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!
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!