Have you ever wondered what motivates a Pyrex collector? I’ve thought about this a lot and I think we fall into several main categories. There is the nostalgic collector who likes to collect because the pieces remind them of their childhood or other happy times. Then there are those for whom the collecting part is key, they enjoy having all of something and that is more important to them than the item collected (hard as that may be to believe as you look at your latest, gorgeous acquisition). Others simply find that the lovely clean lines and cheerful patterns make their dishes an essential part of the design of their kitchen. Last but not least comes the vintage lover, who values them for their age and history. Goodness knows I love a bit of vintage myself but one of my pet hates is the vintage collector who subscribes to the belief that “oldies” must be “golden” simply by virtue of their age. This is clearly a travesty and anyone who possesses a coloured balloon brandy glass with a Siamese cat clinging perilously to its lip or a doll with a crochet crinoline used to “disguise” a toilet roll should hang their heads in shame – you can label them as ironic until the cows come home, these things could be a thousand years old and they would still constitute a gross offence against good taste. It’s those sort of things which give kitsch a bad name. Fortunately if a vintage collector has the good taste to include Pyrex in their collection they rarely make such errors of judgment as to give items such as the aforementioned felines or bathroom fripperies house room.
I suspect that most of us are motivated by a mixture of these reasons, although I myself am not yet old enough to be nostalgic about anything! People’s reactions to the news that you are a Pyrex collector can vary wildly from “that’s an old people’s thing” (you have to watch people who say this as they are always the ones who you find trying to surreptitiously “liberate” part of your collection after they have seen it, or bidding fiercely against you on eBay on that shamrock chip’n’dip set you’ve got your eye on), to “is that a thing now” (this is always delivered in an irritated tone, as if you’ve decided to collect it merely to annoy them) or, my personal favourite “what’s Pyrex?”!
Personally there is another element to my decision to collect and (I realise this might be seen as somewhat sacrilegious by some of my fellow collectors) that is that I quite like using vintage Pyrex – yes dear reader, on occasion I actually cook with it and put them in the oven! It has to be said that the design and quality of these vintage items has never been bettered and the fact they look so good while in use is a bonus. I also find them quite a cheery antidote to the woes of modern living, after all its impossible to be depressed when you’re making a cake in a yellow bowl so bright you need shades on just to think about getting it out of the cupboard.
The Pyrex I grew up with was always clear and, frankly quite boring, although extremely useful. I didn’t actually see some patterned vintage Pyrex until a couple of years ago in a charity shop, where it led to a protracted bout of nostalgia on my mother’s part which lasted all the time we were in the shop, all the way back to the car and was still going strong when we got home! She was bemoaning the fact that she didn’t know where my grandmother’s Pyrex had gone (apparently one of the lesser known attributes of our favourite glass cookware is that it can teleport – either that or my Nan must have been incredibly heavy handed because as we know, Pyrex tends to bounce when you drop it) and that she would “really love” to have some vintage Pyrex of her own. That is when I began to worry she was coming down with something, as a less committed cook than my mum is very hard to find! She does it because she has to and I have never known her look at any item of kitchenware before with anything other than thinly disguised contempt or abject scorn. I’m the one in the house who enjoys the culinary arts and most of the specialist gizmos we own are mine, so I thought I would take advantage of this unexpected maternal enthusiasm for ovenware to try and encourage her to become more adventurous at mealtimes. I fired up the laptop, tapped in “vintage Pyrex” and several hours later was hooked (and also the proud owner of a pink snowflake casserole and divider, both with lids – thank you eBay!).
Several months later my collection had grown considerably (by the way, I never did get my mum any but luckily she’s happy just to admire mine, as long as no-one expects her to cook with it!) but i was still missing what had rapidly become my own personal holy grail – a blue daisy casserole dish (when I say casserole dish I really mean absolutely anything blue daisy, so obsessed had I become). I’d seen blue daisy online occasionally but it was way too expensive for an impoverished teenager like me. Many of my pieces had been gifts from older family members who still had vintage Pyrex in regular use and couldn’t quite see the sudden desirability of their well worn dishes. Friends and family members also kindly combed car boot sales and charity shops on my behalf and being in foreign parts didn’t prevent them from hitting the Pyrex trail for me. My paternal grandparents live in mainland Europe and grandma sent me her vintage dishes and then started to make enquiries of her fellow ex-pats. Grandma’s own Pyrex was always white with flowers, not my favourite but still welcome additions to my burgeoning collection. It has to be said that Grandma was somewhat bemused by my quest and seemed to think that my collection was something to do with making a modern art installation (whether this was due to Grandma’s being hard of hearing and consequent penchant for getting the wrong end of the stick or my father’s allegedly ‘puckish’ sense of humour it is impossible to tell) but she was still gamely searching for me.
