Pyrex Anxiety

It’s been an exceptionally busy time for the Pixie recently, the business has been going from strength to strength, there’s been a lot of exciting Pyrex around, we’ve had contractors in (least said about that the better!) and with all this going on there were a couple of weeks when I didn’t have time to post.  Then, when things eased up I discovered I’d acquired a nasty case of blog anxiety.  For some reason, every time I tried to write, I started to worry that I had nothing interesting to report about the vintage Pyrex world.  Then this evening, after chatting on social media with several of my Pyrex Pals, I realised that those of us with this particular obsession just really enjoy hearing about other people’s Pyrex experiences (that is when we’re not glued to a TV show starring homicidal muppets, just for the fun of playing spot the Butterprint!).  So, I thought I’d bring you up to date with what’s been happening on the vintage Pyrex scene in my part of the world.
I’ve probably mentioned (several times!) before that, in my part of the UK at least, it’s very difficult to find vintage Pyrex “in the wild”.  I’m always seeing on social media that American VP collectors have been to a garage sale and found 25 perfect pieces, which are quite rare and bought them for $5!  That never happens to me and I’m really envious!  So I source a lot of my pieces from vintage dealers and emporium’s – you might think that that would ensure that the sellers had some expert knowledge about what they’re selling but that isn’t always the case!  There is one dealer near me who runs a very ‘chic’ establishment, who spent ten minutes telling me about one piece of “vintage Pyrex”, which was actually Federal milk glass!  I was shopping with my dad, who had told the owner I was a collector.  You could almost feel the guy becoming patronising, due to my age and it was quite amusing to hear him giving me the hard sell on the Federal!  I did buy something (it was Pyrex, although I can’t remember what now) and then the owner of this generally overpriced shop had the nerve to ask if I would mind “popping out to the ATM” as although he had card facilities he would be “charged by the card people” if I used that facility!
There is a really good permanent vintage market in my nearest city, with a lady who does have quite a lot of Pyrex.  She really knows her stuff but deals only from her stall, she won’t answer phone or email enquiries, which is a shame, as it’s quite a hike to get there.  I do sometimes buy from private sellers and other collectors, who for the most part are lovely but there are some eccentric ones!  I recently bought some pieces which I really wanted for the shop from a private seller in London.  I wasn’t going to be in the area and the vendor didn’t want to post, so a friend offered to collect them for me.  It was all a bit cloak and dagger from the word go as the seller insisted they meet under the clock at a famous station (now that sounds like a starting point for a movie if ever I heard one!).  I sent the money to my friend via bank transfer and she very kindly set off to complete the deal in her lunch break.  As she met the lady, she realised that she’d forgotten to get the cash out of the bank for payment and explained that she would just have to pop to the ATM clearly visible about 20 feet from where they were standing.  The seller (who naturally had not yet handed over the Pyrex) insisted on accompanying my friend to the ATM!  I’m not entirely sure what nefarious consequences she thought might ensue if she went alone…!  My friend said afterwards that the whole thing reminded her of those spy movies where they make hostage exchanges on bridges.  The only element lacking was Tom Cruise (which was a shame as it would have made my mum’s day!).  That seller was certainly eccentric but her Pyrex was exactly as she said it was and I have no complaints.
There are two things which really bug me about buying vintage Pyrex.  The first is supposed ‘experts’ who have vintage shops but also sell online.  Originally I thought this was brilliant as it would save me an awful lot of travelling.  That was before I realised that some (and it is only some – there are some brilliant online vintage dealers) put anything good which they have to sell in their physical shop and seem to think that it’s ok to put the not so good stuff on their website and then to be somewhat economical with the truth when describing the piece.  I’m not sure why they would think that a) that was in any way acceptable or b) that people would receive something not as described online and then just shrug their shoulders and accept it.  A couple of months ago I bought a piece from a vintage dealer with a good reputation but I bought from their website rather than their shop which is a few hundred miles away.  The bowl I received was in terrible condition, with a chip and extensive scratching to the pattern.  I was appalled and thought I might have a fight on my hands getting a refund but interestingly, there was no quibble and they refunded me when I returned it, so they clearly knew it was a substandard piece. The second thing which bugs me is similar and I bet some of you have experienced this either if you’ve bought online or travelled some distance to view an item and it’s not quite what you expected.  Actually, I think this might be a concern which the medical profession should look into because there seems to be an epidemic of colour blindness in vintage dealers (when it comes to our particular obsession anyway).  I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve gone to see a duck egg Gooseberry and it’s actually turquoise and vice versa and this is when I’ve been visiting vintage ‘specialists’!  To be honest, I love both colours, so it sort of doesn’t matter but I can imagine how frustrating that could be to a new collector searching for a specific bowl.  That seems to me to be ignorance of the subject, which is not great but is not done deliberately but if you’ve ever bought Pyrex online, I bet you’ve come across the odd piece which has had a lot of colour added to its photograph.  When I was a new collector, I bought a coral Gooseberry 442 online and the colour in the photos was beautiful.  When it arrived, it would barely have passed as a pink and I’m pretty sure it had been on far too close terms with a dishwasher!  I can laugh about it now but at the time I was devastated.  I recently saw a Spacesaver online described as a “coral Daisy” – obviously it was pink but someone had clearly spent a couple of hours  on Google and decided that if they described it as coral it would sell for a higher price. That’s partly why I set up PyrexPartyPixie, as I wanted to create the sort of online store that I would like to buy from.  Quite honestly I can’t see what these people are trying to achieve, as you would think they’d realise that an unhappy customer won’t call again.  Well, that’s my pre-Christmas moan over with!  I do apologise, it’s the thought of having to battle my way through the crowds at the supermarket this afternoon – wish me luck!

