Laura Dean Bennett
If you grew up in the 1950s, you are no doubt familiar with Corning Ware – in fact, you may have some in your kitchen cupboards and may even enjoy using it.
After all, Corning Ware is classic – practically indestructible – and so practical.
Vintage Corning Ware is safe to use on electric, ceramic top and gas ranges. Just keep the heat, electric coil or flame to a medium or lower temperature.
It’s oven safe – up to 550 degrees, and it’s broiler and microwave safe, too. You can freeze it, and take it straight from the freezer to the oven or microwave to defrost or reheat the contents.
And the sleek designs have made it welcome as serving pieces on the kitchen or dining room table for 60 years.
I doubt there were too many homemakers in the 60s, 70s and 80s who didn’t have at least a few pieces of Corning Ware.
Many brides were gifted with an entire set – a set which, with all its lids intact, is still worth quite a bit of money these days.
Yes, word is, good old Corning Ware may have become a collectible.
I mean, I’ve always loved the Corning Ware I inherited from my mother, and I use it all the time, but it never occurred to me that there would be collectors out there willing to pay money for it.
Most of the Corning Ware for sale on EBay right now is priced between $5 and $50, however there are exceptions.
For instance, a “Spice of Life” 3/4-quart round casserole with lid is valued at $107, and it probably originally sold for less than a quarter of that.
Corning Ware originated in 1958 in Corning, New York. The glass cookware was shopped to homemakers as “oven-to-table service” that could even be used directly on the stovetop.
Oddly enough, not only was the invention of pyroceram an accident, but so was their first Corning Ware pattern.
It was supposed to have been the “Golden Wheat” pattern, but someone made a mistake and the “Cornflower Blue” pattern was placed on the entire first production run.
It was an instant hit, and the rest is Corning Ware history.
In 1851, Amory Houghton, Sr. founded the Bay State Glass Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts. By 1864, he purchased the idle Brooklyn Flint Glass Company in Brooklyn, New York, then relocated the company to Corning, New York, in 1868. He renamed the company Corning Flint Glass Company and in 1870, renamed it Corning Glass Works.
The idea for Corning’s vast line of bakeware products originated in 1913 with a young scientist who worked there. He believed food would cook better in glass than in metal.
He cut the bottom off a glass battery jar that was produced at the plant, took it home and asked his wife to bake a cake in it – and that was the beginning of Corning’s line of glass bakeware products.
Their first consumer products were launched in 1915 with PYREX Ware – 12 clear glass products that could be used for baking and storage.
Corning based the kitchenware formula on its weather-resistant glass lanterns developed for the railroads. The clear PYREX Ware was produced from 1915 to 1998 by Corning Glass Works and from 1998 to today by World Kitchen.
The 1950s took Corning Glass into the space age when one of its researchers discovered a new form of ceramic glass.
In 1953, Corning scientist Dr. S. Donald Stookey accidentally invented pyroceram, when he was working to develop photosensitive glass to be used in the production of TVs.
Pyroceram is the white glass/ceramic substance which gave Corning Ware its indestructibility –making it capable of withstanding vast temperature fluctuations.
During a laboratory test, a furnace malfunctioned and test lithium silicate glass tiles were mistakenly and suddenly exposed to 1,652 degrees Fahrenheit. It turned opaque – not good for use in TVs – so Stookey thought the test was a failure. When he was removing the tile of milky white glass from the furnace, he dropped it on the floor.
To his amazement, it didn’t break – it bounced.
Normally, glass expands when it is warmed and contracts when it’s cold. But with this glass formula, which Corning named “pyroceram,” thermal expansion didn’t occur.
This is why original Corning Ware can be taken directly from the refrigerator and placed on the stove, or moved from the freezer to a hot oven without shattering.
Don’t try that with other types of glass or stoneware products.
Corning soon began manufacturing a variant of the original pyroceram formula for microwave oven glass, guided missile nose cones for the military and rocket nose cones for NASA.
And in 1958, this ceramic glass became the foundation of Corning Ware. During the next 40-some years, Corning produced more than 75 patterns.
The cornflower pattern of the first Corning Ware was also used in many Corning-related products, such as Corelle.
My Corning Ware, from my mother’s collection, was mostly the Blue Cornflower pattern. But I came across some French White pieces at Goodwill and Salvation Army stores over the years and just fell in love with it. World Kitchen is still producing the pattern in stoneware.
In 1987 the original “Cornflower Blue” pattern was retired.
By the early 90s, Corning Ware sales were in a slump.
Corning Ware was designed to last a lifetime, or maybe several lifetimes so it hardly ever needed replacing.
This amazing durability was actually its financial downfall.
Many new patterns were released in 1994 in an attempt to boost sales.
Besides the manufacturing plant in Corning, New York, Corning Glass Works had 20 other plants in nine states, including West Virginia.
Their Martinsburg plant opened in 1960. For 42 years, Corning Glass was a major employer in Berkeley County, employing about 600-to-700 people at its peak of production.
Unfortunately, the 1990s brought about great changes to Corning Ware and the country’s Corning Ware plants.
Based on declining profits, the Consumer Products division – including Corning Ware, Corelle and Pyrex – was sold to Borden Foods in 1998 and renamed World Kitchen, LLC in 2000.
It was the end of an era.
By 2002, Corning’s Martinsburg plant, and many others, were closed.
But hundreds of millions of pieces of Corning Ware were manufactured, and because of its durability, many pieces are still in excellent condition.
Sometimes you’ll come across a piece with little gray scratches on it. Don’t let that deter you from getting it. They’re usually not scratches, but just little metal deposits from using metal utensils on the Corning Ware. And since Corning Ware’s pyroceram is stronger than metal, they’ll come right off with a little Barkeeper’s Friend or Comet.
Because Corning Ware inspired so many imitations, and the difference in durability and value between vintage Corning Ware and what has been made since 2000, it’s important to learn how to identify authentic Corning Ware.
To verify that you are looking at an original Corning Ware pattern, check the trademark stamp on the underside. There were three different spellings stamped on the underside of Corning Ware products over the years – Corning Ware, CorningWare and Corningware – hence much confusion about matching lids and collectibility.
If you have an unfamiliar pattern, consult a Corning Ware reference book to see how rare it is.
“The Complete Guide to Corning Ware & Visions Cookware” by Kyle Coroneos (published in 2005 by Collector Books) is an excellent reference for collectors and a fascinating resource for anyone who loves Corning Ware.
There is also a very helpful online blog site called corningware411.com which offers wonderfully detailed information and advice about Corning Ware.
You may now go to your cupboards and kitchen shelves and get out your Corning Ware collection – set it out and use it.
Many generations have.
Rare Patterns of Corning Ware
Corning Ware patterns produced in limited runs are harder to find, so they naturally fetch the highest prices.
If you’re on the hunt for collectibles, here are a few of the most rare patterns:
• Black Starburst (in a percolator only), 1959-1963.
• Blue Heather, 1977- 1981. Also made in Corelle.
• Butterscotch, 1969.
• French Bleu, 1984. Produced for a very short time.
• Medallion, 1972-74, an olive green, stenciled design pattern that was never sold in stores. It was a promotional line made for the Shell Oil Company.
• Nature’s Bounty, 1971, a limited-edition gift line.
• Platinum Filigree, 1966-68, a limited-edition gift line.
• Renaissance, 1970, a limited-edition gift line.