Vintage Pyrex

19 Jan

Okay, other than watching a lot of TV when it snows, the other occupational hazard when one who works on the computer has to work from home, shut in by icy roads, is browse the internet. Of course, inspired by all the kitsch on The Wonder Years, I have spent a lot of time looking at mid-century vintage stuff on Etsy. Just browsing, of course.

And then I got a bug. A weird bug. Pyrex. I saw some Pyrex on The Wonder Years and it sent me searching.  I remember my mom making macaroni and cheese or scalloped potatoes in a yellow one with a big daisy on the lid.

Vintage Oval Pyrex Yellow and Orange Daisy 2.5 Quart Casserole with Cinderella Handles

For some reason, I found myself strangely drawn to these milk-glass mixing bowls and baking pans. And with glass tops! How wonderful.  I can hear the clink of the lid on the pan as I type this. Apparently, plenty of people feel the same way as there are numerous sites and virtual communities and books devoted to vintage Pyrex collecting. Who knew? I even have gotten a little education on Pyrex.  (Brace yourself for total geekdom! From Classic Kitchens and More.)

Back in the early 1900’s, Corning Glass Works was working on a request from the railroads to produce lantern glass that would not break when the hot glass was struck by rain or snow. In response to this request, Corning developed globes made from low-expansion glass that could withstand the abuses of weathering and handling which readily broke the flint glass globes. Ironically, the shatterproof lantern globes generated were so good that Corning’s managers witnessed a decline in sales of replacement globes. This super-tough “fire glass”, as it was called, was resistant to temperature fluctuations, chemical corrosion and even breakage.

In July 1913, a series of events involving Bessie Littleton, the wife of the company’s newest scientist, forced Corning managers to focus their attention on the consumer venture. Apparently, Mrs. Littleton had used a Guernsey brand casserole only twice when it fractured in the oven. Knowing the strength of the glass her husband worked with on a daily basis, she implored him to bring home a substitute from the Corning Glass Works plant. He returned the next evening with the bottoms of two sawed-off battery jars made from low-expansion glasses. Mrs. Littleton cooked a sponge cake in one of the surrogate baking dishes. She noted several remarkable findings: • The cooking time was shorter • The cake did not stick to the glass; it was easy to remove with little adhesion • The cake was unusually uniform • The flavor of the cake did not remain in the dish after washing • She could watch the cake bake and know it was done by looking at the underside.

Mr. Littleton brought his wife’s creation to work the following day.  Laboratory researchers inspected the cake, which was a “remarkable uniform shade of brown all over.” The men deemed it delicious and very well baked. Thus began a two-year process to perfect this new invention. The notion of baking in glass was a whole new concept to the public. In 1915, a wondrous new line of “glass dishes for baking” appeared in the nation’s hardware, department and china stores. On May 18, 1915, Boston department store Jordan Marsh placed the first PYREX bakeware order. 

Who doesn’t love a science experiment that becomes a household name in cooking products? Plus, with a catalog of decades and decades of design, Pyrex is artwork in the kitchen. And nothing says a mid-century kitchen like some vintage Pyrex. So, of course, I had to have it. After wasting more time than I like to admit, I landed on the Verde pattern.  Okay, so it’s not a pattern, but more a color line, it suits my taste just fine.  I bought some mixing bowls and baking/storage trays for less than I would pay for nice stuff at Williams-Sonoma.

Super Cute Pyrex Refrigerator Dishes Instant Collection Green Green and Yellow With Lids

Pyrex Verde Mixing bowls 1960's

I can’t wait for them to show up! I investigated how to care for these products and found some great advice on High Plains Thrifter.

First, some DON’Ts….

DON’T put your Pyrex pieces in the dishwasher. Just. Don’t.

DON’T clean the colored outside portion of your Pyrex with abrasives or cleansers with bleaching agents (ex. Comet, Bon Ami, some Soft Scrub versions, oven cleaner, etc.). The white insides can handle a tougher clean, but the colored parts cannot.

DON’T stack wet Pyrex. It can stick together in the most terrible fashion and pulling pieces apart can cause a piece (or worse, both!) to break. Sadness will ensue, believe you me.

Some DO’s….

DO buy a can of Bar Keeper’s Friend and a pack of Mr. Clean Magic Erasers. Both are multi-tasking wonder products that are both bound to be your new BFFs in the kitchen.

DO try cleaning your Pyrex in warm, soapy water with a non-abrasive sponge before moving onto any other method.

DO use Bar Keeper’s Friend to get out stains on the inside or non-colored parts of your Pyrex. Sprinkle a bit of the powder on a wet cloth or sponge, then rub it in gently. Let the paste sit for up to a minute before rinsing off with warm water.

DO use a Magic Eraser to safely remove baked-on crud or stains from the colored parts of your Pyrex. Be gentle! Not a lot of elbow grease is necessary.