Pyrexpartypixie Christmas Competition

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These Cinderella’s are so precious, we’ve had to put them under guard! If you’d like to find these under your Christmas Tree, all you have to do to be in the running to win them (posted free to you, wherever you are in the world), is make a purchase from www.etsy.com/uk/shop/PyrexPartyPixie  ( anything from a card to a bowl) between now and 5 December! We must be mad!!!!

The Pyrex Hunter

I thought it was about time I told you about one of my favourite pieces of Pyrex, one which baffled me when I was new to collecting and led me onto several wild goose chases in the early days but still has a special place in my heart.  The spectacular, show stopping, white on coral 443 Cinderella bowl, or to give it it’s official name; the 2176 Serving Bowl with Lid and Stand in Deep Coral!  I came across one of these when I first started collecting and immediately fell in love with it.  It was the first example of coral Pyrex I saw and I still think it’s the most becoming use of coral in the vintage Pyrex catalogue.
When I first added this little beauty (or at least the bowl part of it) to my collection, I already had a set of yellow Gooseberry Cinderella’s and had seen all the other sets on the Internet, so following the logic of the colouring and sizing of these other sets, I assumed (which seemed perfectly reasonable at the time but I now blush to think about!) that there must be a set of Gooseberry Cinderella’s where the 444 (largest bowl) and 442 (third largest bowl) bowls were coral on white and the others were white on coral.  I do hope you’re reading this when you’re alert and fully caffeinated, as with all the numbers and ‘this colour on that colour’ and vice versa, it’s quite confusing.  I’m bewildered and I’m explaining it! Thus began a long and completely fruitless search for these glass equivalents to the Loch Ness Monster! It was only when I got my hands on a coral on white 443 that the penny finally dropped – there was no coral set like that – this bowl was a one-off, special edition.  Once I’d realised that, my new obsession was to get one of these bowls in its entirety – with a lid and a stand.  Little did I know that that would be almost as difficult as finding a set which didn’t exist!  For months I kept seeing lovely bowls with no lid and certainly never a stand.  Then I found a pretty badly beaten up bowl with a perfect lid, so I decided to buy that to add the lid to the perfect bowl I’d already got, so I was two thirds of the way there!
I’m going to just digress here for a moment.  Does anyone else have a problem with disposing of vintage Pyrex which they can’t use but isn’t really good enough to pass on to someone else, or is it just me?   I don’t normally go around buying things I don’t need or that aren’t really up to scratch, obviously (!) but occasionally do end up with something in a group lot, or if I want one part of it, such as the coral set.  The problem is, I’m opposed to throwing it away (partly because it’s wasteful and partly because it’s vintage Pyrex for heavens sakes!) but our local charity shop is somewhat snobbish and often refuses to take items it deems imperfect (they don’t really seem to have got the hang of raising money for charity, while providing affordable goods to people who can’t afford new things).  So, what to do with it is a dilemma.  I’ve free-cycled some but  still have this problem sometimes.  I have to say though, my mum is definitely the winner in all this, as she has a very wide collection of rather the worse for wear vintage Pyrex!  All her perfect but characterless bowls and dishes are gradually being replaced with this rather motley crew.  She moans about it but I think she secretly prefers them to her old ones, with the exception of her pink Gooseberry Cinderella 444!  Most people would be pleased to own such a pretty and iconic piece of kitchen equipment.  Sadly, my mother is not most people.  Her pink 444 is one with a small, smooth chip and a patch of colour loss – I didn’t need it as I already have one and it wasn’t quite good enough for my shop.  It was fine to have out on display, although you would probably put the side with the colour loss nearest the wall..  I gave it to mum, who keeps it in a cupboard and stores new potatoes in it!  I’ve tried telling her that there are lots of Pyrex fans who would love to have a slightly damaged pink Gooseberry 444 as a present but it’s no good, she just hates pink!  I do hope you’ll excuse me but I feel another digression coming on!  When my sister and I were little, we were dressed in every colour of the rainbow, with the exception of pink.  Naturally this made pink seem exciting and exotic and it topped our most wanted list.  Our Aunty Di (also our Reception – First Grade, I think that would be, for our American friends – Teacher) knew this and every birthday and Christmas bought us a pink outfit each, which mum didn’t have the heart to stop us wearing!  This maternal tolerance apparently does not extend to pink vintage Pyrex however and this superstar of the Pyrex world remains firmly banished to the cupboard!
Anyway, where were we?  Yes, so I now had the two actual Pyrex parts of the set but still no stand. Eventually, I managed to find one, a little dirty but it cleaned up nicely and finally I had my set.  It took a while but was well worth waiting for and I’m glad I made the effort to complete the set (although I know some collectors disapprove of making a complete set up from component parts, although I’m not quite sure why).  I think the stand is really cute and when the dish and lid are on it, it looks like a sort of beautiful Pyrex spaceship!
The other thing which this piece illustrates is just how baffling the wide range of vintage Pyrex patterns and colours can be.  It’s particularly so when you’re new to collecting but even those of us who have been collecting for a while can sometimes find new things.  I’m mainly thinking of JAJ Pyrex here too, so when you factor in American and Agee it becomes a real brain melter!  For example, despite liking all vintage Pyrex on principle, it must be said that I’m not as interested in ‘eighties Pyrex and don’t have any in my personal collection and only a few particularly nice pieces in the shop.  A couple of weeks ago, I found some Pyrex in a local vintage centre and my sister drew my attention to a casserole dish, which I had dismissed as ‘eighties and so not really my era.  She suggested that as it was quite pretty, some of my customers might like it and I should get it for my shop.  We got it and when I researched it when we got home, it turned out that it was in fact a rarely seen short run ‘seventies piece!  Of course, the wide range of colours and patterns is one of the things which makes vintage Pyrex so appealing but it can be a bit daunting to the collector.  I’ve learned to say “never say never” with vintage Pyrex and secretly, deep in my heart, I just know there is a set of coral and white Gooseberry Cinderella’s, with the traditional colour scheme reversed out there somewhere, just waiting for me to find it!

