If a vintage Pyrex collector had to make a list of the top ten most annoying things about their hobby (ok, so I know there are probably only five but top ten sounds better!) I reckon issues to do with colour would be right up there. Leaving aside fade and colour loss, just identifying the colour of a piece can sometimes be a problem.
My own particular bugbear, which you’d think I’d have got over by now but irritates me all over again just about every time I hear the word is… drumroll please…coral. I know, coral VP is about as gorgeous as it gets BUT I was brought up to believe that coral is a shade of pink. Deep pink yes but nowhere near the red that we know as coral Pyrex. I’m evidently not the only one who thinks that way either, as I’ve often been told by a seller that their piece is “rare” coral and then had to break it to them gently, that it is, in fact, pink. They usually then start complaining that coral is pink – what can I say, I didn’t make the rules but I do sometimes wonder if someone in the Design Department was colour blind or at least absent from school the day colours were discussed in art class. The other day, after having this same whinge with my fellow collectors, I decided to put an end to the debate once and for all, so I Googled “What colour is coral?”. Guess what it said…orange! That’s enough about my little peccadilloes though, onto the serious stuff!
Coral and pink vintage Pyrex really are very different, confusion mostly arises because of differing definitions of the colour ‘coral’.
The other main colour issue I come across (and I bet most people have had this one) is the vexed question “Is it turquoise or is it duck egg?”. That’s not a question I would find particularly difficult in my non-Pyrex related life (who am I kidding, I don’t actually have a non-Pyrex related life!) but as a collector I’ve struggled with it a few times. As a rookie collector, I didn’t even know duck egg Pyrex existed and often I think I was better off that way! Partly because I’m definitely a turquoise girl but also because sometimes it can be difficult to tell your duck egg Cinderella from it’s prettier sister. I had a turquoise 444 Gooseberry Cinderella first and I love that bowl dearly, I thought it was the most beautiful bowl I’d ever seen and on reflection, I think it still is. It was after I had this gorgeous classic design piece in my possession that I heard about duck egg, so of course, like any good collector, I set about tracking one of them down too. Now this took some time, I was still in high school and my budget was very limited (which is a nice way of saying virtually zero). Eventually however I found one, on eBay of all places! It arrived, with perfect timing, on a Saturday, so I could open it immediately! My first thought was “it’s turquoise”, although that panic subsided after a few seconds when I realised it was paler than that. Only to come back to bite me a few seconds later when my sister helpfully asked “Haven’t you already got one of those?!” Obviously when I stood them next to each other you could clearly see the difference but it’s not always so easy when you don’t have both colours to hand. Also, it must be said that a faded turquoise could be mistaken for a duck egg if the loss of colour is extensive.
When you then factor in things like light and filters in terms of photography if you’re buying online or a dealer sends you a photo, it can be very difficult to tell them apart. Unless you’re lucky enough to live in a major city with many well stocked vintage stores, or have extensive contacts in the vintage trade, your best chance of finding a duck egg is online. I used to wonder whether an unscrupulous online seller could misrepresent a turquoise as one of the rarer duck eggs. Recently I found out. My closest Pyrex friend lives in the United States and she recently noticed something amiss with her full set of duck egg Gooseberries, which she had bought online. She immediately compared them to her turquoise set and doubts began to set in. She asked me for my opinion on photos of the two sets. I know what you’re thinking, dear reader, how would I know, between the settings on her phone and mine, whether I was seeing the colours accurately? Well I can’t tell you how because I’m a bit vague on the details now but my uncle works in tech and he talked me through how to do it. Sure enough, I agreed with her, there was definitely something wrong. Interestingly, there was a misidentified turquoise but also one of the colour on white bowls was a third shade of blue. My friend had bought her duck egg set quite early on in her collecting career too and like me, hadn’t realised how deceptive the colours can be without an example of each to hand, particularly so on the 443 and 441 in the Cinderella sets (they are the bowls which are mostly white and have the pattern picked out in the colour) as there isn’t a solid block of colour to look at. My friend was naturally upset to find a couple of imposters in her set but I wonder if the bowl with the unidentified shade of blue might be something special, a mistake in the production process perhaps, a limited run or perhaps a prototype which never quite made it to the final cut. There you have the excitement of collecting vintage Pyrex in a nutshell – something new is always coming to light.
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!
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!