by Diana Bulls
Pyrex, one of the most popular kitchen collectibles ever, turned 100 years old in May. I love Pyrex, and I’m not alone; there are literally hundreds of collectors out there. My favorite piece is a red “Hostess Dish” with lid, followed by my Mom’s primary colored mixing bowls (both from the 1940s). I first wrote about Pyrex back in 2012 (Pyrex: A Kitchen Staple Since 1915), but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to pay homage again to “America’s Favorite Dish.”
First introduced to the American housewife in 1915, Pyrex bake ware was the happy result of a thoughtful husband trying to please his wife. Jesse Littleton was a scientist employed by Corning Glass Works, the makers of a heat resistant glass used for railroad lanterns and battery jars. Bessie, his wife, complained about her baking pans so he brought home a sawed-off battery jar. She used the jar to bake a sponge cake and, in addition to being able to see what she was baking, she found that the glass jar cooked more evenly than her metal pan. The cake was delicious (or so we can only imagine) and the rest is history.
The reason the jar worked so well, is that glass is an insulator. It may take longer to heat up, but once it does it will remain at an even temperature in spite of the oven constantly turning on and off. Glass also doesn’t have the “hot spots” that metal pans often develop. In 1915, Pyrex released 12 clear glass products that included covered casserole dishes, pie plates, shirred egg dishes, custard cups, loaf pans, au gratin dishes and oval baking dishes.
In 1918, Pyrex began a line of “engraved-glass” pieces that were popular throughout the 1930s. By 1922, Pyrex had expanded its line of ovenware to 100 pieces. The Pyrex measuring cup was first introduced in 1925—is there anyone who doesn’t have one of these iconic kitchen aids in their cupboard? There’s even a Pyrex measuring cup in Julia Child’s kitchen at the Smithsonian Institution. The first edition measuring cup had two pour spouts, but was replaced in 1926 with a single-spout cup. Red lettering was introduced in the 1940s and in the 1990s, the handle was modified from a closed loop to the now familiar comma shape.
Refrigerator sets, billed as “oven-refrigerator sets,” were introduced in 1925. These were clear, stackable containers with lids that saved space in the icebox. Stackable mixing bowls were introduced in the 1940s, and this set (known as “400 Multicolored Mixing Bowls”) is still wildly popular as a collectible today. The set consists of a 4-quart yellow bowl, 2.5-quart green bowl, 1.25-quart red bowl and a 1/2 quart blue bowl. I think the red bowl must have been used the most, because it seems that it is the one that is often missing from sets found in thrift stores or yard sales. In the late 1940s, a refrigerator set was issued in yellow (1.5 quarts), blue (1.5 pints) and red (1.5 cups). Cinderella bowls—the mixing bowls with two pour spouts—were introduced in the late 1950s.
Pyrex began making casserole dishes in primary colors and then in patterns in the late 1940s. The lids came with or without top knobs—those without knobs could be used as trivets. In the mid-1950s, the first casserole cradles with candle warmers were offered. Chip and Dip sets also appeared about this time.
With the plethora of Pyrex patterns available, it is hard to know what is the most desirable as far as collectors go. In general, the items that come in the bright and cheerful colors of the 1950s and 1960s seem to be more popular than the earth-toned, muted colors and patterns of the 1970s. Here are a few patterns that are considered “in” right now by vintagevirtue.com (article dated 3/26/15).
• Butterprint (1957): turquoise on white or white on turquoise; Amish couple, wheat, roosters and corn.
• Gooseberry (1957-1966): pink on white, black on white or yellow; berries, leaves and flowers.
• Rainbow Stripes (1965): yellow, brown, blue, pink stripes.
• New Dot (1967-1972): green, orange, blue, yellow and beige.
• Terra (1964-1965): dark brown matte with orange-brown lines.
• Snowflake (1956-1967): white on turquoise or turquoise on white, white on charcoal; six-sided snowflake.
• Snowflake Blue (1972-1979): white on dark blue; geometric snowflake design with garland.
• Daisy (1968-1972): solid orange or yellow, white lids have a large yellow and orange daisy on top.
• Balloons (1958): white on turquoise; antique hot air balloons—chip & dip set only.
• Eyes (1958-1960): turquoise on white; geometric shape.
In 1986, Pyrex retired all of their patterned pieces and focused on producing clear glass items. And here we are, nearly 30 years later and sales are still going strong. The Corning Museum of Glass is holding a retrospective on “America’s Favorite Dish” which opened on June 6 and runs through March 17, 2016. In honor of their 100th anniversary, Pyrex has issued several commemorative pieces that you can buy: a measuring cup, pie plate and “Dots” storage bowl among others. Check it out at www.pyrexware.com–add a little piece of history to your kitchen.
Pyrex is a registered trademark of Corning Incorporated and is licensed to World Kitchen LLC.