Collectors Corner: Corning Ware
By Michele Alice
Corning Ware was the result of an accident. Corning Glass Works, founded in 1851, has been a leader in the introduction of new products. It produced the first commercial glass light bulbs in 1879. It opened one of the first industrial research and development labs in the U.S. in 1908. Its search for a glass resistant to thermal shock (breakage due to extreme differences in temperature) led to the introduction of Pyrex in 1915 and the creation of the 200-inch mirror blank for the Hale Telescope at Mt. Palomar in 1935.
Corning also created the window glass used on every American manned spacecraft and the mirror glass used by the Hubble Telescope. And over the last three decades, Corning has gained a world-wide reputation for its advancements in fiber-optics and glass for all types of electronic displays from iPhones to LCD TVs.
But in 1952, Corning research scientist Dr. S. Donald Stookey was working on a piece of photosensitive glass when the oven he was using malfunctioned and overheated. To his surprise, the glass crystallized in the high temperatures, turning a milky white, and did not break when dropped. Not only was the new glass-ceramic material, subsequently named Pyroceram, also corrosion and heat-resistant, but it proved to be transparent to radar, making it the ideal material for the nosecones of missiles. It was not until the introduction of Corning Ware in 1958, that the public discovered its many virtues.
Corning Ware was not just stain, chip, and break resistant, it was completely versatile. It could go from freezer to oven to tabletop; it could be used in the broiler and microwave; and, most importantly, it was the only product of its kind that could be used on the stovetop. It was available in dozens of products from browning skillets to teapots to casserole dishes. And last, but not least, it was stylish. It could be purchased in a variety of decorative patterns (the iconic Blue Cornflower was the first) to complement almost any decor.
In 1998 Corning spun off its consumer products division to concentrate on its high-tech segments. Corning Consumer Products became World Kitchen which is licensed to manufacture and sell Corning Ware and other Corning-developed products to this day.
About four years after its formation, World Kitchen began substituting a stoneware version in the States for the Corning Ware made of Pyroceram, while the original continued to be manufactured by a plant in France for foreign markets. Consumer complaints - the stoneware versions were not only not as durable, but they could not be used on the stovetop - eventually forced the company in 2009 to resume selling a limited selection of the original product under their StoveTop trademark. The plant in France remains the only source of glass-ceramic Corning Ware in the world.
Luckily for those consumers and collectors who weren't fortunate enough to inherit complete sets from their parents or grandparents, the durability of original Corning Ware has ensured that the secondary markets are kept amply supplied. And for those seeking to start or add to their collections, here are a few things to remember:
1) Though the terms Corning Ware, CorningWare, and Corningware are sometimes used interchangeably, Corning Ware was the original version. Occasionally in the 1990s, the name Corningware was used to refer to the original Pyroceram product, but its usage, along with CorningWare, became dominant when World Kitchen introduced the stoneware version.
2) Always check the packaging (if any) or the backstamp: if it indicates that the item is NOT for stovetop use, then it is stoneware, not Pyroceram.
3) If the bottom of the piece is rough and not smooth like the rest of the piece, then it is stoneware.
4) Some patterns were originally much more popular than others, and thus exist in greater quantities today. The Blue Cornflower decoration was used for 30 years while Abundance was in production only from 1991 to 1994 and is relatively rare. The same is true for particular pieces. Just about everyone had at least one casserole dish or sauce pan, but not everyone possessed a gravy boat or coffee pot.
5) Lids and other accessories often turn up at yard, rummage, and estate sales on the dollar table or in the Free pile because they are unrecognized or considered of little value without all their parts. Since the lids were often not of Pyroceram and were the most likely to be dropped and break, it could be considered worthwhile to stockpile spares.
6) Corning Ware is tough, but not indestructible. Always check pieces for any damage - run your fingers around all edges looking for rough spots - and pass on if any are discovered. In all likelihood, a better specimen will soon turn up.
Interested in learning more about this eminently practical collectible? Check out the resources listed below, and
The Complete Guide to Corning Ware & Visions Cookware, by Kyle Coroneos
Corning and the Craft of Innovation, by Margaret B. W. Graham and Alec T. Shuldiner
Corning Pyroceram Cookware, by Debbie Coe and Randy Coe
The Generations of Corning: The Life and Times of a Global Corporation , by Davis Dyer and Daniel Gross
Corelle Corner - Not just for the Corelle collector. Invaluable resource includes a glossary, a discussion of different types of Corning glass, advertising, pics, more.
The Corning Ware Story - Article includes a list of patterns and the dates they were in production. Lots of pics, too.
Fact Central - Corning Incorporated - Fascinating section of the official site includes an Innovation Timeline, Glass Class, and even a video on glass blowing!
Shop World Kitchen - CorningWare - The current offerings.
About the author:
Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more! Email her at makalice @ adelphia.net eBay ID: Malice9
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