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Pyrex Kitchenware Buying Tips

Where To Look

There are several sources from which vintage Pyrex kitchenware may be obtained. Yard and estate sales, flea markets, antique stores, thrift stores, online classifieds, and auction websites are all good places to look for pieces. The condition of items found at each type of venue will vary considerably.

The roughest and dirtiest pieces are most often seen at flea markets, where items are mostly sold "as found". But nice pieces can also be had, and with a reasonably good chance of being able to negotiate a good price. Indoor flea markets tend to have a higher probability of finding good pieces, as their dealers are more or less permanent; Open air venues tend to be filled more with arts and crafts type items and cheap imported new goods.

Yard sales have the potential to yield the cleanest pieces for the best price, but you may spend a great deal of time and expense travelling around, only to find little to see.

Thrift stores, typically operated by charitable organizations, may see collectible quality Pyrex from time to time. But considering that they rely on donations of items that the previous owner might have just as well thrown away, superb finds are not likely. A relatively new development seen is the online auctioning of better quality donations by nationally-based thrift operations. This phenomenon tends to lower one's expectations of finding good pieces on a random store visit.

Lots containing vintage Pyrex can often be found at estate or antique auctions. Live auctions are not for the faint of heart. You must have knowledge of values, must not let your emotions get the better of you, and hope that, if there are any similarly-interested others in attendance, they have budgets smaller than yours.

Occasionally, you'll find an antique store whose owner or an associate has an interest in collectible Pyrex, resulting in an above average selection of items in better, cleaner shape, but typically at a much higher asking price. Don't be afraid to try to negotiate a better price at an antique store. Often, 10% off will be given just for the asking, sometimes more if the dealer is motivated to move the item.

In some locales, the tourist bureau or permanent individual businesses may host a regularly scheduled "dealer day", at which individuals may rent tables or booths from which to sell their wares. Small items like Pyrex are frequently seen offered at them. Information about such events can often be found on municipality websites.

If you check listings for your area frequently, you may occasionally see potential deals on Craig's List (www.craigslist.org). Sellers using it and similar online classifieds may not be as inspired, however, to provide detailed descriptions and photographs of what they are offering as one would expect on eBay, for example.

eBay can be a prime source of vintage Pyrex cookware, although bargains are hard to come by, especially once shipping cost is factored in. Currently, on any given day, there are over 40,000 listings returned in a search for "Pyrex", the majority being listed in the somewhat generic category Pottery & Glass. As with anything purchased on eBay, there are pitfalls to be avoided.

Since not all old Pyrex ware is considered rare and therefore valuable as a collectible, here are the things you need to know, regardless of where you purchase it.

Buying Tips

First, make it your business to know what you're buying.

Many eBay sellers will themselves admit they have little expertise in what they are offering for sale. Many obtain vintage Pyrex in the course of purchasing estates or handling the sale thereof, and often tend to know only a little about a lot of different things. An unfortunate side-effect of this lack of specific knowledge is the propensity of some sellers to price all Pyrex the same, that is to say high, regardless of rarity or condition.

It is not unusual to see sellers mis-identify pattern names or pieces as belonging to pattern collections which they do not. Sellers often rely on and perpetuate misinformation they find in other online auction listings, if it suits their purposes. It's also not uncommon to see sellers describing every piece of Pyrex they list as "vintage" or "rare" because they don't know better, or just because.

One of the biggest reasons to know what you're looking at before you buy is the occasionally-seen seller who, innocently or not, tries to make a big deal out of something actually quite common, and prices it as if it's one-of-a-kind. If your first impression is that an asking price seems crazy, it probably is.

Case in point: There is a known phenomenon by which the base color of a Pyrex bowl can be completely stripped away, usually by classic dishwasher damage, but leaving the decoration largely intact. Some decoration colors seem to fare better than others. At first glance, such a damaged piece may appear, to the untrained eye, to be something unusual. You can see the problem this creates if a seller, either unknowingly or unscrupulously, tries to represent (or misrepresent) the item as rare and valuable when it is certainly not.

Another one is a "backwards backstamp". Occasionally, you'll encounter an opalware piece on which the backstamp is a reversed, a mirror image. Clear glass Pyrex such as pie plates were molded in such a a way that the backstamp was legible from the top of the piece. It appears that sometimes opalware may have been pressed on lines set up to do clearware. Alternately, since the backstamp is on a slug or die separate from the rest of the mold, it is possible clearware slugs may have inadvertently been placed in opalware molding line molds, although that scenario seems unlikely. In any case, hundreds if not thousands of pieces would have been so-created during the automated molding line runs, so it's not possible such pieces are one-off errors.