DO test (in an inconspicuous spot!) any other types of cleaners, chemicals or abrasives before going all out.

DO clean your Pyrex regularly. It’s amazing how much dust and grease and other nasties will find their way to the bottom of your bowls, casseroles, etc. Give pieces that haven’t been used in a while a little soap & water bath.

Have you gotten the Pyrex bug?  What patterns are your favorites? (God, listen to me. Pretty soon I will be inviting you all over for a Tupperware party!)


16 Responses to “Vintage Pyrex”

  1. Martha January 22, 2012 at 9:14 am #

    I just got home from church, where for the first time, I learned my way around the kitchen. The lady who was showing me where everything is kept opened one cupoard to reveal about 20 large Pyrex bowls, white on the inside, bright yellow on the outside. Having been to a number of estate sales, I think maybe they could sell their bowls and make some money to support the church’s mission!

    • Brandy January 22, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

      They sell at a premium, but aren’t too pricey. The mixing bowls I bought were $20 and the pans with lids were $42. But if they are in great shape, who knows? Thanks for commenting!

  2. Kate January 20, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

    I love Pyrex anything! My favorites are the little custard cups, and I love the big ones, too. We had them when I was a kid, and I began watching for when they go on sale at the QFC. They are great for portion control when it comes to ice cream, and I use them for prepping ingredients. But I do put them in the dishwasher, all the time.
    We thought of you this week, Miss Mid-Century Modern, when we watched “The Tree of Life.” (snow days, no cable, lots of Redbox Oscar hopefuls) The “new” house the family lives in at the start of the movie is totally mid-century gorgeous. Have you seen it?

    • Brandy January 22, 2012 at 7:03 am #

      No, I haven’t seen it. But I will have to check it out. One of my favorite mid-century styled movies is ‘A Single Man’ with Colin Firth. But then, anything with Colin Firth is heavenly no matter which century it is set in!

  3. susie January 20, 2012 at 9:31 am #

    When your dad and I move to a retirement home and I no longer have to cook, you are welcome to our pyrex. Some of it may have even belonged to the great grandparents. Next time you visit, I will show them to you.

    • Brandy January 20, 2012 at 9:42 am #

      Excellent! I had no idea you had so much. Very exciting!

  4. Dana@Mid2Mod January 19, 2012 at 7:26 pm #

    I have resisted starting a collection of vintage colored Pyrex since I have all the clear Pyrex I need for my baking and storage needs, some of which dates back to my newlywed days in the 1960s (and some may even have belonged to my mom). However, the more I see, the more I want. Now you’ve made me fall in love with Verde. I feel myself weakening even as I type.

    • Brandy January 19, 2012 at 8:26 pm #

      So sorry to have given you a case of pyrexia! I am sure there is some kind of vaccination somewhere!


  5. Martha January 19, 2012 at 5:52 pm #

    I clean my Pyrex with a paste of baking soda and water. Works well.

    • Brandy January 19, 2012 at 6:19 pm #

      Good to know! Thank you! Do you use it regularly? I plan on this being working Pyrex!


      • Martha January 19, 2012 at 6:32 pm #

        If the food needs a nudge to be removed. Otherwise, I just let the dish soak awhile and usually everything comes off pretty easily. I’m pretty fussy about not allowing any burned-on residue to stay on my pans. Lots of the ones you find at estate sales have burned-on stuff on the outside that’s almost impossible to remove.

      • Brandy January 19, 2012 at 7:07 pm #

        Good to know. I am particularly excited about the mixing bowls. And maybe that lasagna pan!


  6. jamieshehan January 19, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

    I actually have a Pyrex obsession. I wont use plastic ware for storage. You know all that cancer, and dying and such. I own a few vintage pieces but I didn’t buy much because I was afraid of losing the color. Problem solved!

    I did, however, wait at Black Friday at Wal-Mart with all of the crazies to buy some Pyrex to replace all of our plastic ware. Then I talked about it for weeks. There should be a name for this sickness.

    • Brandy January 19, 2012 at 7:06 pm #


      We have to have plastic because I don’t know what I would pack all the lunches in. We don’t do baggies, but I can’t send them with glass. And they arne’t regular sandwich kids. They want pasta and curry and all kinds of things their friends think are weird.


      • Rose June 27, 2012 at 8:38 pm #

        Just make sure the plastic you’re sending with the kids doesn’t have BPA(?) and I think there’s some info out there about not using ones that have certain #s (in the triangle for recycling).

        I’m really curious about why you say to not put in the dishwasher. We always have. Could you elaborate? or send me a link…

      • June 29, 2012 at 1:09 pm #

        Hi Rose,
        After a while, the diswasher starts to fade the color. And yes, we are definitely careful about using the right plastic. Thanks for the reminder.

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