Vintage Pyrex as an alternative investment

A pile of ovenproof cookware might not strike everyone as an obvious investment, but, writes Buffy O’Connor-James, it is many ways no different to alternatives such as wine or antiques and boasts some advantages over both.

 Vintage Pyrex

In these days of political and economic uncertainty, investors are looking for unusual ways to maximise return on their money and one of the most innovative and fastest growing of these opportunities is vintage Pyrex.

Collecting vintage Pyrex became popular in the United States a couple of decades ago and has now begun to take hold on this side of the Atlantic too.

In the last few years, certain pieces have started to change hands for increasingly large sums and Pyrex as an investment or supplement to a retirement fund has caught the imagination of many Americans.

A recipe for success

As a prospective investment, vintage Pyrex has much to recommend it. It is an emerging area of interest and so far, it is still possible to get hold of rare pieces at a relatively low price.

As a commodity it is unregulated, it is not at the mercy of the stock market and no-one is likely to burgle your home to make off with what the uninitiated would see as a load of old ovenware.

It is somewhat akin to investing in antiques or wine but with the added advantage that it is much more easily accessible, both financially and in terms of the knowledge and time required to build a decent and valuable collection.

Also, ‘undiscovered’ pieces are still being found, to the great excitement of the vintage Pyrex world. Earlier this year a ‘new’ dish, Kitchen Table 2, was discovered in Australia by a collector who did not wish to sell.

The emergence of a second example in the UK resulted in something of a feeding frenzy of sealed bids, resulting in this second piece going to an anonymous private collector in the United States for an undisclosed sum.

Get cooking

If you would like to dip a toe in the water of the vintage Pyrex world, it might save you much time and confusion to obtain a reference book on the subject first.

This could prove easier said than done however, as the standard reference works for US Pyrex are not available in this country (although secondhand copies can be picked up for the eye watering price of about £100) and would need to be sourced from the States.

The ‘bible’ on English, Australian and New Zealand Pyrex, Dots and Diamonds by Australian expert, Stan Savellis, is also not available in the UK and has to be imported from Australia but it is well worth the initial outlay.

You could also engage a vintage Pyrex finding service, such as PyrexPartyPixie, to track down specific pieces or build up a core collection.

Condition is everything with vintage Pyrex and it is important to source your pieces carefully. Bargains can still occasionally be found at charity shops, car boot sales or on eBay, but quite often items found here are well loved (vintage Pyrex speak for seriously below par) and not at all suitable for the investment buyer.

It is usually safer to obtain your dishes from a reputable dealer as they are more likely to be in collectible condition, stored correctly (much damage can be done to the decorated surfaces of the items if not kept in the appropriate manner) and of course there is much less likely to be any issues of items arriving “not as described”. (If you already have some vintage Pyrex do not be tempted to put it in the dishwasher, as this causes damage to the surface of the glass and will render the piece virtually worthless.)

It is worth mentioning here that Pyrex does have international boundaries with most countries that produced it having their own patterns and slight variations in styles. English Pyrex is also designated JAJ (the initials of James A Jobling who produced it in the UK under licence from Corning New York); and Australian is known as Agee.

JAJ produced some special patterns exclusively for the Scandinavian market, notably “Hearts”. These are much sought after; and at around £350 per piece an affordable investment.

Rare or medium rare?

Pyrex is very democratic, in that it can offer a good return for investors right across the spectrum. Scarce pieces, which will only increase in value, can be bought for as little as £150 or as much as £12,000. The pieces at the lower end of this scale tend to be standard patterns (as opposed to special promotional ones) which were only produced for a year or so, middle range pieces, changing hands for several hundred to a couple of thousand pounds are more likely to be promotional pieces or ones made in collaboration with another manufacturer, a brand or a celebrity.

Pyrex worked with Heinz, Woman’s Realm and Fanny Craddock, among others, to produce short runs of special items. The most highly prized dishes tend to be altogether more mysterious. Some are assumed to be test pieces which never made it into full production and others may have been produced as gifts for staff on a strictly numbered run. Others are completely baffling, such as the sauce boat decorated with zoo animals and clearly aimed at children, a design which has not been found on any other items.

Dining through the decades

A good place to start a collection of Pyrex for investment purposes is in the ’50s. This decade saw some of the most colourful and attractive Pyrex produced on both sides of the Atlantic and the introduction of the iconic Gooseberry “Cinderella” nesting mixing bowls, with their unique handle and spout design.

These came in sets of four and were produced in five different colour finishes: black on yellow; white on turquoise; pink; duck egg blue; and deep coral. Full sets of these bowls are very collectible and some are good investments too, the value varies enormously though depending on the colour. The yellow sets are worth just under £100 in perfect condition, the duck egg about £500 and the coral can start at £650.

As a general rule of thumb, anything coral (red to all intents and purposes) is going to be worth snapping up, while anything featuring vegetables, roses or the local hunt is not.

Dinner and tea services are also best avoided, even if complete, as these are largely dismissed by serious collectors.

Pyrex from the 1980s may appeal to you but is best avoided from an investment point of view; indeed, the ’50s and ’60s are the golden age of Pyrex, with a few pieces from the ’70s also commanding reasonable prices, although of course that could change in the future.

One thing is clear, with a little homework and a modest initial investment it is possible to accrue a significant nest egg from a collection of vintage Pyrex, always supposing that you can bear to part with it when the time comes.

Buffy O’Connor-James is the owner of PyrexPartyPixie, an online vintage Pyrex shop and finding service. She can be contacted at pyrexpartypixie at yahoo dot com.

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