Vintage Pyrex pieces are hardly a rarity. Until recently, old Pyrex was purchased mainly by longtime devotees unable to find replacements for a broken coffeepot or chipped mixing bowl. But in the past few years, old Pyrex has attracted new admirers, particularly among those who grew up with it. Although a nostalgic collector might buy a mixing-bowl set because it stirs memories, Pyrex is functional and almost demands to be used. David Ross, a vintage-kitchenware dealer from Melrose, Massachusetts, threw out his drip coffeemaker when he bought a Pyrex percolator. "The coffee stays hotter," he says. "And it reminds me of being a kid, when watching the coffee perk was more fun than watching TV."
The History of Pyrex
The buoyantly colored mixing bowls and leftover boxes that filled kitchen cabinets in the 1950s still exude cheerful domesticity. A vast amount of Pyrex was manufactured—and still is—by the Corning Glass Works of Corning, New York. In 1915, the company introduced Pyrex: a 12-piece line of machine-made glass ovenware comprising casseroles, pie plates, custard cups, shirred egg dishes, individual baking dishes, and a loaf pan. The curious trademark, chosen after discarding candidates like Pie-Right and Py-Right, blended the sound of the word pie with the "X" used frequently on Corning products. Pyrex was an immediate success—and a notable improvement over the metal utensils of the time. Food cooked more quickly in glass and did not stick; food flavors disappeared after washing; and the cook had the pleasure of seeing when the food was done.
Women were very involved with the evolution of the brand. According to the Corning Museum of Glass, the company hired several women to join the team in order to test and promote the Pyrex brand. Notable women included in the project were Mildred Maddocks, from the Good Housekeeping Institute, and Sarah Tyson Rorer, an editor for Ladies Home Journal. A torrent of new Pyrex products followed, from pie plates and casseroles in marginally different sizes to platters, biscuit and cookie pans, vegetable dishes, even salt and pepper shakers. Available at most hardware and department stores, they often cost less than a dollar apiece. "Pyrex cookware is something that could be found in almost every household until 20 years ago," explains Nicolas Martin, flea market expert and founder of Flea Market Insiders.
Because so many Pyrex pieces were made for a short time, part of the fun is finding unexpected items—canning jars, baby bottles, even percolators with wooden handles, which were made as prototypes. Although antiques dealers are beginning to carry it, Pyrex usually turns up in more humble settings, like yard sales, flea markets, and thrift shops. The price often depends on the object's desirability and condition. While a set of old custard cups may fail to sell at fifty cents, a four-color, four-piece mixing bowl set can cost from $45 to $65.
Patterned Pyrex—such as the 1956 Pink Daisy or the 1983 Colonial Mist—also tend to be valuable as a collector's item. Some patterned collections, like the 1959 Lucky in Love heart and four-leaf clover design, have been valued as high as $4,000 for one bowl. Other popular patterns include the 1957 Butterprint, which features an Amish couple and their crops, and has been valued at a few hundred dollars. You will want to identify which pattern you have and its year to determine how much it's worth in the marketplace. "Depending on condition, expect anywhere from $100 per piece to $500 for a collection or a unique Hot 'N' Cold chip and dip set," says Martin.
Condition can determine whether an object is desirable or merely junk. Even without its stem and basket, a percolator in good shape makes an attractive coffeepot and can sell for $15 or $20 (expect to pay $40 to $50 for a complete model). But colored Pyrex must look shiny and new. "A lot of it was ruined by dishwashers," says Ross. Practicality can also affect an item's allure. Cinderella nesting bowls, a late 1950s design flanked by a pair of lips for gripping and pouring, are less popular with collectors than the lipless bowls. "Those bowls with lips take up a lot of room," says Penny Jones, a vintage-kitchenware dealer from Leola, Pennsylvania.
Pyrex is easy to authenticate because pieces were marked with a logo. In their book, Rogove and Steinhauer show 23 backstamps used between 1915 and 1965 to identify Pyrex and Flameware, the aluminosilicate glass Corning manufactured between 1936 and 1979 for percolators, double boilers, and other items used on the stove top. Determining the age of other items can be more of a challenge, though there are a few obvious indicators. Clear glass manufactured until 1934 has a yellowish tinge due to the arsenic added to help shape the glass. Flameware made from 1936 until shortly after the war was tinted blue to distinguish it from Pyrex. And mixing bowls from the sixties are thinner than those made in the forties. Susan Tobier Rogove, coauthor with Marcia Buan Steinhauer of Pyrex by Corning, A Collector's Guide, identify nearly four hundred different pieces by year or item number.
In many ways, Pyrex is as practical today as it was 40 years ago. It can go in the oven, the freezer, and the refrigerator, but because some colored Pyrex has metallics in the paint, it probably shouldn't go in the microwave. Wash colored Pyrex by hand; dishwasher detergent will destroy the color. For many collectors, the joy of owning Pyrex is using it. "I grew up watching my mother use a Pyrex double boiler," says Rogove. "And now I have one, too."