Finding Pyrex!

The bit of my job which I think I like the most is tracking down Pyrex for other people – of course I also love finding it for myself but I don’t have a big enough home to accommodate all the vintage Pyrex I’d like, so the next best thing is the vicarious thrill of searching it out for friends and customers!  As with collectors of any type of object, I started off buying any Pyrex which looked pretty and it was only as my knowledge increased that I began to hanker after the rarer pieces, to some extent just because they were hard to find.  Don’t get me wrong, I love all vintage Pyrex but not equally and there is one rare piece which I’m quite often asked to obtain for clients, which I seriously can’t see the attraction of!  The customers who I find this for are always very excited when I tell them it’s mission accomplished and thrilled to bits when they actually get their hands on it but for the life of me I can’t see the attraction and don’t own one myself!  I’m not going to tell you which piece it is as it’s probably against the Pyrex Hunter’s Code (and if such a thing doesn’t exist, I really think someone should write one!).
All the time spent traipsing round vintage dealers and forging links with other collectors really pays off when you are in search of that special item which someone needs to complete their collection, as quite often, if someone you know personally doesn’t know where something can be found, they have a friend of a friend who just might.  This sometimes involves a bit of travel, which is also fun, as you get to check out vintage stores outside of your usual stamping ground.
Many vintage Pyrex collectors say they are “addicted” to adding to their stash and I’m no exception.  The excitement I feel when I’m closing in on what I’m searching for gives me a real high, which is completely legal, if sometimes somewhat expensive!  They say that nicotine is the most addictive substance known to man but all I can say is that vintage Pyrex must run it a close second although (unfortunately, I’m sure lots of partners of collectors would say) you can’t get a patch to wean you off it!  I spoke the other day to the long suffering husband of a lady who has been collecting for years.  He said they had Pyrex in cupboards, the attic, under the stairs, the spare room and even under all the beds!  His wife has two and a half thousand pieces in her collection! I imagine that people reading this would have one of two reactions; complete horror or total envy.  Although I guess if you’re reading this, we all know which camp you (and I) would be in!
Two things in the world of vintage Pyrex hunting never fail to amaze me.  The first one is something we could call Jobling’s Law of Inverse Availability.  Under this law, you will spend weeks virtually tripping over a particular piece wherever you go and every one will be pristine.  You see so many of them that you become sick of the sight of them.  It is guaranteed, however, that within an hour of a customer asking you to find that item for them, they will all have mysteriously disappeared, except for one poor little specimen with half a dozen chips, who has been fraternising regularly with the dishwasher.  That’s ok because usually the request is not that urgent (alright, alright, I know the need for need Pyrex is ALWAYS urgent but you know what I mean, it’s not literally life and death!) and you know that in a few days you will manage to sneak up on one somewhere.  I’m experiencing this at the moment as a client has requested a set of JAJ Cinderella bowls in an often seen pattern.  The buyer is in the United States, so it is much easier for me to find a set than them but if only they’d asked a week earlier!
The second thing is that it never ceases to amaze me just how far really rare vintage Pyrex travels.  You would think that you would be most likely to find a rare piece in it’s country of origin but, recently at least, I’ve found the opposite to be the case, with rare dishes turning up where they really have no business to be!  Thank goodness that Pyrex collecting is such a sociable hobby and collectors such a friendly bunch, otherwise sometimes even the internet would not be enough to track down these rare items to their far flung locations.
The other thing I love about being a vintage Pyrex hunter is that it’s so educational! Very occasionally, you will be asked to trace something which you had no idea even existed.  That’s happened to me twice and the first time I felt embarrassed that there was a gap in my knowledge but since then I’ve come to realise that part of the magic of vintage Pyrex is that just when you think you’ve seen it all, something new comes on the horizon!
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My latest find for a client, I think it’s safe to say she was very happy with the piece!

