The stacked Spice O’ Life vintage Pyrex casserole stashed in my mother’s cupboard has seen more meals of creamy ham and scalloped potatoes, spaghetti bake and chicken with rice than either of us can count. These trusty dishes have stood the test of time and are now sought-after collectibles. With dozens of colors, patterns and shapes, vintage Pyrex is an available, durable and generally affordable passion for retro dish lovers everywhere. A butter dish here, a mixing bowl there, a couple of casseroles and you’re on your way to a collection. So what makes vintage Pyrex so popular?
What is Pyrex?
Pyrex clear glassware was introduced by Corning Glass Works (now Corning Inc.) in 1915. At that time, Corning used a special borosilicate glass that resisted the expansion and contraction that occurs during quick, extreme temperature changes. Not only was it exceptional to cook with, the glass was ideal for laboratory glassware and railroad lamps. In the 1930s and ’40s, Corning started using soda-lime glass. The iconic set of four stacking mixing bowls in primary colors (also still in Mom’s kitchen cupboard) came along in 1945. In 1998, Corning divested its consumer products division, forming World Kitchen, LLC, which continued to manufacture Pyrex using soda-lime glass.
What’s It Worth?
While a majority of vintage Pyrex pieces can be bought for less than $20, prices can be all over the board. Consider comparing items with an online search. For example, that mixing bowl set of Mom’s sells for $40-$100 on eBay. Look at the completed auctions to see what pieces actually sold for. Simple refrigerator dishes can sell for as little as $6, so it’s easy to start small and work your way up to more valuable pieces, like limited-edition promotional items that tend be more rare.
TIP: Pieces from 1915 to 1970, pink items, and vintage Pyrex in primary colors seem to be the most valuable and sought-after. During my research, I found a vintage set of pink Gooseberry pattern dishes on Etsy for $1,850.
Where to Find It
You can find vintage Pyrex just about anywhere. Online resources include eBay, Etsy, Craigslist and Amazon. Locally, check out your Goodwill store and area flea markets. You’ll find vintage Pyrex at antique stores, however pieces can be a bit pricier there because people understand the value of what they’re selling. Antiques stores can also be good places to find those rarer limited-edition promotional pieces.
TIP: Often, the best prices and hard-to-find pieces of vintage Pyrex are found at yard sales, garage sales and church rummage sales where sellers may not be as savvy about what they’re worth.
What to Look For
No matter where you purchase vintage Pyrex, inspect it closely. While this can be hard to do online, there are a few things you can look for. Notice any obvious scratches, chips, cracks or stains. If the item originally came with a lid, is it included? What is the condition of the finish? If you’re buying in person, run your fingers over the edges, noting any chips. You can also hold it up to the light to check for scratches and hairline cracks.
TIP: If you’re a serious collector and concerned about breakage when purchasing Pyrex online, offer the seller additional money and request extra safe protective packaging.
How to Use It
If you’re like me, you value vintage Pyrex for its durability. I still use my grandmother’s Pyrex measuring cup even though the numbers are nearly worn off. (Here are some handy tips on how to measure ingredients.) My heart is tied to the meals and memories associated with these dishes, and while collectors may gasp, I use them regularly in homage to the cooks that have come before me. Make a few casseroles like Grandma used to make and you’ll see why. (And here are a few vintage cooking tips from Grandma.)
TIP: To ensure your Pyrex doesn’t crack, avoid extreme temperature changes. Never take a Pyrex dish from the freezer and place it directly into a hot oven. Conversely, don’t take a hot dish straight from the oven and set it on a cool or wet surface. Avoid placing Pyrex under a broiler, inside a toaster oven, or directly over a flame, stovetop or grill. And never put an empty Pyrex dish in the microwave.
TIP: Add a small amount of liquid to cover the bottom of the dish before cooking foods that may release liquid. This will ensure that the Pyrex and the liquid aren’t at different temperature extremes.
How to Clean It
To keep vintage Pyrex looking its best, clean it with warm water and a mild dish soap. If that doesn’t take care of stubborn marks or stains, try using a Magic Eraser (but always test on an inconspicuous area first). And be gentle—no vigorous scrubbing! Avoid using any kind of abrasive cleaner on the colored or patterned areas. Some folks have been successful removing interior silverware marks with Bar Keepers Friend (but avoid scrubbing near any patterns). A good rule of thumb to follow for cleaning any vintage pieces in the dishwasher: When in doubt, don’t. Pyrex patterns and finishes will fade or come off after multiple machine washings, Remember my grandma’s nearly blank measuring cup? Guilty. (Have a vintage cast-iron skillet? See how to clean it here.)
TIP: To clean the tiny crevices around the rim and the raised mark on the bottom, use a sharp, pointed wooden toothpick. Dampen the surface and angle the toothpick into the crevice, applying slight pressure and rotating the toothpick as you push it along.
How to Store It
To avoid marring the finish, avoid stacking vintage Pyrex bowls upside down on top of each other. If you have pieces that won’t be used often, store them in boxes with layers of heavy paper between each piece, and store the lids separately. If you keep them out for display, clean and dust them regularly.
TIP: Whether you display your vintage Pyrex bowls or casserole dishes or keep them in your cupboard for everyday use, stack them upright with a small, lidded plastic food container inside. The container raises the next bowl or dish up enough so the sides don’t touch, eliminating the chance for scratches and allowing you to see the pattern better.
Whether you want to display it or use it every day, vintage Pyrex adds fun and color to any kitchen. And let’s face it, any dish that you allows you to mix, cook and serve in one is a bonus for today’s busy cooks.