Yet another would be 063 oval divided casseroles. At some point, the capacity was arbitrarily changed from 1-1/2 qt to 1 qt. but with no physical change to the dish. Since for most of its production life, the 063 was either not marked as to model number or capacity (or both), pieces marked 1 qt. are relatively fewer in number. Again, 063s so-marked cannot possibly be mismarked or production errors.

You can begin to educate yourself by seeking information online, from websites like this one and others, and from published guide books on vintage Pyrex kitchenware such as those shown below.

Resources such as these can help you with subjects such as determining dates, rarity, and sometimes value. While the information in some may contain errors or omissions, they can still be useful in making the novice collector aware of what goes with what in terms of colors and patterns.

For determinations of value, don't rely on the asking prices of eBay auctions still in progress. Use eBay's "Sold listings" search feature to see just what pieces similar to ones you are interested in have actually sold for recently, and the "Completed listings" for pieces that did not sell due to poor condition, inadequate descriptions, or unreasonably high starting prices.

Secondly, ask questions. eBay has a feature on every listing that allows an interested member ask the seller questions about the condition of their item. The seller may or may not, at his or her discretion, subsequently show the question and answer in the listing. Just because you don't see any answered questions on a listing, however, don't assume that none have been asked, nor that none need to be asked.

It is not uncommon on eBay for sellers to "underdescribe" their items or to disclaim expertise in order to avoid accusations of misrepresentation. You will occasionally see listings with little to nothing in the way of a description, containing instead only an instruction to message the seller with any questions.

Conversely, don't allow yourself to be misled by lengthy, effusive descriptions. You should never rely on vague, subjective statements and terms, e.g. "gently used", "in great shape for its age", or "nicest I've ever seen".

Don't assume or infer that terms like "EUC" (Excellent Used Condition), "Excellent Vintage Condition", "Near Mint", and the like mean "perfect", "without flaw", or "like new". Even though they sound good, they still mean used, old, not new.

Beware of discrepancies between the description and the photos. Verbiage filled with the superlatives mentioned above is meaningless if the photos contradict them by clearly showing paint loss or other damage.

Also be aware of contradictions between titles, "Seller Notes", and the body of the description itself. "Excellent condition" or the like may be in the title, but is negated by "minor scratches" or other defects noted in the description.

For vintage used items, which includes 99% of all Pyrex color ware pieces seen, terms like "minor", "wear", and "damage" are subjective. One person's wear is another's damage; one person's minor is another's unacceptable.

To insure the best chances for satisfaction, ask for clear, definitive answers to some basic questions, if they are not already specifically spelled out in the description, and if they are not forthcoming, walk away.

Is there any damage not discernible in the photographs? There should be multiple, clear photographs, taken in good natural light, and from all angles. There is no excuse for single photos, photos that show no pertinent details, or poor quality images that obscure details. Any of the following types of damage may detract from collectible value.

Are there any blemishes, scratches, or chips? Pretty self-explanatory, but may not be revealed by even the best-looking photos. Photos that are even slightly grainy in close-up can hide many instances of damage.

"Flea bites", small nicks primarily found in the edges and rims of clear glass covers are common, as are slivers. Both are more easily felt than seen or photographed.

"No chips or cracks." Many eBay listings for Pyrex contain this phrase in the description. Although it can indeed chip, know that Pyrex is a tempered glass, meaning that, if there is thermal shock or physical impact sufficient to crack it, the result a millisecond later will be at least two, but probably many, many more separate (and razor sharp) pieces of glass. In other words, while there is chipped Pyrex, there is really no such thing as cracked but otherwise intact Pyrex.

Is there other damage like rub wear? The undersides of tips of handles and the corners of square dishes are especially prone to color loss from abrasion.

Be especially wary of any photos in which pieces exhibit a dull, hazy discoloration. Unless just really poor photography, this is an indication the piece was regularly cleaned in an automatic dishwasher using harsh detergent. A finish so-damaged cannot be revived.

Often you'll see photos of bowls upside down. Be aware that this has the effect of minimizing the appearance of scratches, as there is no light whatsoever shining through the bowl. Similarly, due to the high contrast, photographs of pieces against a black background tend to enhance and even change the appearance of their color. Pieces upside down on a black background will obviously experience both.

Changes in the recent past by eBay now make the seller responsible for, in addition to the refund of purchase price and original shipping cost, return shipping charges in cases of "Item Not As Described". It is therefore incumbent upon the seller to disclose item condition accurately and completely.

Is it fake? Less experienced collectors should be aware that there are some instances where what appears to be a rare or unusual piece is not what it might seem.

One is a practice employed by some to salvage badly dishwasher-damaged pieces. It involves the use of a permanent marker to revive the worn decoration, and not necessarily to its original color. Some of these "restorations" can be quite convincing if one is not familiar with the technique.

Another is the use of custom made decals to create fantasy pieces. Examples would be a standard decoration in a non-standard color, a non-Pyrex pattern, or a standard pattern used in a non-original way.