Teenage Pyrex Ninja Turtle

Before we get going today, I just wanted to say I’m sorry I haven’t blogged for a while, the long Summer holidays, nail biting wait for exam results and providing long distance moral support to my sister as she wrote her Masters’ dissertation have all taken their toll.  I’m back now and raring to go!
Today I thought I’d tell you a little bit about my vintage Pyrex career.  Obviously I have an online shop and I want people to buy things from it but I absolutely shrink from the idea of selling!  You know what I mean, I love shopping (in fact it’s my middle name!) but I hate it when people try to sell me things.  Don’t you just hate it when you go into a shop and the salesperson pounces on you as you cross the threshold?  They then follow you around the store giving the impression that they are either desperate to make a sale or that they think you look a bit shifty and might be a shoplifter, neither of these options being conducive to giving you an enjoyable retail experience!  So, I was quite dismayed when I realised that an important part of running a successful shop is promotion.  Fortunately we live in the age of the internet, so I can talk to people on social media and am spared the indignity of walking round in a sandwich board or dressed as a giant Cinderella bowl.  I don’t like advertising – maybe it’s a British thing but it seems tantamount to showing off, so I tend to try and amuse people with what I post and hope they’ll then be kind enough to visit my shop.  That is how Pyrex Party Pixie got its first full-time employee and brand ambassador (posh, huh?!) Timmy the Turtle.
Now I’d like to say that Timmy was the result of a long and thoughtful creative brainstorming session but in fact he only exists because I like doing childish things with my Pyrex!  During a photo shoot for my shop, I noticed that an upside down Cinderella bowl looks quite like a turtle shell…  I’m very keen on the sea and in protecting it from pollution and turtles, who are particularly vulnerable to plastic waste, have been on my mind a lot.  I like to post on social media about marine conservation and I thought PyrexPartyPixie could do with a sea creature mascot.  I hadn’t realised that vintage Pyrex turtles are so ambitious though, as after Timmy came into being he decided being a mascot was a bit beneath him and demanded a full time job instead!image1
We could, of course, have opted to use CGI to create Timmy but as a vintage retailer, we decided that Timmy should be more traditional, so apart from his shell, he consists of a decorated wooden spoon (I hope I haven’t shocked you all, I know you thought he was a real turtle!!!).  Rather like Pinocchio, Timmy soon took on a life of his own and demanded a lady friend!  So Tabitha, or Tabby was born.  She’s almost identical to Timmy, except for her pink ‘shell’ and penchant for bright pink lipstick!
Timmy and Tabby like to do their photo shoots on a Friday, which leaves them the weekend free for Ocean Activism.  They also like to get involved in local beach cleans although, moving at turtle speed, they usually only manage to collect to collect one piece of trash each before it’s time to go home.  They also enjoy candlelit lettuce dinners for two and doing crossword puzzles.  They also enjoy quiet evenings in front of the TV, their favourite shows being The Blue Planet and re-runs of The Great British Bake Off (they refuse to watch the new ones as they are both #TeamMaryBerry!).image2

The Sisterhood of The Travelling Pyrex

We recently had a family day out.  Most people go for days out at the seaside or perhaps to a theme park.  We went combined vintage Pyrex/Medieval graffiti hunting!  That may sound a little odd but I wanted to check out the antique centres in our nearest city and my sister, who is doing a Masters in Medieval History, wanted to examine the cathedral to look again at it’s fine graffiti.  Neither of us can drive, so mum came as chauffeur!  Things got off to a bad start when not too far from home but just long enough to be in the countryside, the car started making a very weird noise and bumping along as if the wheels were square.  Fortunately, there was a service station not too far away, where we limped to a halt to survey our pancake like tyre.  After much frantic searching on the internet and conferring with the petrol station owner, we found a lovely man who came out right away from the nearest market town, replaced the tyre and charged us much less than we’d expected!  It was lucky he came immediately as we were in the middle of a heatwave in the UK and if he’d delayed, we might have melted!

After that false start we were on our way again, finally arriving at our destination in the early afternoon.  I can’t help thinking my sister had the better side of the deal as I’m sure the cathedral must have been a lot cooler than wandering about the antiques centres of the city.  Two hours, two cups of tea and a strawberry ice cream later, we were on the way back to the car with a large box of bubble wrapped vintage Pyrex.  This was only possible after dragging my mother away from a lot of old Tupperware, that had it not been for my prompt and decisive action, would now have been cluttering up our kitchen.  

I rang my sister and she soon met us back at the car, suggesting we all pop back to the nearby indoor antiques market for a drink before heading home.  In retrospect, agreeing to this was a huge mistake… My sister, although not technically a Pyrex collector herself, is starting to get into it (inevitable really I suppose) and it didn’t take her long to spot a tiny white with black pattern, Snowflake dish.  As you may remember, I don’t collect vintage Pyrex tableware and I believe this is a piece of tableware.  It’s very tiny, smaller than a dessert bowl and my sister fell in love with it.  She asked me what it was and I facetiously replied that it was a special casserole dish for babies!  She immediately went “Awwwww” and went and bought it!  Naturally it didn’t have a lid (nor do I think it should have one but more on that later!).  This purchased we finally started for home, deciding to stop on the way at our local supermarket to pick up a few things.

