Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Pyrex...Learning Something New

I have to admit, that in about the past year or so, a lot of new things have been catching my eye when I visit antique stores... What I am finding is that they are mostly vintage, mid-century items. I am really developing a taste/eye for 1950's and 1960's stuff. While I know it is only considered "vintage" and not "antique", I am still enjoying looking, hunting, and hopefully purchasing some (at a great price, of course).

My friend (Chicken's Auntie), recently bought a book called Pyrex by Corning, a Collectors Guide. She was kind enough to bring it to work to share with me-so I want to share with you what was in it.

The best place to start is at the beginning. In 1851, Amory Houghton bought shares of Corning Incorporated. It later (in 1854 ) became Union Glass Company and then Corning Glassworks in 1859. In 1864, Houghton and his two sons purchased Flint Glassworks in Brooklyn and moved the company there. In 1868, for financial reasons, he moved the company to Corning, New York and changed the name to Corning Flint Glassworks.

In 1875, they turned their focus toward specialty products. One such product was hand-blown glass light bulbs for the newly invented incandescent lamp by Thomas Edison. They expanded into pharmaceutical glass products as well as railway lanterns and signal lenses as well as tubing for thermometers.

It was because of problems with the railway glass, that Pyrex was actually invented. The bulbs would heat up the lantern glass, and when it would rain or snow, the cold shock on the hot glass would cause the glass to shatter and the flame to be extinguished. They needed to create a glass product that could tolerate the temperature extremes with out breaking.

They began their research in 1908, and by 1912 they had found chemical properties that were promising. They were even able to reduce breakage by 60% with their new product. They named their new glass “Nonex” for non-expansion glass.

The rest of the story gets a little fuzzy here. It isn’t clear if it is fact, or folklore, but it is said that a physics instructor from University of Michigan (Dr. Jessie T. Littleton) joined Corning (this part is fact) about the time the nonex glass went into production. At that time, his wife supposedly was complaining about the pans she was using for cooking and baking, because it was hard to get the food the release out of the pan, and the pans absorbed the food odors. So, he cut the bottoms off of some jars, brought them home, and his wife made a cake in one.

She was delighted by the results. The cake cooked in less time, came cleanly out of the pan, the pan didn’t absorb the food odors and since the glass was clear, she was able to watch it cook and tell by looking at it when it was done. Dr. Littleton remained in his position until he retired in 1958.

The trademark for Pyrex was registered in the United States on March 13, 1917.

The book, Pyrex by Corning-a Collector’s Guide is not only a wealth of knowledge on the history of Pyrex, it also has lots copies of the original advertising. It was interesting to see that in an ad from Ladie’s Home Journal from 1956, the primary colored mixing bowl set that I just recently, finally got all the pieces to, sold for a mere $2.95 for the whole set of 4 bowls! I’ve seen them for the past year or so in antique shops and on Ebay for between $50 and $85. The original 4 bowl set in turquoise was the same. Now it sells for between $70 and $110. A four piece refrigerator set (including lids) originally went for $3.45. I am sure at the time though, those prices (which seem meager now) were probably considered to be a lot of money to spend on dishes and bakeware.

Because of the durability and quality of Pyrex, it has become a household staple. I bet anyone who is 25 or older can remember their parents or grandparents using Pyrex-what today we call vintage - is highly collectible.

I will be working on getting a full set of the turquoise mixing bowls. I’m hoping to pick them up one at a time to try to save some money-besides…that’s half the fun anyway-the hunt! Of course, I want to find them at a great price too…is that too much to ask for?

If you love Pyrex or are just curious, check this book out at your local library. I’ve put a request in for one to look at even though I borrowed Auntie’s. This way she can have hers back and I can have a little more time to drool through the pages!

This is my vintage set of Pyrex mixing bowls in the primary colors.

This is the set I got for a wedding present 22  years ago. We use this set all the time and it still looks great!

This is a great little refrigerator dish I won on Ebay for 24 cents!! And...the seller was in my hometown, so I was able to pick it up and save the shipping charges! Now, to find the lid and the rest of the set...

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