Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Pyrex

On Day 15, halfway through 30 Days of Blogging, I've decided that it's time to talk about the Pyrex.

Several of my friends asked about the Pyrex, some in the serious sense and some in the mocking sense. My friends talk about the Pyrex a lot, because I talk about the Pyrex a lot when I get a new piece or when someone asks me about it. Some of my friends also collect the Pyrex. Some of my friends don't collect the Pyrex, but they look for it for me when they are out and about. And some of my friends crack jokes about the Pyrex and how I will die buried beneath a collapsed hoard of Pyrex, my mummified corpse dried into the carpet beneath a stack of Town and Country or Early American lidded round casserole dishes.

Here's the thing: I was going to write a long, ranting entry about how I don't judge your habits and I don't mock your collections and I don't make fun of the things that make you happy, but that isn't true. I do judge your habits. I judge the hell out of them. If you had a hobby of collecting antique buckets from wishing wells, and every couple weeks there was a new picture of an antique bucket from a wishing well on your Facebook feed along with a two paragraph explanation of how this particular bucket was only available for six months in 1961 and was originally sold with a knotted rope handle and a tin ladle, you can bet your sweet ass I would make fun of you. Even though I'm your friend. Actually, especially because I'm your friend.

So I get it.

Everyone doesn't get the Pyrex.

I didn't always get it, either.

Two of my first three pieces of Pyrex are in this picture:

numbered primaries

The green bowl and the yellow bowl (Primary Colors set #403 and 404, respectively, even though green isn't a primary color), along with a duplicate yellow bowl, were inherited from my father's mother. When we packed her up to put her in The Home, a traumatic day in which my uncle wept, I had to carry a bucket of human feces upstairs, my mom had to clean a bucket of human feces, and my dad encouraged me to do a couple of shots of leftover wedding souvenir bottles (my maudlin, useless uncle, who claimed that those bottles represented people's lives, was assured that I would only drink the ones from weddings which had ended in divorce), she told us between puffs of her cigarette to take whatever we wanted from the house. I was a little light on kitchenware, so I took an entire set of engraved barware, some appetizer plates, a few dishtowels and wooden spoons, and the three Pyrex bowls. At the time, I had no idea they were anything special. I just needed some big mixing bowls, and they appeared serviceable.

I used them pretty regularly over the next few years, and then a few years ago my parents came to visit me, and I took them to all of my favorite places in Knoxville, which included a few vintage and antique stores. At one of them, my mom noticed a small Pyrex dish that she thought might interest her friend Cheryl. When she got home she told Cheryl about it, and Cheryl was interested, but Mom didn't buy the dish and couldn't show it to her. Mom called me and had me go back for it, and then gave it to Cheryl for Christmas.

"By the way," Mom said casually. "If you see another one, I might like one, too."

And so I started looking for another. Each time I went thrifting or antiquing, I would look for Pyrex, to see if they had another dish like the one we got for Cheryl. Every once in a while, I picked a random dish up for myself, a round open baking dish here, a covered hostess dish there, with no real thought behind it. Then I got curious. I started reading online about patterns, prices, and rarity. Cheryl invited Mom and I to a Facebook group for collectors, and I invited my friend Heather, who collects much more than I do. People talked about Pyrex, and posted photos of their finds and their collections, and I started to look at my dishes and think, "Well, I have two pieces of that set. Maybe I could get the rest."

There were two finds that really pushed me from casual to somewhat deliberate collecting.

The first was the "ugly brown dishes":

terra dishes

My friend and I were at an estate sale, and one of the ladies working the sale was trying to sell me the yellow, red, and green bowls from the set up at the beginning of the entry as a group for sixty dollars. Since I already had two yellows and a green, I really wasn't interested, and asked what other dishware was in the house.

"There's a set of ugly brown dishes in the kitchen, and some other stuff."

My friend, who collects certain china patterns, and I headed into the kitchen, and I immediately stopped and gaped.

"Those are Terra. An entire set."

I flagged down a worker immediately and had her mark the set as sold, without hesitation. That set has 14 coffee cups. Right now, a set of 4 of those is selling at an antique store down the street for twenty five dollars. There are five 13 inch chop plates, which normally sell for eight to ten dollars each. I paid eight dollars for one a couple months ago to make this set have an even number. The big mixing bowl is a 403, which goes for ten to twenty dollars by itself. I picked up the entire set for thirty five dollars, and started thinking about how I needed to finish it.

The second piece that pushed me all the way into collecting was the Golden Hearts Casserole:

golden hearts

In addition to patterned sets, Pyrex made dozens of promotional pieces over the years, bowls and casseroles that had a unique pattern or color and were only offered for a limited time. The people in the Pyrex group were forever posting about finding all these unique and exciting pieces dirt cheap, and all I ever seemed to find was parts of sets. Sure, sets are exciting, but promotional pieces were special, and I didn't have any until I found that casserole dish on my way back from Nashville, and it was only five dollars.

And that was it.

I became a Pyrex collector.

I have limits, though. I only collect certain patterns, and I've never paid more than twenty dollars for a single dish. There are a few dishes in one of my closets, waiting to be displayed someday, a few on the top of the fridge, a few in my cabinets because I use them every day, and a few displayed on top of my cabinets:


Those are my full (or almost full) sets. From left to right:

Early American Cinderella mixing bowls - Cinderella bowls have a handle on each side, one of which is designed to also be a spout. The smallest bowl in that set, the 441, is with my parents, because I found it at a store while I was home for Christmas this year and was afraid it would get broken on the plane. They'll bring it in a few weeks when they drive down.

Early American round mixing bowls - I'm missing the largest one, the 404. The last one I saw on Etsy was fifty dollars.

Verde round mixing bowls - The greens are so pretty.

Tally Ho Cinderella bowl and Delphite 401 - There are no other sized Cinderella bowls in Tally Ho, and I don't anticipate ever finding any other Delphite bowls at a reasonable price, so those two are just sitting together.

Pink round mixing bowls - A yard sale find. You know who else used Pink Pyrex? Julia Child.

Terra round mixing bowls - Terra, for unknown reasons, doesn't include a 402 size, so my set has a weird gap in it even though it is complete.

Primary Colors round mixing bowls - Recently completed due to a gift of the red 402 from my friend Heather.

Next to those, I have an empty space. It's being held for a complete round Butterfly Gold set, which my Aunt Geri gave me for Christmas and which my parents are bringing down when they come.

So there. That's the Pyrex.

Now you tell me all about your antique buckets.


Justin Bower said...

Up until this year I have spent a somewhat eyebrow-raising amount of time trudging through inhospitable locales looking at and photographing birds and snakes and bugs and all manner of creatures. I have driven 300 miles round trip to see a single endangered 4 inch bird. I, my friend, will not be mocking you for your slight excess of cookingware anytime soon.

Marcheline said...

As a retro mama deluxe, I happen to adore your collection of pyrex! Now that I know what you're missing, I can keep an eye out for them when I'm rummaging around the local antique and thrift shops here on LI.

Me? I'm all about vintage cat eye glasses. I wear them, I buy and restore them, I sell them on ebay for at least twice what I bought them for, sometimes more.

I also just bought a vintage typewriter which I am going to restore and then use.

I have a large collection of vintage dinner plates of all sorts. They make me feel better just looking at them - I think you know what I mean.

Collect on! And don't forget to post when you find a new Pyrex!

Jennifer Magnone said...

OMG thank you for the info on the Terra bowl set. I've been going nuts trying to find a 402 to complete my set. Ha!