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Pyrex arose from the laboratories of Cornix Glass Works, America in 1913 and was first manufactured by J A Joblings under licence in Sunderland, England in 1922.
the company had fallen on hard times but the newly appointed Ernest Jobling Purser had heard about a technique for making glass that wouldn't crack or shatter in an oven. Corning Glass Works developed a borosilicate glass (high silica content with boric oxide as a fluxing agent) to withstand low temperatures for use in the railway industry for signal and rolling stock lamps. It stood sudden heating and cooling without breaking. The first product, a 10" flan dish was sold in 1915. In 1922 James A Jobling of the Wear Flint Glass Works in Sunderland began to manufacture products based on the American design.
From the start the benefits of Pyrex are apparent.
and two more modern features
Pyrex casseroles, bowls, dinner services and measuring jugs have been sold by the million and made the name Pyrex a world wide household name.
In 1954 the white Opalwear was launched. This lead to the development of the first patterns Gaeity, Snowflake, Gooseberry and Daisy. In the 1960s these included Matchmaker, Chelsea, Fiesta, Harvest and Autumn Glory.
In 1973 Corning takes control of the Pyrex factory and Joblings became a subsidiary of Corning Glass. In September 2007 the Sunderland factory was closed.
I first came across Pyrex for use as a roasting dish in the late 1960. These where plain glass, no patterns. In the 1970s the range of products expanded and when I got married in 1976 we got a Pyrex dinner set. Even with living in London the full range like the oval plates and large serving trays where not seen. I discovered these much later.
We picked the Chelsea pattern, for it's classic simple design. I then found that four of my newly married friends also choose the same pattern and three didn't attend Chelsea College of Science and Technology.
The problem of all dinner sets is breakages. Pyrex is less breakable than most, but chips do occur and a drop on a hard floor most results in shattered glass. The pattern was discontinued but there is a steady trade on auction sites like eBay, although postage doubles the cost.
Pyrex is chunky, the cups a little heavier than the best porcelain, but the Chelsea design has a timeless elegancy. In a modern setting, of dishwashers and using the microwave to heat and reheat food and drinks, it is very practical.
The tradition has been for families to own a best dinner set. Indeed that was the intention with this set, particularly in order to retain that set of 12. But life is short and why leave 'the best' for the few formal dinners a year. Get the best out for daily use, by the family, who, after all are the best thing in your life, or ought to be.
A brief history of the company in the UK http://www.bbc.co.uk/insideout/northeast/series11/week7_pyrex.shtml
Sue Hibberd, author of The Little Book of Collectable Pyrex. £14.50 from Amazon
Last updated 12th June 2010