As discussed at length in an upcoming post, I’ve reached my semi-annual capacity to accommodate clutter, and am in the process of purging quite a lot of Pyrex. Rather than accumulate pieces wholesale, I’ve decided to focus more surgically on patterns and styles I really like — which tend to be the greens (e.g., Verde, which I love and use everyday) and oranges (especially Autumn Harvest but also Daisy) and some of the blues and turquoises). I actually made this decision many months ago — but had not quite gotten around to sorting out and eliminating the sets that didn’t make the cut.
My decision to downsize in a serious way was motivated by two occurrences.
First, one afternoon last week I was preparing dinner and noted with a certain sadness that the bowl I really wanted to use (I like to coordinate mixing / salad bowls and casseroles with the food they will hold) was essentially inaccessible in a pile of Pyrex, Federal glass and Fire King swirl bowls filling an entire shelf in the kitchen. After a moment of thought, I pulled out all the bowls I have collected for the sake of collecting them, and was left with a perfectly manageable stack of bowls I can access and use easily. I don’t miss the other bowls at all — which are currently piled on a big table in the downstairs kitchen, awaiting their ultimate disposition.
The second factor influencing my decision to downsize was joining two Facebook groups dedicated to the sport of Pyrex collecting. All the gentle collegiality and mutual well-wishing I’ve encountered on Pyrex-focused blogs is largely absent in these groups, whose members brag about ‘hiding’ Pyrex in thrift stores and ‘beating’ other collectors to the punch, and who admit freely to buying every piece of Pyrex they see in order to shut out other would-be collectors. The single-minded avarice took me aback, as did photos showing tables, cabinets and even entire rooms groaning under the weight of Pyrex collections that have achieved unsustainable magnitude. I found myself simultaneously fascinated and repelled at the level of obsession. [To be clear: I love seeing people's well-curated collections, but random excess reminds me why hoarding-related television shoes are so popular on North American television.]
For me, collecting Pyrex has been the natural extension of a longstanding affection for forties-onward kitchen wares. I’ve really enjoyed discovering, in an ad-hoc way, the range of colours and styles available in Pyrex (which I’ve really only collected with any intent for the past year), and have enjoyed imagining how they would have looked and been used in mid-century homes. As someone who grew up in the era of Third Wave feminism, I am curious about domestic life in the pre-Feminine Mystique era, and vintage kitchenwares provide an interesting window into this period.
Unfortunately, these days when I venture into second-hand stores, I am surrounded mainly by pickers and dealers, feverishly attached to smart phones they use to gauge the profitability of the wares on the shelves — or by collector-hoarders snatching at vintage treasures they accumulate but do not appear to enjoy. Even worse is when these categories overlap, with collector-hoarders buying and selling convulsively in a manner that reminds me of nothing so much as addicts seeking their next fix.
It’s not that I see myself as inherently different — it’s hard to resist the pull of Pyrex — but I have come to know my limits.
Many years ago, when I first began accumulating books in a serious way, I had a half-articulated desire to own every published work of Canadian literature. Even beyond that, I had a voracious appetite for scholarly works on environment, Canadian culture, urban affairs and related subjects that saw our collection grow by a thousand volumes a year. When I began to have trouble finding the books I needed for research because they were stacked behind impenetrable stacks of books that spilled out onto floors and tables and chairs, I began downsizing my library. We now probably have no more than about 5,000 books and hopefully fewer — large by many standards but more-or-less within the capacity of our bookshelves (although we do have a closet under the eaves filled with boxes of European and American literature awaiting a bookshelf we have yet to build in). And it is with a perverse pleasure that I go over the shelves periodically, pulling out books to donate or set out in a box: four or five at a time; volumes we’ll never read or no longer have any use for.
I have begun to do essentially the same thing with Pyrex — weed out pieces and patterns I don’t absolutely love in order to keep the cupboards tidy and enjoy the pieces I do use. At the moment, going are Shenandoah, Butterfly Gold and probably Woodland (which I do really like; or at least the dark brown bowls); possibly Forest Fancies (which I like very much, but not as much as some of the other patterns and colours). I’ve even begun eyeing my Friendship bowls / casseroles speculatively, thinking their shelf space could be better used by other pieces.
