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Are you 'Pyrex people'? Find out at a swap of the beloved vintage bakeware

Jan 31, 2024

Molli Babler and her mom, Tracy Wright, at right, are organizing their first "Wisconsin Vintage Pyrex Swap and Sale" Aug. 20 in McFarland. The avid collectors display some of their personal favorites at Babler's home in Barneveld.

Molli Babler and her mom are "Pyrex people."

The pair began collecting the versatile vintage bakeware about six years ago, after a friend bought Babler a 1970s Butterfly Gold Pyrex mixing bowl set at an auction.

"Then it snowballed," said Babler, who along with her mother, Tracy Wright, began scouring every place she could for vintage patterned Pyrex: Antique stores. Garage sales. Flea markets.

"We followed so many Facebook pages" devoted to decorative Pyrex pieces that once belonged to someone's mom or grandma, she said, "and started realizing that not only was there a group of people who love to collect them, but also to sell them."

Molli Babler stacks some of her favorite Pyrex dishes at home. She'll be selling duplicates along with her mom, Tracy Wright, at the upcoming Wisconsin Vintage Pyrex Swap and Sale, which the two are organizing.

One of those Facebook pages last spring announced a huge, single-day, vintage Pyrex swap taking place in Kentucky. "We had never heard about these swaps before, and we wanted to do something new and exciting," Babler explained, "something that wasn't just a flea market."

So she and Wright traveled to Bowling Green, and halfway into the swap swarming with Pyrex lovers and collectors, "Both Mom and I looked at each other and said, ‘Well, we probably should do one of these in Wisconsin this year.’"

On Aug. 20, they will. More than 30 vendors from across the country will join Babler and Wright for their first "Wisconsin Vintage Pyrex Swap and Sale" in McFarland, both trading and selling colorful stacks of vintage Pyrex bowls, rows of Pyrex spice bottles, and even rare vintage Pyrex sets worth hundreds of dollars.

And more.

The history of Pyrex has Madison ties. The fridge-to-oven kitchenware resulted from a legendary discovery by Jesse Littleton, a young physics professor from the University of Michigan who was hired to join the lab of the Corning, New York-based Corning Glass Works in the early 1910s.

Vintage patterned Pyrex pieces are in demand among collectors. An upcoming sale in McFarland is expected to attract more than 30 vendors and countless buyers.

According to the Corning Museum of Glass, Littleton was charged with helping to develop a new product based on Corning's thermal shock-resistant NONEX glass created for American railroad companies.

"Most Pyrex fans know the near-mythological story that ensued," says an article on the museum's website,

"Jesse brought a sawed-off NONEX battery jar home for his wife, Becky, to try for baking. She made a sponge cake in this glass, thus demonstrating the potential for a glass bakeware product line which was to become Pyrex."

The Littletons’ legendary son, Harvey, would go on to found the world-renowned studio art glass movement and the first studio hot glass program at an American university: UW-Madison.

And Pyrex would go on to become a kitchen staple, evolving from clear glass bowls to items like the Primary Colors Bowl Set, which retailed new from 1945 to 1949 at a cost of $2.50. Today the complete four-piece set can go for several hundred dollars.

The so-called "opal ware" bowls lent themselves to surface designs; according to the Corning Museum of Glass, Corning Glass Works released more than 150 different patterns on Pyrex between 1956 and 1987.

Molli Babler shows some of her personal Pyrex favorites. Like many other "Pyrex people," she and her mother regularly comb area garage sales and flea markets for favorites to add to their vintage collections.

Those are the pieces often sought by collectors. For the Aug. 20 swap, Babler and Wright, who live in Barneveld, will bring along some 200 of their own items to sell, including complete sets.

But surely they have their favorite Pyrex pieces — the ones they would never part with?

"Mine is anything pink," said Wright, who works as a patient experience adviser for SSM Health. "Mainly the Gooseberry print — the bowl is pink, the pattern is white. But anything pink: Pink stripes, pink casseroles."

Babler's passion is the Butterprint pattern, a turquoise design on white. She also recently developed an affection for the Snowflake Garland design and 1960s-era polka dot bowls.

Molli Babler looks through some of her blue vintage Pyrex dishes. A real estate agent and builder, Babler has clients and friends who now alert her when they find an interesting Pyrex dish for sale.

Collectors often find a niche, the two women explain: A Pyrex color, pattern or function, such as refrigerator sets, lasagna pans, or the "Cinderella" nesting bowls designed by the architect Philip Johnson, with a handle or spout on each side. Some people collect items for their sentimental value, because they remember a beloved parent or grandparent who owned a particular Pyrex piece.

"You name it," Wright said. "Different people (collect) different things."

The Wisconsin swap will also feature other "vintage kitchen" items with brand names such as CorningWare, Fire King and Federal Glass, plus vintage whisks, percolators, blenders and the like. Pyrex items will range in quality from pristine to "workhorses" — pieces that have been heavily used and "well loved," Wright said.

"These are things that you should never, never put in the dishwasher because it can ruin the visual" and lower an item's value, said Wright.

A single bowl at a swap can go from $5 to well over $200, depending on its rarity and condition, Babler said. Sets can run from $75 to $1,500.

The website claims that the most expensive Pyrex ever sold on eBay was an "Oh My Stars" Gold Constellation bowl with lid that went for $5,655 in June 2020.

Vintage Pyrex advertisements are on display at Molli Babler's home in Barneveld. She and her mother, Tracy Wright, are organizing the Aug. 20 Wisconsin Vintage Pyrex Swap and Sale in McFarland.

Some items "when they were sold in the 1950s, cost $1.25, but that was expensive" at the time, Babler said. "People gave them as wedding gifts."

Most of the vendors expected at the Wisconsin Vintage Pyrex Swap and Sale are from the Midwest, but some are traveling from as far away as Texas and California. They will include at least two celebrities in the vintage Pyrex world: A TikTok personality from Iowa known for her Pyrex love, and a collector dubbed the "Pyrex King" from Pennsylvania.

Vendors get first crack at purchases and trades before the swap opens to the public at 10 a.m. Buyers are encouraged to pay in cash, but some vendors may also accept PayPal, Venmo and credit cards, Babler said. Buyers are welcome to bring their own Pyrex pieces for possible swap or sale to a vendor, she said.

While this year's vendor spots are full, Wright and her daughter already are compiling a wait list for those who want to sell at the next Wisconsin swap, planned for spring or summer 2023, she said. And their own hunt will go on, with Babler and Wright continuing to look for that perfect Pyrex bowl or cup at yard sales and thrift stores.

"I don't think it's something you can ever stop," said Babler, a real estate agent and builder. "All my clients and real estate friends know we are Pyrex people. So everyone has an eye out for us when they see Pyrex."

What: Wisconsin Vintage Pyrex Swap and Sale (with other vintage kitchenware)

When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 20

Where: Edwards-Foye American Legion Post 534, 4911 Burma Road, McFarland

Admission: Free. Food available for purchase from the American Legion Post 534 Auxiliary brat fry.

"These are things that you should never, never put in the dishwasher because it can ruin the visual."

Tracy Wright, an avid Pyrex collector from Barneveld

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Gayle Worland is an arts and features reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.

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