On TikTok and Instagram, Gen Z and millennial collectors have racked up over more than million views on videos sharing extravagant displays of Pyrex collections. Some collectors say they are searching for a rare gooseberry pink Pyrex featured on the first episode of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” On eBay, some Pyrex pieces have sold for upward of $2,000.
Now, the brand that has dominated the county’s cookware industry for more than a century looks questioningly toward its future.
On Monday, Instant Brands, the owner of Pyrex Cookware, filed for Class 11 bankruptcy. In an announcement, the company said it will acquire $132.5 million from lenders to keep the business running, restructure company finances and keep up with rising interest rates.
While consumers wonder if their favorite household dishes will vanish from store shelves, legions of Pyrex collectors are reflecting fondly on the brand’s 20th-century golden era (and stocking up on rare dishes in the meantime).
Before Corning Glass Works began producing cookware in 1915, the company was making heat-resistant glass for the bright-red signal lanterns used on railroads. The changing temperatures of a signal light that flashed on and off would often cause glass to shatter. But in 1908, the company’s development of Nonex borosilicate glass provided a solution, a thermal shock resilient glassware with an unparalleled durability.
Bessie Littleton knew her husband’s work for Corning dealt with special temperature-resistant materials. In an effort to stop cracking her favorite casserole dishes while baking sponge cake, she asked him to find something suitable for her baking needs, so Jesse Littleton brought home a sawed-off piece of battery casing. It was a rough cut of what would become America’s staple cake dish: Pyrex.
The Littletons were the first to see the potential utility of the Nonex glass in cooking. Shortly after Bessie’s first successful baking attempt, her husband pitched the idea to Corning corporate, and Pyrex was born. The Pyrex name is a combination of the word Nonex and “pie,” due to the pie-shaped appearance of the pan. In its debut collection, the company offered consumers a variety of clear glass baking dishes.
In his book, “The Generations of Corning: The Life and Times of a Global Corporation,” co-author Davis Dyer examines the evolution of Corning Glass Ware, tracking the company’s transition from scientific and industrial glass production to the realm of household cookware. With the change in product, the company’s marketing gradually shifted to target women as well. “It was one of the big success stories of the pre-World War II era in terms of convenience products for the household,” Dyer said in an interview with The Washington Post.
The glass had a number of properties that stood out compared with competitors. It was easy to clean, you could see how your food was cooking through the transparent glass, and by 1940 special-edition collections brought colorful, intricately decorated cookware to the table for household display.
In 2023, the value of these revolutionary household items remains high among a cohort of devoted collectors.
Michael D. Barber, author of “Pyrex Passion: A Comprehensive Guide to Decorated Vintage Pyrex,” became a passionate Pyrex collector after inheriting a small blue bowl from his grandmother.
Since 2003, Barber has sought to collect all of the “opal” ceramic Pyrex pieces produced between the 1940s and 1980s. Unlike the original clear Pyrex dish designs, which dominated the early 1920s and 1930s, opal Pyrex dishes grew in popularity because of their variety and playful design. The 1940s and 1950s were defined by periwinkle blues and baby pinks, the 1970s by deep greens and the 1980s by a less than beloved rusty brown that colored the dishes and trays of Pyrex opal’s final years. Corning ended production of all opal Pyrex glassware in 1985, according archival documents at the Corning Museum of Glass.
For some collectors, certain dishes carry greater significance. In Barber’s case, his prototype four-quart “Polynesian” mixing dish, or “Big Bertha” as some collectors call it, is inspired by his grandmother’s favorite “Party Mix” serving dish.
Homrighausen, a follower of the 26,000-member Pyrex Collectors Facebook group, spends many of her afternoons flipping through Pyrex collectors’ guides and old editions of Family Circle magazine searching for rare dishes. She estimates that she has collected at least 2,000 antique Pyrex pieces in the last decade and is certain that there are dozens of valuable pieces collecting dust in people’s basements that they just don’t know about.
“I’ve always been drawn to the colors and how pretty they are, but also how useful each dish is,” Homrighausen said. “The fact that it was mainly something that a woman used to support her household and provide her house with food and nourishment, it’s really cool to be able to actually use the pieces and still do that. And sometimes they’re 60-something years old.”
Collectors share some concern about the company’s future. Some told The Post that the allure of Pyrex’s new tempered-glass food dishes and bakeware has failed to match the magic of the special-edition 20th-century items. Many say they will watch from the sidelines and continue collecting the antiques.
In 2016, Pyrex released a Vintage Charm Inspired collection, an attempt to celebrate the nostalgia of its earliest eras. But collectors like Hormrighausen say the effect of buying a remake doesn’t feel the same.
“It’s been around for so long that I still learn things that they made,” Hormrighausen said. “I use mine as dog water bowls. I put plants in them. I use mine to serve. I think it’s cool and creative and artistic.”