The journey back was uneventful, as was the supermarket trip, until we were going round the roundabout outside, finally five minutes from home!  Suddenly my mum started going on about baby rabbits, came off the roundabout, drove to the next one and  went right round it until we were back at the original one again!  She then told my sister and I to keep our eyes on the roundabout and there, right at the edge by the busy main road, was a baby rabbit, nibbling away on a half cabbage which had thoughtfully been lobbed to him by some Good Samaritan!   There then arose a spirited debate about what could be done for said infant creature – mother insisting we had to do something, me saying I didn’t see what we could do and I certainly wasn’t going onto a roundabout in rush hour to run around trying to catch a baby bunny (I can hear you all thinking how mean I am but then I wouldn’t need to do it because my sister is always the first one up for such challenges!) and my sister saying she would get it BUT they carry myxomatosis, so she couldn’t possibly!  By this time we had actually arrived home but mum was so anxious about the “poor little thing” that we turned round and drove back, having decided to ring the RSPCA if it was still there.  Weirdly, when we got back, the cabbage had been abandoned and Bugs had gone. This was a bit of a relief, as I’d had visions of my sister attempting to secure the bunny wearing some sort of hazmat suit improvised from whatever we had in the car!  

Snowflakes and Daisies and Whiskers on Kittens…these are a few of my favourite things!

The Gaiety Range, which includes both Daisy and Snowflake designs, seems to be a favourite with just about every Pyrex collector I’ve ever met, no matter where they come from.  I got very excited when I got my first piece of pink Daisy but not as excited as I got when I finally managed to get a piece of turquoise Daisy!  With the Snowflake, I think white on coral is my favourite, closely followed by white on black.
The Gaiety Range and therefore these two designs are in some ways most closely associated with JAJ or Crown Pyrex, which is British, although the design was used two years earlier, although I believe in less colours, in the United States.  As far as I can discover, through pieces I have in my collection or have seen elsewhere, the Daisy pattern on pink was produced in the USA and the UK but was only done on turquoise and yellow in the UK.  With Snowflake, it was produced in black on white and white on turquoise in the USA and also in turquoise on white, although this last colour arrangement was not available in the UK.  To add to the confusion, American Pyrex also has a design called Snowflake Blue, which bears no resemblance to Snowflake!  In the UK, Snowflake was produced in; black on white, black on yellow, white on black, white on pink, white on coral, white on turquoise and white on duck egg blue!  Quite why Snowflake and Daisy were produced in more colours in the UK than the States I don’t know. 
Daisy was released by JAJ in 1958 and continued to be produced into the mid-sixties.  It was mostly produced in pink with the daisy pattern in white, the other colour schemes (turquoise with white daisies and yellow with black daisies) were only produced from 1958 to 1959, which is why they are harder to find.  These additional colours were only used for the deep and shallow oblong casserole dishes, not the rest of the items in the Daisy range.  The pink Daisy was used for these two dishes and also a gravy boat and stand, a divider and an oval casserole dish.  Pink Daisy dishes are very popular and slightly easier to find than the turquoise and yellow, simply because the range was bigger and produced for longer.  From my own experience, I would say that the yellow is the least favourite of the three colours, although I don’t know why as it looks very fresh, although it is quite a light yellow (which I think fits well with the pink and turquoise) and perhaps was not considered vibrant enough by the shoppers of the day.  The three colours in the Daisy range do go beautifully together – sort of ice cream colours – and many collectors have dishes in all three and display them together.  Although just as many opt for one colour and collect everything which was made in it! 
Snowflake was also introduced by JAJ in 1958, although the range of pieces made seems to have been slightly larger.  The white on pink and white on duck egg was only produced from 1958 until 1960 and the white on coral from 1958 until 1962.  The white on pink were only available in the shallow and deep oblong casserole dishes.  The Black on white was available only in a deep oblong casserole but also in round easy-grip casseroles (which were not made in any other colours) and a sauce boat and stand.  As far as I am aware, the rest of the colours had shallow and deep oblong casserole dishes, an oval casserole dish and a divider produced in them.  I say as far as I’m aware because as any vintage Pyrex collector knows, it isn’t always easy to be sure exactly what was produced in which colours and just when you think you know, something turns up in a colour or pattern which you didn’t expect it to! 
The black on white easy-grip casseroles come in the tiny eight ounce size (I always think this tiny dishes are very cute) and I know one pampered baby who regularly has her meals served to her from one!  When I was first collecting, I really wanted to get hold of what I thought of as Goth Pyrex (the white on black) but had a really hard time finding any and the stuff I did find always seemed to be in bad condition.  I finally found an oval casserole on eBay… you’ve guessed it, it arrived smashed (although I could tell from the pieces it had been in lovely condition!).  As far as popularity is concerned with Snowflake, the pink and turquoise are always liked but people do go rather crazy over the white on coral!  These dishes obviously come into their own in the Winter, particularly if you celebrate Christmas.
Many of the oven dishes (as with other ranges) come with metal stands which have spaces underneath for two tealights, so the hot dish can come straight to the table from the oven and you can even keep the contents warm, if you linger over the starter – just another couple of touches which explain why 

Pyrex became a household world for ovenproof glass, despite having rivals. 
With both these patterns the most important thing to look for as a collector (providing there are no chips, cracks or nibbles, of course.  Sometimes I think I could say that in my sleep!) is the vibrancy of the colour.  As I’ve said, the white on black doesn’t seem to survive that well and I think the pink and yellow versions also seem to be prone to fading.  Some people feel that the yellow is insipid but I think that may be because they’ve seen examples which have faded.  A really good yellow is lovely and bright, just as pretty as the others.  Also, don’t forget that Snowflake comes in both duck egg and turquoise – some people don’t realise that and think that their bluey dish must be turquoise (presumably in the case of duck egg, turquoise which has gone drastically wrong!).  These dishes, especially in their turquoise and pink versions are usually what the non-Pyrex collector is looking at when they say “I never knew Pyrex could look like this!” – often the first step to Pyrex addiction!