It was then that my sister and I went over to visit our grandparents. Grandad drove us back to their house and was busy telling us about their garden and the little village they’d recently moved to, from a nearby busy town. We noticed an elderly lady with a small ball of fur on legs standing by their front gate. Grandad explained that most houses in the village put a bowl of water out by their front gate for passing dog walkers to use (or more usually their pets!) as it was always so hot. I expect you’ve guessed where I’m going with this…as we passed through the gate en route to grandma, I happened to glance down at the dog bowl and it was the blue daisies I’d been tearing the south of England apart to find! Despite having been used for several months as the canine equivalent of Starbucks it was (once washed) in perfect condition and it’s lid was found hiding in grandma’s ‘odds and ends’ cupboard. When I told her that this was the highly prized dish I’d been looking for, she told me, in all seriousness that it couldn’t possibly be as all Pyrex is either clear or white with flowers or vegetables! Since then my grandparents have retired back to England and she’s seen my collection many times. She thinks it’s all very pretty but she’s still not convinced it’s really Pyrex!
NOTE: The animal lovers among you need not be concerned, no animals were harmed in the making of this blog as I did replace the water bowl with an old plastic bowl. The vintage Tupperware collectors among you might want to pop over to my grandma’s old house…
They must have the stealth of a cat, the vision of a hawk, the patience of a spider, the agility of a gazelle, the tenacity of a dog, the cunning of a fox and the wisdom of an owl. Whose job description is this; an emergency room doctor, the leader of the free world, a semi-finalist on Strictly? No, these are all essential attributes for every Pyrex collector (and if you doubt that the average Pyrex addict needs the agility of a gazelle, I can only assume you’ve never been in the midst of a pack of little old ladies at a garage sale when a pristine turquoise daisy space saver has just been put out on the stall – I carried the bruises for weeks!). Faint heart never won fair Pyrex and if you’re not in it to win it, you might as well go home.
I’ve been a card carrying Pyrex fanatic for some time now and I have to say that the majority of Pyrex collectors are lovely, always willing to share their knowledge or pass on tips about where to find that elusive piece you are desperate to make the crowning glory of your collection but there are a few who have sharp elbows, sharper tongues and wouldn’t look out of place auditioning for a remake of ‘Mean Girls’ and don’t get me started on the secondhand shop owners who have read in the Daily Mirror that vintage Pyrex is worth a fortune and slap huge price tags on every clear Pyrex bowl that crosses their path!
It was in order to deal with the more challenging aspects of Pyrex collecting that I adopted my alter ego of Pyrex Party Pixie (that and I’ve always wanted to be a superhero, with my superpower being an ability to defeat evil geniuses with my baked goods – I’m still working on the finer details!) and it is in this guise that I act as a kind of borosilicate glass Sherlock Holmes, tracking down brilliant pieces of vintage Pyrex for myself and others. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it.
In the interests of full disclosure I should confess that I am way too young to remember patterned Pyrex in it’s heyday, so it has no nostalgic grip on my heartstrings. I just think it’s beautiful and a masterpiece of design which has yet to be bettered and of course I love the thrill of the chase, nothing gives me more pleasure than running to ground a new gem for my own, or someone else’s collection. My eternal quest for this most stunning of ovenproof glassware has led to some amusing adventures, which I thought might be enjoyed by other members of the Pyrex community and hence this blog. I love the Pyrex blogs already out there, they have helped me so much in building up my collection but I thought there was room for a less learned guide, which could pass on the do’s and don’ts of collecting from my hard won experience (I’m especially good at the don’ts, having managed to make most of the mistakes in the book when I first started out!) and hopefully some fun and some recipes, after all, it was cooking that got me into this but that’s a story for another day. Any fellow collectors out there, please say “hello” and let me know if there’s anything in particular that you think hasn’t been covered in the usual Pyrex gathering places and I’ll see what I can do!