Pyrex is arguably the most recognized name in glassware. People collect it for the colors, the patterns, the retro look. They also collect it because they trust the brand. All of this adds up to the fact that it sells really well online!
Family Flair in the “Sea Isle” pattern, turquoise, 1950s.
Here’s some history:
Otto Schott was the first man to develop borosilicate glass, which was the pre-cursor to Pyrex. He did this in 1893 in Germany and sold it under the name “Duran.” After hearing about the borosilicate formula as a doctoral student, Eugene Sullivan (the Director of Research at Corning Glass Works) developed a similar product in 1908 called Nonex. This was a shock-resistant glass that was first used in lantern globes and battery jars.
A man named Jesse Littleton then accidentally discovered the cooking potential for this product when he gave his wife a cut down battery jar as a casserole dish. Corning removed the lead from the Nonex (good call), and developed it as a consumer product. They introduced it in 1915, during WWI, as an American alternative to the German Duran. They called it “Pyrex.”
(Interestingly, no one really knows where the word Pyrex came from. Some think it’s a mix between the Greek “pyr” (fire) and Latin “rex” (king), though the mixing of languages in order to form the word seems unlikely. (Also, does Fire King sound familiar to anyone else??) Others think it comes from the fact that a pie plate was one of the first products to be sold under this name. They often added “ex” to the end of their product names (like “Nonex”), so “pie” and “ex” were combined into the more easily manageable “Pyrex.” The truth is, we may never know the real story behind this word.)
In the 1930s and 1940s, new shapes, designs, and colors were introduced into the Pyrex line, including opaque pieces for bakeware and even a line of Flameware for stovetop use. In 1958, an internal design department was started by John B. Ward and over the subsequent years, many different artists and designers have contributed to the overall look of the line.
(All information came from this fabulous Wikipedia article.)
“Old Orchard,” brown with Fruit
If you want some more background information on your Pyrex (or Corning Ware/Corelle) Corelle Corner is a wonderful site to visit. The owner does all of her own research and relies on brochures and catalogs to find the truth behind many of the misconceptions that are floating around on the internet. She doesn’t deal in pattern guides, but she does have a lot of relevant information. This page was particularly helpful to me when trying to find more information on the “Sea Isle” set in the first picture.
There is an entire array of shapes that Pyrex comes in, and each one has its own function. Here are some of the more common ones:
A. Mixing Bowls are regular bowls that can be stacked inside one another. Used for mixing up anything and everything, and can also be used as a serving bowl.
B. Cinderella Mixing Bowls are exactly like regular mixing bowls, but they have handles.
This is a really old picture, so I’m not sure what the pattern name is. I’m not even sure it’s Pyrex. But this is what a set of Cinderella nesting bowls would look like.
C. Bake, Serve, and Store Casserole Dishes are used for the purposes that are inherent in their name. They come in the same size, but all vary in depth. These are great containers to move from the oven to the table to the refrigerator!
D. Casserole Dishes can either be round or oval. You can bake your meals in them and are probably the most recognizable Pyrex dishes. They come with their own lids. Unlike the BS&S dishes above, these DO vary in size.
E. Refrigerator Sets are really neat looking and are generally square or rectangular. They’re great for serving leftovers and stacking your meals in an orderly fashion inside the fridge.
G. Divided Dishes are great for holding two different kinds of vegetables, heating them up, and then serving them to your family. They’re usually oval in shape and have a pretty obvious divide between the two sides.
H. Utility Dishes and Baking Dishes are basically square or rectangular casserole dishes, but generally have a more generic use: casseroles, cakes, brownies, bread, lasagna, etc.
I. Hostess Sets were mostly used for serving and apparently there were only two types ever made. I’m sure if you could get your hands on one of them you could make some great money!
(This information came from this page on In Color Order. Check out her entire Pyrex series to learn a whole bunch of information about collecting vintage sets!)
The most important thing, next to condition, is the pattern name. We know from experience that if you have the maker’s name and the pattern name, that your piece should sell fairly well (unless the combination is a total dud). Pyrex is no different and in fact might even be one of the most important things to make sure you have the pattern name for.
A lot of people collect certain patterns for the sake of nostalgia – those are the patterns that their mothers or grandmothers used in their kitchens. Some patterns are going to be more rare than others – and that’s a given. But I think, in general, all Pyrex sells pretty well.
I can’t go into detail about which patterns are the best to sell because it’s always changing (but mostly because I just have no idea!). But here are some pattern guides that will really help you figure out what you have, which is the first step in trying to find out how much it is worth.
First up we have Pyrex Love’s pattern guide. This is my go-to source. They’ve got some great pictures of the pieces they’ve been able to identify, and an easy to use grid system that lets you fly through the page and figure out what you have. Some of the pattern names aren’t the “official” names (as they’re currently unknown), but they mark this pretty obviously.
Then we have Replacements. This isn’t the best resource, as some of the patterns that are marked unknown are actually known, while others might be mislabeled. It’s a good picture guide, though. I always follow up an “answer” from Replacements with a Google search to double check that it’s the right information.
There are tons of Pyrex guides out on the internet, but I’ve found that most of them just offer the same information as Pyrex Love. Their website has been the easiest to navigate, so I strongly recommend them.
Here are the most important things to keep in mind:
1. Pattern name. Even if you can’t name it, give it a general name that reflects the design, such as “Berries.”
2. Shape. Is it a bowl? A casserole dish? A refrigerator set?
3. Condition. Hold the piece up to the light and let it shine through the solid color. It’ll be easier to see any scratches this way. Also note any chips or cracks.
4. Date. Use some of the above resources to narrow down a date. This is always helpful.
“Butterprint” by Pyrex.
5. Color. Some colors just speak to collectors more than others – turquoise is a big 1950s item! This is always important to mention in your listing.
6. Numbers. There are numbers on the bottom of each piece. This helps to identify it, even when you’re not sure what the shape or size is. If it has the amount of liquid is holds (usually in quarts) on the bottom, make sure you mention that too.
And don’t forget that Pyrex makes more than just bakeware! Here are some other interesting pieces:
A simple brown lid. These are great to sell, as they’re often the pieces that break first!
These are snowflake napkin holders!
This is a detachable handle for a pot or pan.
So, what about you? What do you like or dislike about Pyrex? What are some of your favorite patterns or shapes? I like the ones that are bright and fun!