Keeley Harris is a vintage interiors expert, stylist and purveyor of fine vintage homewares and furniture. Girl boss at Discover Vintage events, organising the Festival of Vintage and Vintage Home Show. She is author of Style Me Vintage Home published by Pavilion Books in 2013. Her spare time is spent walking Bernard the Cockapoo and collecting pairs of Converse.
Search any social media site for a picture of Pyrex and you are confronted with endless images of neatly stacked serving dishes in every colour of the rainbow. The question is, can one person possibly use that many mixing bowls in their kitchen? If they’re stacked up one on top of another as a display that even the set designer for The Great British Bake Off would be proud of, then it is very likely that they could be one of the growing number of Pyrex fanatics out there.
My memories of Pyrex are very fond – casserole dishes with the ‘Hunting Scene’ pattern displaying burnt remnants of my mum’s lush rice pudding engrained into them – coming out of the oven and straight to the dinner table, while me and my brother argued about whether to watch Grange Hill on the TV.
My mum’s pattern is certainly not one of the most popular to collect nowadays but the craze for collecting the wide range of Pyrex patterns, colours and styles that were produced in the UK, USA and Australia is bigger than you could even imagine, unless you are a collector of them too.
Pyrex collecting is a serious habit for thousands of people across the world, of which there are many hash tags to follow: #pyrexpassion #pyrexjunkies and #pyrexlove to name a few. With any collectable items, prices and rarity dictate the extent of your collection. Some of the limited addition patterns produced in the 50s and 60s are going for eye watering sums of money on some auction sites but unless you become obsessed and have loads of room to display it all, stick to a compact but nicely displayed selection.
Let’s have a brief look at its history. Pyrex was considered a new innovation for household baking and serving food through the 50s, 60s and 70s, with pretty much everyone able to say they have had some. It first hit UK shores in 1921 and was manufactured under license by James A Jobling, otherwise known as JAJ, having been previously invented in 1915 by chemists at the firm Corning Glass Works in New York. They created this special glass that was resistant to heat and went on to create a whole range of useful ovenware that replaced the previous earthenware and enamel options for baking. Jobling described it as, ‘A graceful reminder of another age to add romance to the meal table’. Very quickly, the lady of the house loved it! It was a perfect addition to any modern kitchen as you could bake, serve food on the table and even keep the leftovers in it afterwards, saving on the washing up.
What to collect
Over the years there have been many different pattern ranges released, often as limited editions for Christmas or in collaborations with firms such as Ringtons Tea as a promotion. A core of the designs was very successful and mass produced. Look for designs such as Snowflake, which came in a range of seven colours and which has more than 60 pieces to collect in different colour ways. This is the one I often find when I am out hunting and is a very good start to a collection. Other patterns that might be found easily are Gooseberry (1959-62), June Rose (1964-72) and Harvest (1961-67) – these should be picked up at affordable prices.
Harder to find pieces are more challenging unless you have plenty of cash to spend. This means that you may well have become a serious collector! When I asked Rebecca Benson, a Pyrex dealer, what is the rarest piece she has sold, she said, “I sold a piece of the blue Hawthorne pattern for over £400 recently but some of the American Pyrex goes for even more, with very rare casserole dishes in the pattern ‘Lucky in Love’ fetching thousands.”
Where to start? The same as starting any collection – start from the bottom and work your way up. Charity shops, car boot sales and flea markets are a good starting point for entry-level pieces and you may find a rarer piece for pennies if you are very lucky. To find the more desirable pieces, check out specialist dealers (recommended below), specialist vintage fairs, Etsy and online auction sites.
When searching for items, look out for the different types. Space savers, nesting mixing bowls, baking sets, hostess sets, casserole dishes and refrigerator sets are all useful search terms when looking online to get you started. Also, there are various online guides on the pattern ranges available. Many people tend to go for a particular colour way to start their collection.
Who would have thought that such a practical kitchen item could still be so popular? So, if you pick up the odd piece here and there, I am sure it will become a firm favourite in your kitchen. Use it or just gaze at it looking all pretty – whatever happens, cherish it.
Pryex sellers to try:
Wish Vintage UK (Etsy)
That Retro Piece (Etsy)
Book: The Little Book of Collectable British Pyrex-Susan Hibberd covering British Pyrex
Book: Pyrex Passion, The Comprehensive Guide to Decorated Vintage Pyrex
Recommended Online reference guide to patterns: www.thatretropiece.com, thanks to them for images too