Vintage Pyrex Is A Feminist Issue.

A few weeks ago, someone suggested to me that an interest in collecting vintage Pyrex was incompatible with feminism (worse still it was said by a woman).  That is just wrong on so many levels!  First of all, it seems to imply that collecting Pyrex is a hobby only undertaken by women, which is a huge assumption to make.  I personally know several male vintage Pyrex collectors and have seen evidence of many more on social media.  Secondly, it says more about latent sexism in the person who made the comment – surely we got over the gross misconception that only ‘girly’ girls are interested in cooking and baking long ago.  Any doubts about this could be easily resolved by having a quick look at the contestants on Best British Home Cook or Great British Bake Off, where it seems to be a roughly fifty-fifty split between the genders. An interest in cooking or indeed in home decor, as many collectors simply want some cool looking accessories for their kitchen, is by no means reserved for women.  Presumably the person concerned would have been much happier if I’d been collecting model trains or something and here was me thinking feminism was supposed to free us from old gender stereotypes, not force us into new ones!  Hopefully we’ve now established in the twenty-first century, that anyone can be interested in whatever they like without having to be judged for it. Sorry, I’ll stop ranting now but I was a bit put out (as you could probably tell!).

However, it may make you feel better to know that Pyrex, as we know it today, would not have existed or been anywhere near as successful as it was/is without the input of women.  The original idea of using glass for ovenware came from Bessie Littleton, who was married to a physicist who worked for the Corning Glass Works.  The story goes that Bessie had quite a new ceramic oven dish which had cracked, which understandably irritated her somewhat and that she persuaded her husband to give her a sawn off Pyrex battery jar so that she could conduct some experiments of her own in the kitchen.  Bessie successfully baked cakes in the jar and felt that Pyrex clear glass bakeware would appeal strongly to other cooks as it would allow them to keep a closer eye on the baking process.  Corning agreed with her and steps were taken to make prototypes.  Closely involved in this process was another physicist working in the Corning Lab by the name of Evelyn Roberts (I know Evelyn is a gender neutral name but our Evelyn was female!), we’ll hear more about her later.

As everyone who collects or has ever used vintage Pyrex knows, a premium was always placed on design, items might look good but first and foremost they had to be fit for purpose.  Corning tested their prototypes rigorously and when they were finally satisfied with them, decided that it would be helpful to get the input of some experts in cookware.  They chose to approach two highly influential women in the domestic journalism sphere; Mildred Maddocks and Sarah Rorer, who worked for Ladies’ Home Journal and Good Housekeeping. The women road tested the products, so beginning the exhaustive testing and evaluation to which Corning was to subject all future products and designs.  The avid combined readership of Maddocks and Rorer gave Pyrex an excellent start in the US.

I expect you’re wondering where Evelyn has got to during all this?!  Well don’t let anyone ever tell you physics isn’t fun – although most of Evelyn’s work probably consisted of quite technical stuff, she did get to do some (literally!) very cool stuff as well.  In 1917 Evelyn became part of an advertising campaign for Pyrex ovenware, when she was photographed atop one of the buildings at the Corning Glass Works pouring boiling water over a Pyrex dish encased in ice – so demonstrating it’s resilience in the face of thermal shock!  I’ve seen the photos and she looks like she’s enjoying it, although I suppose if you were part of the team who developed it, some of the novelty must have worn off!  I suppose you could say it was a bit sexist of Corning to choose Evelyn to do the photo op but times were very different then – most men, regardless of class, wouldn’t know their way around a kitchen at all, as most homemaking duties fell to women.  You have to ask yourself, if you’d been around then and were interested in purchasing some new oven dishes, who would you have preferred to demonstrate the finer points of this new, miraculous material, a female physicist or a man who might not know the first thing about the thermal endurance of glass?  When Evelyn worked at Corning, although she is listed as a physicist, her first degree was in maths.  After leaving Corning, Evelyn did obtain a Masters in physics.  Huge achievements at a time when hardly any women made it to university.

With the recruitment of Dr Lucy Maltby in 1929, Corning extended its product research, as Dr Maltby was to found a test kitchen, which would put the product to the test as a practical piece of kitchen equipment which led to many crucial design improvements, such as the addition of measuring marks inside mixing bowls.  Initially, Dr Maltby used the test kitchen to educate male Pyrex salesmen on how to use their product, they were taught how to do basic cooking and make simple cakes.  Dr Maltby felt that the salesmen could not possibly understand consumers needs unless they had personal experience of using the product.  Dr Maltby sent some of her staff out around the US to get feedback from the consumer and she corresponded with many Pyrex users to gather information about what worked well and not so well. The Pyrex brand has always led, rather than followed in terms of design and Dr Maltby’s test kitchen helped to ensure this.  Lucy Maltby remained at Pyrex until she retired in 1965 and she, more than anyone, was responsible for the vintage Pyrex which is so highly prized today.  She was even responsible for the introduction of coloured and patterned Pyrex, based on feedback from consumers.  After all, if you’re going to use something on a daily basis for years, why not make it look attractive?

