchenware resource: www.corellecorner.com this bowl was named to coincide with the re-release of the very popular animated film Cinderella by Disney in 1957. The first Cinderella bowls appeared that same year. This clever mixing bowl has spouts on either side, one larger and one smaller, for ease of pouring. These bowls come in sets of 4 sizes and many people like to collect by set…I like to collect by size:

This spouted bowl is the epitome of clever midcentury kitchen design at work to me! Some Pyrex casserole dishes are often called Cinderella casseroles because they have handles that mimic the spouts on these bowls.

Mod Bettie Pyrex Collecting Quick Tips:

In collecting, condition is everything. So in terms of Pyrexware Colors, that means that you look for pieces that have no chips or cracks in the item with surface being shiny and ideally without scratches. On pieces with a pattern, the pattern is still clear and without wear in the best of cases. Finding lids, cradles, carriers and original boxes with the items is a bonus! Depending on where you are finding your pieces you will come across all levels of Pyrex in varying condition- whether you want to add them to your collection will completely depend on your intent. I, for one, am not personally bothered by a few scratches or some slight wear on my pieces. Most of these items are 40, 50 and 60+ years old and so I look at the slight wear as part of their normal history. But I do like them to maintain their shiny, pretty, glossy finish-so what I DON’T like is when they’ve been put in the dishwasher, which dulls and fades the finish over time. It becomes very easy to spot dishwasher damaged pieces of Pyrex. Here are some examples of pieces using identical bowls from a vintage Pyrex primary bowl set: 

The green primary bowl on the left is an extreme example of both dishwasher damage and wear through the years- the color is dull and faded and the white is showing through around the bowl. The green bowl on the right is so deep and shiny that the few scratches it has are easy for me to overlook!

Same with this duo; the bowl on the left is dull and the bowl on the right is glossy and shiny. Amazing to me that you can still find the glossy shiny pieces from the 1940’s as these examples are!

So my Pyrex rule number one is DON’T put the shiny pretties in the dishwasher! And, most of all, watch what you pay for. It was surprising to me to find out that many resellers don’t know much about Pyrex and think it’s all collectible–even the most horrible ‘dishwasher death’  pieces. The dishwashed pyrex is certainly still usable and has tons of life left in it, it just doesn’t make sense to me to pay top dollar for it. I do have some dishwashed pyrex bowls that I frequently use for prep only-and of course they function perfectly for that. So hand wash old school with mild detergent and no abrasives to maintain the shiny color of these pieces. Additional info on methods to successfully clean vintage Pyrex that is really dirty from years of grime can be found on the Pyrexlove.com site as well.

Now, back to price: I suggest you frequently check and watch prices on ebay and etsy to see what the retail going rates are for pieces. Price will be significantly lower at secondhand shops and thrift stores if you are lucky, so always be in the lookout!  Price comparison across all markets is the best way to learn what is a good deal or an average price on vintage  collectibles of this nature and it varies by region as well.

Want to read more about Pyrex and other fun vintage kitchen brands? Check out these credited and suggested resources for oodles of good info and pictures:

www.worldkitchen.com/pyrex/

www.pyrexlove.com

www.corellecorner.com

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Author:

I am and actor and producer on the lookout for midcentury gold while furnishing my 1956 atomic ranch! Happily thrifting my way through life and sharing the info and tips as I go... I am a vintage dealer at Sleepy Poet Antique Mall in Charlotte, NC

2 thoughts on “Midcentury Collecting 101: Pyrex

  1. I love vintage Pyrex, I just started collecting in the fall of 2013 and I am completely hooked, thanks for the piece on these amazing vintage pieces, it’s good to know that there are so many of us out there with “Pyrexia” as we like to say, and when we go Pyrexing, it is so fun to find that elusive piece!

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