H&A blogger Sarah-Jane Hosegood runs the weekly Twitter vintage networking event #vintagefindhour. In her blog for H&A she writes about her most recent finds, fair experiences and tales of the interesting folk she meets along the way. This month she goes on the hunt for Pyrex cookware…
I applaud upcycling. Rather than send old objects to the scrap heap or let them gather dust in an attic, there are hundreds of quirky ideas circulating to give treasures a bold new lease of life.
With this in mind, I began to think about which vintage items out there could still be used as they were originally intended. What ticks both the affordability and practicality boxes?
Pyrex was the answer that first sprung to mind. An immediately recognisable household brand, it has survived to this day thanks to its robust and practical nature. Clear Pyrex glass is still in production and sold worldwide, but it’s the charming vintage designs that I hanker after.
The story of Pyrex began in 1908 when American Eugene Sullivan, director of research at Corning Glass Works, developed Nonex, a borosilicate glass (one that contains silica and boron trioxide) that could withstand high or low temperatures without breaking. This shock-resistant material was produced for the railway industry for signal and rolling stock lamps, lantern globes and also battery jars.
It was Jesse Littleton, laboratory physicist at Corning, who decided to experiment with the cooking potential of the glass seven years later, by asking his wife to bake a cake in the base of a heat-resistant glass lamp. To her delight the cooking time was quicker, the cake removed without sticking and the glass was easy to clean with no staining. And thus Pyrex cookware was born. The first product launched in America the same year – a 25cm flan dish costing $0.69. By 1927 it was estimated that 30m pieces of Pyrex cookware were in American homes.
Pyrex reached the UK thanks to James A Jobling of the Wear Flint Glass Works in Sunderland. He was awarded the licence to produce the wonder glass under the name ‘JAJ Pyrex’ in 1922. The social changes resulting from the end of World War I (less servants and more families running their own kitchens) provided an ideal market.
During World War II Pyrex was the economical choice for a nation wanting quicker cooking times and money-saving possibilities. The dishes went straight from the oven into the wash.
From the 1930s new shapes were introduced and 1953 saw the launch of the thick ‘Opalware’. This enabled the production of exciting colours and many designs that are most sought-after by today’s Pyrex collectors. The early designs were ‘Gaeity’, ‘Gooseberry’, ‘Daisy’ and, one of my favourites, the festive ‘Snowflake’. With 25 more designs introduced during the Sixties this was a peak era for Pyrex production and favourites included ‘Chelsea’, ‘Autumn Glory’ and ‘Matchmaker’.
Though 2005 marked the 90th anniversary of Pyrex’s Sunderland factory, it also sadly witnessed end of UK production and the operation was moved to France. As a result I feel it’s all the more important to collect and enjoy the iconic 1960s cookware.
You can track down vintage Pyrex at flea markets or online. A favourite of mine is Etsy shop foxfowweather.etsy.com run by Alice (who tweets @foxandfowweather and whose ‘Snowflake’ and ‘Horse and Cart’ Pyrex dishes are pictured here). She also favours the JAJ Pyrex ‘Carnaby Tempo’ design along with the kitsch ‘Lobster’ and ‘Daisy’.
For the keen collector, Twitter is a good way to connect with fellow fans such as dressmaker @kittylouvintage who has around 40 pieces in her beloved collection. With so many pretty colours and designs amassed, she prefers to put them on display rather than dirty her dishes.
Whether you use your Pyrex or not, almost every home is likely to have a piece lurking in a cupboard somewhere. Dig it out and enjoy its combination of style and practicality. Pyrex is something to flaunt at your dinner table rather than hide away. The oven-to-table Pyrex trend is very much alive.