To be truthful, I will keep some sets I don’t use but bought primarily to pass on to my daughter (chiefly the fifties-era pink and turquoise mixing bowls, which I don’t think will be available by the time she’s an adult). I’ll also keep the Butterprint mixing and cinderella bowls for now, although it’s not a pattern I care for especially).
Which brings me somewhat hypocritically to this past week’s finds, most of which are from the two stores I visited on a single day of thrifting. I wasn’t even looking for Pyrex — although of course I always visit the kitchenwares first thing when I enter a second-hand store [in fairness, these days I leave almost all of it behind]. The sage-coloured Green Scroll 1.5 quart casserole is a dish I’ve wanted for months but never seen at a price I was willing to pay. This one, which lacks its lid, was $3.99 at Value Village. It has one tiny scratch in the paint but is otherwise in immaculate condition, and I am delighted to have it. The same casserole also comes in a larger size, and I’m in the process of tracking one down (also an un-patterned clear lid for the smaller one). It”s such a lovely colour and, as a bonus, coordinates with my small but growing collection of (Fire King) jadeite.
Sitting underneath the Green Scroll is a butter yellow 2.5 quart Golden Classic promotional with a scroll-patterned lid. I wasn’t certain I wanted this casserole until I saw the price: $3.03 — and grabbed it. Surprisingly, it’s the perfect size to hold a meal’s worth of corn-on-the-cob, and it stacks innocuously with my much-loved Golden Acorn lidded dishes.
In front at left is a blue Rainbow Stripes bowl — a pattern I had never before seen ‘in the wild.’ I paid nearly ten dollars for this bowl, but figured it was a bargain even at that price. I have since acquired a pink bowl in the same pattern. I’m not sure if there’s a yellow (there is a beige, about which I say: meh), but if there is, I’d like to find that too.
At rear on the right are two Verde nesting bowls — the 401 and 403. I left a badly dishwasher-damaged 402 behind: presumably it was the part of the set that saw use (the 401 and 403 are pristine). I love Verde, and use it virtually every day — especially the cinderella bowls, which are wonderful for summer salads and pastas.
At front is a jadeite platter that looks like Fire King but is unmarked. I have no idea whether it is ‘old’ or a reproduction, and at $2.52 am not likely to care either way. I’ve seen a couple of identical (and similarly unmarked) platters listed online for very high prices, but I’m not sure mine or theirs are the real ‘Jane Ray.’
Also at front are two lovely Federal bowls with green flowers on them whose presence in my cupboards is owed to Valerie of Vonlipi’s Favourites, who agreed to sell them to me. In the past couple of months I’ve picked up more than a dozen clear Mod Flowers Federal glasses, another cereal bowl (with orange flowers, I think), a punch bowl and the coffee mug shown here. I just love the happy geometry of the flowers, and have put them all into heavy rotation. [Thank you again, Valerie: I just love them!]
Finally, one Fire King cereal bowl, which has joined a stack of similar cereal bowls in a variety of patterns, all which see regular use on a rotating basis.
As for the rest of my collection and the several dozen pieces I’d like to unload, I’m torn between holding a vintage garage sale (something I’d planned earlier in the summer before other commitments intervened) or selling it all locally via Craigslist. Perhaps I’ll try a hybrid strategy: in any event, local Pyrex collectors can look forward to some cheap Pyrex for sale in the near future.
In other news: we found this amazing corner bookshelf at curbside nearly a week ago. It had just been hauled out of a Victorian rowhouse under renovation a couple of blocks away. The house looked so narrow I have a hard time imagining where this piece could possible have fit.
Peter hauled out the roof rack and we brought it home on the car, not certain we even had a place for it, but knowing it was too wonderful to pass up. After considering and rejecting every corner in the house as a potential home, Peter said: “what about replacing the bookcase in the spare bedroom?”
I had loved that bookcase, and felt it suited the space perfectly.
But this was even better.
[The old bookcase -- one of the few pieces of furniture I have ever bought new -- has since found a home behind the door in one of the other bedrooms where it holds jeans, jewellery, and my ever-growing collection of scarves.]
Connecting with Sir-Thrift-a-Lot’s Thriftasaurus Link-up.