Vintage Pyrex really does come in every colour of the rainbow so it’s not difficult if you’re looking at Pyrex as an interior design accessory to find the right shade to compliment your colour scheme. Collectors, of course, don’t have any restrictions in terms of colour so they can collect all the colours available but do they? Many collectors like to have an example of each colour produced of a particular piece. These are the type of collectors who aim for completeness and they don’t consider only having some colour ways as being properly representative of a design. Other collectors are guided by their own personal tastes and only choose bowls and dishes which they find pleasing to look at. Obviously we all have our own reasons for choosing specific pieces but I’ve noticed since I began my collection that there is one colour in the Pyrex rainbow which seems to attract significantly less fans than the others and I really can’t think why! If you’re a vintage Pyrex collector, you probably already know the colour I’m referring to…that’s right, yellow.
When I first started collecting I didn’t really notice this less than enthusiastic attitude to yellow which seems to be shared by so many of my fellow Pyrex fans. Instead I noticed very positive (for me anyway!) things in connection with it – Spring Yellow Pyrex was often to be found in great condition and (back then at least) in relatively large numbers – if you missed out on a nice yellow spacesaver you would be able to find another before very long. Vintage Pyrex in general is getting increasingly thin on the ground in the UK these days but even so, I would be willing to bet that yellow is still more frequently available than other colours.
This bias against yellow doesn’t seem to be confined to the UK, although yellow as a main colour was produced for longer in the US, Australia and New Zealand than it was here. Yellow’s golden age (sorry, couldn’t resist it!) as far as JAJ was concerned was the late ‘fifties and early ‘sixties with the Daisy, Snowflake and Gooseberry patterns. In these designs yellow was used as the main or background colour, always being teamed with black for the motifs. It’s easy to see why the yellow version of these patterns was never overlaid with white as most of the others were but I can’t help feeling JAJ could have covered themselves with even more glory with these iconic designs if they’d tried blue motifs. Ah, what might have been!
Blue and yellow go beautifully together and this ‘50s kitchen illustrates that perfectly. Yellow Pyrex would have looked gorgeous on the table In here.
Obviously in the ‘fifties and early ‘sixties, Pyrex was only seen as kitchenware, as opposed to a chic, retro interiors accessory and kitchens in those decades were often decorated with a predominantly yellow scheme – in many cases the cabinetry was even yellow. I should just clarify here that we’re talking pastel or ‘Spring’ yellow, not an acidic or super bright yellow such as the new Gen-Z yellow which is currently popping up in homes across the globe. The three colours which I always associate with ‘fifties Pyrex are pink, turquoise and yellow and indeed all three of these colours were on trend for kitchens (and bathrooms) in this period. It wasn’t unusual to see cabinets, tiles and walls in these colours in kitchens on both sides of the Atlantic and if you were lucky enough to live in the United States you could get appliances to match too. If you had yellow cabinets, yellow Pyrex may have been a step too far, after all it helps if you can find your kitchenware but if you had a pink or turquoise kitchen, yellow ovenware would have been perfect.
This very vibrant ‘50s kitchen shows that yellow definitely wasn’t unpopular then!
The pink, yellow and turquoise we know from ‘fifties vintage Pyrex are, I believe, just a little too strong to be called pastel. I call them ice cream colours, not sure why, the combination of those three particular colours just reminds me of ice cream and all the positive associations that go with it! So our ice cream colours were hugely popular for kitchens and kitchenware up until the mid ‘sixties, when they began to be pushed aside in favour of stronger colours of a more earthy type, such as orange, green or brown and indeed JAJ mostly abandoned all over colour for a white background with a highly coloured pattern confined to the middle third of the pieces. The most notable exception to this being the green and orange Medallion Fives, particular favourites of mine, although bearing in mind when they were designed, their rather eccentric colour palette might lead you to believe that someone had got hold of some of rather potent psychedelic substances and then decided to design some ovenware!
Pyrex weren’t the only kitchenware manufacturer who featured yellow heavily in their ranges in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, Tupperware also did, as did many others.
These toasters also feature ice cream or “confection” colours…
as do these other accessories.
So if we accept that broadly speaking back in these decades pink, turquoise (or blue in a similar shade) and yellow were all equally popular, why is it that yellow vintage Pyrex is less popular than it’s fellow ice cream colours? I can certainly attest to the fact that many collectors love their pink and turquoise but their admiration stops short of including Spring Yellow. This year ‘70s interior design is in vogue and yellow is heavily featured, although usually in it’s mustard incarnation, which is fair enough if you are trying to replicate the feel of the era but ‘sustainable’ kitchen themes are also popular and yellow, even in it’s most delicate form is found in nature and still ice cream yellow is somewhat shunned!
I have a few theories about why this might be. I think ice cream yellow is viewed by some as being insipid or wishy-washy and not strong enough to add character to an interior theme. The period kitchens shown above demonstrate that isn’t the case but who among us would be brave enough to go for yellow cabinetry and appliances?! Not only would it buck the trend, it might also require the entire family to don sunglasses when hanging in the kitchen and might just be too much to cope with first thing in the morning after a big night out!
Another reason for Spring Yellow’s lack of popularity may lie in the fact that it is very much of it’s time. The effects of the Second World War were still being keenly felt by many people and the end of the ‘50s seemed to mark a conscious effort to move away from the colourless, ‘utility’ style of living which had been forced onto so many for so long. The core colours of the JAJ Gaiety Snowflake and Daisy designs as well as the Gooseberry Cinderellas were the ice creams, pink, yellow and turquoise, chosen for their cheerfulness, universal popularity and the fact that they looked so fabulous together. That is yellow’s strength, it has an uncanny ability to bring out the best in other colours! I often see vintage Pyrex displays of these designs which just focus on the turquoise or, more often the pink, which is a great shame as you don’t experience the full force of any of them in isolation, they look so much better together. Spring Yellow was seen, as it’s name would suggest, as symbolic of regeneration, good times ahead and happiness to come. Maybe we’re just a miserable lot, with the current political uncertainty, climate change and the constant pressure to be “on” 24/7 from social media?
Actually, yellow is a brilliant foil for most colours as it goes with virtually anything. Some people do count yellow out when creating beautiful stacks to display and that is a huge mistake. Yellow can really bring other colours out perfectly. Most vintage Pyrex collectors (myself included, I must admit!) are somewhat obsessed with coral dishes but would probably not team them with yellow in a stack. I tried that recently and was pleasantly surprised by how well it turned out. I must say though that I think the Gaiety yellow is at it’s most fantastic when put up close and personal with it’s fellow ice cream colours. That’s not to say that you can’t make a nice display just using yellow pieces, especially if you add some Spring Yellow Weardale to the mix!
A recent yellow/coral experimental stack – I think they look amazing together.
A very traditional bunch of Daisies!
These colours were literally made for each other!
Some lovely yellow – sometimes you just need some undiluted cheerfulness!
If properly displayed and appreciated, the ‘Cinderella’ of the vintage Pyrex world is a beautiful addition to any collection and it’s about time these gorgeous dishes came out of the shadows and claimed their rightful place at the front of our display cabinets.