This is not to say that the novice should question every piece of Pyrex as potentially a fake. Historically, online auctions have been remarkably free of DWD "restorations" and decal fantasy pieces.

Other Considerations

Condition: Bear in mind that the last Pyrex color opalware was made roughly three decades ago. It was relatively inexpensive when new, and made to be used. Finding pieces in as-new, absolutely pristine condition is more a matter of luck and not to be expected in all cases. Having a complete set of anything may require that you set your standard a bit lower than "mint in box" every time.

Often, you will see photos with the piece backlit from within in order to disclose scratches or pinpoint paint loss. Although a good indicator of the seller's ethics, they sometimes can lead the viewer to presume such defects are more detrimental to the item's appearance than they might be under typical roomlit conditions. It's hard to say until the item is actually in hand, however, whether what such photos reveal will or will not be acceptable to a particular buyer.

Sets: Many times, sellers will advertise multiple pieces, usually mixing bowls, as a "set", which may or may not be the actual case. Sets of bowls originally offered as such adhered to specific color combinations. Only certain bowls were offered as open stock. If a particular set is what you are interested in, make sure you know beforehand what pieces in which colors actually comprise it.

Accessories: Most promotional pieces were supplied with some type of accessory, like a cradle or candle warmer. Promos were standard model dishes offered in non-standard colors and decorative patterns. Promo accessories, however, changed design from time to time. Therefore, a promo dish from one year will fit in the cradle for a promo of the same size and shape from several different years.

Lids: Many promotional sets came with decorated lids. If important to you, be sure the lid matches the particular promo. Also consider, when finding a promo dish without its correct lid, whether you are willing to take the time to find the appropriate lid in the condition and at the price you want.

Old catalogs and advertisements are a good way to make sure a promo set being offered for sale is a match and not a marriage.

Photo distortion: Wide angle camera lenses, like those on smartphones, and lighting variations can tend to make bowls' sizes, shapes, and colors appear different from what they actually are. Be sure you know what you're looking at before you bid.

Missing or chipped lids: If the condition and the price for a covered dish is otherwise very good, you might consider taking it without lid or with an undecorated clear glass lid that has flea bites or a minor chip. There is a good probablility that at some point you'll find a replacement in undamaged condition for not too much money (but probably not on eBay). Decorated lids are another matter; replacing them cheaply if at all is unlikely.

Online auction bidding: eBay advises buyers that placing a bid of the highest amount they are willing to pay as soon as they decide they want the item is best, but it often causes whoever does win to sometimes pay more than necessary. Savvy eBay shoppers have found that waiting until the last seconds before a listing ends is usually the more prudent strategy.

Rather than engage in a prolonged bidding war, buyers have learned to keep their bid and therefore their apparent level of interest in an item secret until the last possible moment. eBay knows this, and it is why the online auction house conveniently provides electronic notifications of a listing's impending end to those who are "watching" the item.

So, if you see an attractive item with no bids, there are a few things you can check. Some listings will show how many are "watching" the item. Some will also have a counter at the bottom of the page showing how many views the listing has gotten to date. No bids plus lots of viewers and multiple watchers mean that, if you really want the item, you should be prepared to place your best bid just before the end and leave no time for counter bids if yours is the highest.

Shipping: A note about shipping charges: A $10 bargain is no bargain if you have to pay $20 shipping. You should be aware that, occasionally, some eBay sellers will price their items very attractively, but then offer only inflated "expedited shipping" charges as a means of boosting profit. In order to dissuade sellers, eBay began assessing fees based on a percentage of the shipping charges in addition to the sale price, but the policy has not been entirely effective at eradicating the practice. By being the successful high bidder, you accept the charges as such, are contractually bound by them, and the seller is under no obligation to negotiate a reduction once the auction has closed. Be sure you understand the seller's shipping policy and are comfortable with it before you bid.

Speaking of shipping, there is another important issue to consider when buying online: proper packaging for shipment. Many sellers are not aware that, although durable, the right type of impact can crack or break Pyrex. In viewing photos of Pyrex in original boxes, it is important for all parties to realize that packaging was not intended nor suited for parcel shipment. You should be proactive in contacting the seller immediately after the end of the sale to insure that he/she knows how to and is willing and able to pack the item safely. Feel free to point them to web resources such as Pyrex Selling Tips: Packing. Sellers may balk at having to incur an unanticipated expense of better packaging. If the sale specified expedited shipping, suggest that using a slower, less expensive shipping method should more than offset the additional material. It will take a little longer to get your item, but the chances of it arriving safely intact are increased.

One more thought: The expensive "rare", "HTF" (hard to find), "EUC" (excellent used condition) piece you see on eBay today is not the only one in the world. Don't overpay just to get it; another one will come along sooner than you think. Check back on Sunday.