Although it’s true that during its heyday, Pyrex was more likely to be used by women  than men, women were also at the heart of its production from planning to execution and beyond.  It should be no surprise then that vintage Pyrex is eco-friendly, durable, able to withstand almost anything, practical, efficient and beautiful – after all, look who made it!image1-2

Cinderella!Cinderella!All I hear is Cinderella!

Until I began collecting vintage Pyrex, baking for me was quite a lacklustre experience (the resulting cakes were spectacular, of course!), mainly because of the drab selection of mixing bowls we had.  Two medium sized plastic ones, completely useless because they had no weight to them, one medium sized clear Pyrex one, better but still not great and certainly not nice to look at and one enormous one which is white inside and beige with a raised pattern outside.  I think lots of households have one of these and you constantly see them in television dramas (especially period ones), some of them are family heirlooms with lots of history, stories and memories of the delights of cakes past, which is brilliant.  Sadly, ours is not such a romantic one, my mum having bought it about twenty years ago as she needed a decent mixing bowl.  I don’t want to disparage these bowls because they do the job well but I don’t think anyone would ever describe them as pretty.

Then I discovered JAJ Pyrex Cinderella bowls and all others were consigned to history!  Cinderella nesting mixing bowls were first introduced in 1957 and it is said that they were called Cinderella because Walt Disney had just re-released their animated hit ‘Cinderella’, which was undergoing a renewed phase of popularity (so apparently not because they were made of glass and transformed the dull world of mixing bowls into a fairyland filled with happy bakers and gorgeous cakes…).  The design of these bowls was revolutionary and I would go as far as to say has not been bettered since.  This incredible improvement was a simple one but makes a world of difference to someone who bakes a lot.  Pyrex added a pouring spout on one side and a handle on the other, which makes holding onto the bowl while you empty your cake mix into the pan so much easier.  I have heard the bowls described as having two spouts but the design was for a spout and handle, although if you want to use the handle as an alternative spout good for you!  The fact that the bowls came in sets of four was handy, as you would always have a decent sized bowl for the job and therefore wouldn’t have to wash them until the end.  That they were nesting was also useful when space in the kitchen was scarce. The other advantages to the Cinderella bowls could also be applied to standard vintage Pyrex mixing bowls; they were heavy enough to do the job, were very durable and looked gorgeous while doing all these other things!

I should just say at this point that the over-arching name ‘Cinderella’ was applied to other items, including casserole dishes but it only seemed to stay in use for the mixing bowls

Probably the best loved JAJ Cinderella nesting mixing bowls were the Gooseberry pattern ones (also a pattern used in the US).  The sizes were 4.5 pint, 2.5 pint, 1.75 pint and one pint (or numbers 444, 443, 442 and 441 respectively).  They came in five colour combinations; yellow and white, pink and white, duck egg blue and white, coral and white and turquoise and white.  These days, it is probably easiest to find the yellow and white and pink and white versions.  The coral and white is harder to find (a set in its entirety that is), the turquoise and white slightly harder still and I personally haven’t actually ever seen a duck egg set in the flesh (or glass!).  Having said that, I have spoken to collectors who have been confused by the turquoise and duck egg, some people not realising they were distinct colours and assuming there was just blue and the difference between the two being caused by ageing and wear! Understandable really when you consider the variations in colour which can appear due to fading and that old foe of vintage Pyrex, the dreaded dishwasher!  If you find clusters of small stars in the pattern of your Gooseberry Cinderella bowl this indicates that it is an early version of the bowl (which was produced for nine years in Gooseberry).

The most significant sets of JAJ Cinderella bowls apart from the Gooseberry ones, were the Carnival, pastel shades set of three bowls introduced in 1961, with a one pint yellow bowl, a 1.75 pint coral one and a 2.5 pint duck egg and the Hawthorn set of three (sizes as for Carnival), with a green leaf pattern on a white background also released in 1961.  I’m not sure why these were sets of three as opposed to four, if anyone knows or has a theory, please let me know.  There was also a June Rose set released in the early 1960s, which bafflingly (well to me anyway!) WAS a set of four!  I’m not a huge fan of the June Rose pattern myself but it is a very popular with many collectors.   I’ve seen an awful lot of June Rose but have rarely seen it on a Cinderella bowl.

Interestingly, the Cinderella bowl style was also used for the Clover Leaf Salad Set (popularly known as ‘Shamrock’).  A large green bowl with a white leaf pattern and a smaller white one with a green leaf.  These were joined with a bracket suspending the white over the green (this set up has led to it commonly being called a chip and dip set – which, quite honestly would make more sense!).  These are very hard to find as a complete set, as is the white bowl by itself.  There are more of the green bowls around but many of them seem to have suffered quite significant scratching and colour loss, perhaps more noticeable because it was such a dark colour to start with.

The Cinderella shape was also used for the 1964 Mix and Serve Set, one of my all time favourite sets!  This set consists of a larger plain grey bowl and a smaller grey bowl, with an intricate white line pattern near the lip of the bowl and again should have a bracket which suspends the smaller bowl over the larger.  This is a stunning set, which looks understated but beautiful, sadly this is very hard to find, particularly with the bracket.

