by Diana Bulls
When I think about my mother at work in the kitchen, there are a few kitchen icons that immediately come to mind: a set of primary colored mixing bowls, a fancy covered casserole dish with a stand, and a set of clear glass custard cups. I mean, it was impossible to make cookies without the large yellow mixing bowl and the green one was the perfect size for macaroni salad. If the fancy casserole dish came out, you knew we were eating in the dining room. Chocolate pudding, the cooked kind with the skin on the top, was always served in those little glass cups.
Remember the comfort foods your mom (or grand mom) used to whip up for dinner? I’ll bet the dish that the macaroni and cheese or the tuna casserole was served in had the same name on the bottom as all those I mentioned above: PYREX.
Yep, Pyrex. You know, there is a whole section dedicated to it at Wal-Mart. There are stacks of clear glass pie plates, baking pans, bowls and measuring cups. But it wasn’t always like that. From the 1940s to the 1980s, Pyrex produced a huge array of colorful, patterned kitchen glassware that homemakers bought up by the cupboards-full. It’s not surprising that today’s cooks (and non-cooks) have made Pyrex one of the most popular kitchen collectibles.
Pyrex glassware made its debut to the American public in 1915. It was produced by the Corning Glass Works from borosilicate low-expansion glass first developed in 1893. This glass reduced breakage in lantern globes and battery jars, but a Corning scientist discovered its cooking potential when he gave his wife a casserole dish made from a cut-down battery jar. Corning subsequently removed the lead from the glass and developed a line of heat-resistant baking dishes, custard cups, bowls and etched serving pieces.
Nearly every American table throughout the 1920s and 30s had Pyrex glassware. The end of WW II brought the baby boom and economic prosperity. Homemakers spent a lot of time in their kitchens and wanted cookware that was sturdy, practical but attractive. Corning designers responded by offering white (opalized) glass casseroles, refrigerator containers, mixing bowls and baking dishes finished in rainbow colors and whimsical patterns, reflecting the popular styles and trends of the day.
According to Barbara E. Mauzy’s Pyrex: The Unauthorized Collectors Guide, there are three basic types of collectible Pyrex: Clear Pyrex Ovenware (introduced in 1915), Pyrex Flameware (1936-1979) and Pyrex Colors (1947-?). People are most familiar with the colored Pyrex because there is still so much of it being used in homes throughout the USA. In fact, you can usually date the age of the piece by the color or design. In the 1950s, pink and turquoise blue were the hot colors. The 1960s brought us avocado green, orange, brown and gold.
One of the best things about collecting Pyrex is that it is available, affordable, AND you can still use it. Since Pyrex is heat resistant, you can use your vintage pieces in the oven or microwave. In today’s world where “going green” is smart, switch to using Pyrex glass refrigerator dishes instead of throw away plastic. A word of caution though: avoid putting your colorful Pyrex through the dishwasher. Since dishwashing soap is highly abrasive, it will dull the color and in some cases completely wear it away.
Smart collectors look for pieces that are in near-perfect condition. You don’t want cracks, chips or faded colors, and you want pieces that have their matching covers. You could focus on collecting one favorite pattern, or as many pieces as you can find of one or more colors. There are lots of pieces available for sale online, at auctions or antique stores, but you can just as easily find pieces at thrift stores, yard sales or at home. If you are very lucky, you might find a piece that includes its original box or warming cradle. Experienced collectors often will pick up solo lids or covers and match them up with topless dishes.
Sound like something you might be interested in? Start off your search in your mother’s (or grandmother’s) kitchen, and while you are raiding their cupboards, here are some resources to help you out. You should also check out your local library.
PYREX: The Unauthorized Collector’s Guide (Schiffer Book for Collectors)
Pyrex by Corning: A Collector’s Guide
If you love kitchen collectibles & a good book-check out Diana’s review of a A Deadly Grind (A Vintage Kitchen Mystery), an interview with the author & enter for a chance to win a copy of the book.