Mention the word 'Pyrex' to most and they think of their glass jug at home that they bought from the supermarket. You know, the one where you can drop it on the floor and it won't break. They may have a nest of glass Pyrex bowls, too. We're talking about something like this:
Say the word 'Pyrex' (in a sultry, sexy voice) to a vintage enthusiast, however, and they will think of this (often with a dreamy smile and a sigh of happiness):
I bloomin' love the stuff, and I have no idea why. Perhaps it's because it just screams retro in a proud and happy voice; a show of florals and iconic sixties and seventies prints. Perhaps it's because my grandmothers and my parents have been using their Pyrex casserole dishes in the oven and the fridge, in the dishwasher and at the table since time immemorial, and have never had to replace a single item. I have a new-found respect for Pyrex.
So what is Pyrex, exactly?
Well, first of all, it's one of those 'Hoover' products. Not all Pyrex is made by Pyrex, it's just an easy word for low-thermal-expansion borosilicate glass used for laboratory glassware and kitchenware. In other words, really, really strong glass that can take a hell of a lot of heat. It's this property, of course, which means that there is still so much Pyrex around today, and why Granny is still using it to make stew and dumplings every week. Actual Pyrex was first brought to market by Corning Inc. in 1915, though these days it is manufactured by World Kitchen. Corning Inc. cannot take all the glory, however, as borosilicate glass was first made by German glass chemist Otto Schott in 1893. Clearly a chap ahead of his time.
If vintage Pyrex is your thing, and it genuinely is Pyrex and not made by one of the many other vintage glass manufacturers, then it is likely to be made by Corning.
Why has it become so popular again?
All things vintage and retro are in, and Pyrex has it by the bucket load. It's a really simple way to add a retro look to your kitchenware. Secondly, as mentioned above, it still does its job beautifully. You can take it from oven to table and not worry about presentation. It can take clinks and knocks and heat and stays strong - I've got forty year old Pyrex items without a chip or a scratch. And because it lasts there is still tonnes of Pyrex around, and although some collectors take their Pyrex purchases very seriously, if you're just buying it to kit out your kitchen like me, or simply because you like it, you'll find it easy to get hold of and cheap to buy.
Are my Pyrex items worth anything?
It's hard to say. I remember my fellow students turning up at university with Pyrex bowls and casserole dishes that their parents had had in their attics for years, having replaced them with more modern-looking kitchenware, but knowing they had plenty of use left in them for the offspring who couldn't care less what their cooking kit looked like. One item can have so many purposes that it's ideal for a student. I also see Pyrex at vintage fairs where traders are charging £25 for a dish. In other words, like most things it's only worth what someone will pay for it. Certainly some designs are more sought-after than others, but I've popped some helpful links below so you can find out more about those.
What should I look out for when buying vintage Pyrex?
First off, is it Pyrex you're after, or any strengthened vintage white glass? Personally, I buy it because I like it and because I need that item in my kitchen, and I don't worry about the brand.
Second, don't impulse buy in vintage shops and at fairs. You will find Pyrex (and other brands of course) in charity shops and at car boot sales up and down the country. It's everywhere. And it's cheap as chips. Vintage fairs will often cash in on an item's vintage value, and forget that many modern families still use some products daily without a thought for its nostalgic qualities - so you don't have to pay for their added value. You may wish to invest more if a casserole dish comes with, say, its original metal heat stand, but think before you spend. And before you spend at all ask older relatives - both of my grandmothers have Pyrex leftover from when they were feeding large families forty years ago, and are happy for some of it to go to a good home where it will be put back to work and enjoyed on a daily basis.
|I recently added four more bowls to my small collection for 99p.|
Third, when buying items in charity shops and car boot sales, check that the lid fits. Some older Pyrex will have wobbly lids even though they are original, because manufacturing processes were not as exact as they are today. That's fine. But only the other week I nearly bought a dish with a lovely hunting scene on it, only to find that the charity shop had popped a completely different lid on it to make it into a set. You don't want the lid exploding in the oven, so check all is as it should be. Obviously you should check for chips and scratches too, though happily this is less of a problem than with other vintage products.
For tips on official vintage Pyrex patterns, cleaning your Pyrex and historical info visit: http://www.pyrexlove.com/
The official Pyrex website:
You will find delicious Pyrex photos here.
Do you have Pyrex that you use all the time? Do you love it, or is it just something that's always been in the cupboard? I've written 'Pyrex' too many times now...