JAJ did produce Cinderella bowls in other patterns too, although not as many as in the US where they seem to have been made in just about every pattern, very useful as then you could get all your kitchenware to match.  It must be said however, that on the British side of the Atlantic at least, most vintage Pyrex collectors would think of the Gooseberry pattern first when it comes to Cinderella bowls.

If you would like a set of the harder to find colours or patterns, it’s probably a good idea, if you are patient enough, to build up your own set one bowl at a time.  For instance, although complete sets of coral and white Gooseberry are very hard to track down, individual bowls of each size become available reasonably frequently but do check the size of a bowl before you buy as different people have different ideas about what is “large” or “medium-sized” and it’s not always possible to work out size in a photo.  Also bear in mind condition when you buy.  These bowls can date back sixty years, so some colour loss and scratches from use are inevitable and can actually add to the charm of a piece (a mixing bowl which has never been used and has just sat on a shelf for half a century would be quite sad) but chips, the dreaded “flea bites” and severe scratching should and can be avoided as there are a reasonable number of these bowls still around in great condition but again some patience might be involved.  After all, the principle of ‘you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince or princess’ can also be applied to collecting vintage Pyrex!

The Pyrex Collector

Since I’ve been collecting Pyrex, several of my friends have decided to give it a go too. I’d love to say that that is because I’m a natural leader or because I have an innate ability to forecast trends but I’m afraid to say it’s neither of those things, it’s simply because we’re all now getting to an age where we actually enjoy cooking almost as much as eating or are equipping our own kitchens for the first time and vintage Pyrex is of course a modern design classic.  Anyway, as I’ve been collecting a little longer than they have, they tend to ask me questions and the same ones crop up all the time, so I thought I’d answer them on my blog.

The first question is often “What sort of Pyrex should I collect?”.  This strikes me as a rather odd question, in that if you’ve decided to collect it, you must have seen some pieces which you particularly like, so that would surely be your starting point! I think some people feel that as Pyrex collecting is becoming more popular, that there are specific things which they ‘should’ look out for.  I think that’s the wrong way to go about it, as it would certainly drain the joy from hunting for your next piece.  Obviously some items are harder to procure than others because they had a limited release, were a short-lived promotional pattern or because they are from a different country but it’s always better to stick to what you like.  As well as building your collection on the basis of the designs you prefer, your budget will also play a part.  Prices of vintage Pyrex vary enormously but one of the plus points of collecting something that in it’s heyday was extremely popular (and let’s not forget virtually indestructible!) is that there is something to suit every pocket.  I personally don’t collect Pyrex tea sets or dinner sets as I prefer the casserole dishes and mixing bowls, so concentrate on them but I have one friend who particularly likes the tea sets and also collects the coffee jugs.  You can gradually build up a tea or dinner set over time quite cheaply.  If you plan to use your vintage Pyrex (and there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t, as long as you don’t commit the cardinal sin of putting it in the dishwasher), then you could collect pieces which fit with your style of cooking.  If you would rather retire them from active duty and simply display them, you might like to collect around a specific colour scheme or pattern.  The variety of styles, colours and patterns is huge and it would be virtually impossible to collect an example of every piece ever produced, so it would probably save your bank balance, not to mention your sanity, if you specialised in some way!

Another FAQ is where should I look for new pieces?  You may have heard the expression “hunting for Pyrex in the wild” – this simply means finding it at a charity shop, a car boot or yard sale or as part of a house clearance, as opposed to in a specialist shop (I know, I know, the delightful images the phrase conjures up of little Pyrex dishes frolicking in a meadow somewhere would be a much nicer explanation!).  It is possible still to find pieces like that, although the renewed interest in vintage Pyrex does mean it’s not as easy as it used to be.  Having said that, half the fun of collecting is tracking an elusive item down and whether you find it tucked away in the corner of your aunt’s kitchen cupboard or on Etsy, the buzz is the same.  Asking around your family and friends will often turn up nice vintage pieces as most kitchens in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s had several pieces of patterned Pyrex at least and that can be a nice way to start your collection and perhaps give you a theme or pattern to concentrate on.  When my collection was complete (well…not complete as I haven’t really begun to scratch the surface of worldwide Pyrex yet but I’ve nothing, well, virtually nothing, that I’m searching for personally right now!), I found I couldn’t give up the chase, so started my Etsy shop and such shops are another happy hunting ground for collectors.

The last general question about collecting that I’m often asked is what should I look out for in terms of condition?  When I first started collecting, I was determined that I would never buy a chipped or cracked piece or one with ‘flea bites’ (am I the only person who really detests that expression?!) and I’ve stuck to that, although I do have pieces with small scratches or patches of colour loss, almost inevitable with kitchen equipment half a century old.  That said, I can foresee occasions where I would be prepared to overlook a very tiny chip (I refuse to say it!), as long as the chip was smooth and barely noticeable and it was a piece I really wanted.  To some extent it depends what you are going to do with your Pyrex; if you’re going to use it, you probably wouldn’t want a piece with cracks or chips but if just for display purposes, as long as it’s not really visible, it wouldn’t matter as much.

The world of Pyrex is one of infinite variety and can be confusing when you first start to collect, over my next few posts, hopefully I’ll be able to answer some of the more specific questions collectors have but don’t like to ask as everyone else already seems to know!