If you want to freshen up your kitchen, look no further than Grandma’s old casserole dishes.
Vintage kitchenware is back in style – pieces from the mid-20th century painted with flowers, bright colors and specific functions, such as bracketed chip and dip bowls or four-piece refrigerator storage sets.
Jo Adinolfi, from Shelton, collects Pyrex mixing bowls and stackable refrigerator sets, what collectors affectionately call “fridgies.” She started collecting and selling about 10 years ago and owns more than 2,000 pieces, but don’t tell her husband that.
“I buy what I like, and when I get tired of it I’ll sell it, then buy something else. I’m still learning,” she explained. She mostly uses the items as decoration in her kitchen, and will put out different colored pieces for different holidays, like her collection of red Pyrex bowls around Valentine’s Day, or green for St. Patrick’s Day.
The phenomenon of collecting old kitchenware isn’t new, but it has grown in recent years thanks to the ease of online buying and selling. There’s also the social element it offers.
“It brings you a lot of friends,” said Adinolfi, a 62-year-old nurse. “That’s how I’ve gottten to know half my friends on Facebook. I’ve never met them but we have so much in common.”
Before the pandemic hit, she and her like-minded friends would get together for swaps, where people would sell, buy or trade kitchenware in person. It’s been over a year since they’ve had a swap, Adinolfi said, so she’s looking forward to the end of COVID so their swaps can resume in person.
Adinolfi and her friends are not alone. It’s become a worldwide phenomenon.
“I’ve always been an old soul and loved anything old,” said Megan Telfer, a collector of vintage dishes, salt and pepper shakers, cookie jars and “a little bit of everything.” The 26-year-old parole officer from the Dallas area said this hobby started with family.
Her grandmother gave her mother a green and white Pyrex “Spring Blossom” mixing bowl. “That’s when my interest was piqued,” she said.
Three years later, she has more than 300 pieces of vintage Pyrex, displayed on three large bookcases. Her 5-year-old daughter has some vintage Pyrex, too.
“We don’t use 90% of it,” Telfer said. “I display it.”
Some collectors buy vintage dishware to try to resell it at a profit, while others are in it for nostalgia.
“It reminds them of their mothers, aunts, grandmothers,” said Hope Chudy, owner of Downstairs at Felton Antiques in Waltham, Mass.
A year of pandemic lockdowns has led to a surge in home cooking and time spent hanging out in the kitchen. Vintage cookware fits right into that homey, old-fashioned vibe.
There are lustrous chili bowls with handles, and casserole dishes set on top of brass candle warmers. These are durable dishes, often smaller than modern serving pieces, that can go from freezer to oven to table. But collectors usually acquire them for enjoyment, not utility.
“It really sets your kitchen apart from others,” said Victoria Aude, an interior designer in Canton, Mass. “It’s not an item you can just buy off the shelf at Bloomingdale’s.”
Corning first released a Pyrex dish in 1915. By the 1930s, Anchor Hocking Glass Corp. released its competitor brand Fire-King. But it’s the kitchenware made between 1950 and 1980 that seem to be most popular right now.
The mid-20th-century glass bowls and casserole dishes from brands like Fire-King and Pyrex haven’t changed, but their prices have.
“The more people that collect, the higher the demand is, the more people are trying to source the right goods to be able to feed that request,” said Stan Savellis, 42, of Sydney, Australia, who has collected vintage kitchenware since his teenage years and runs the online store That Retro Piece. Adinolfi said some of his items are now in her home in Shelton.
TV and social media have also generated interest. Series like “WandaVision,” “Firefly Lane,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “Mad Men” all highlight midcentury kitchens and kitchenware.
And then there’s social media, said Vicki Matranga, the design programs coordinator for the International Housewares Association and author of the book “America at Home: A Celebration of Twentieth-Century Housewares.”
“With everyone at home now, you can look at collections on Facebook or Instagram,” she said.
In pre-pandemic days, vintage collectors would meet up at swaps, like Adinolfi did with her friends before COVID hit. Now, people are buying and selling on eBay, Etsy, Facebook and other websites.
The rarest pieces have sold for thousands of dollars, such as a 1959 “Lucky in Love” covered casserole dish that Goodwill sold for $5,994 in 2017.
Still, some enthusiasts simply like the vintage look and sentimentality.
“It goes with my house,” said Ashley Linder, 37, of Lake Jackson, Texas.
Linder’s vintage collection includes can openers from the 1950s, and they still work. “Fortunately, I have the space to display most of it, though some are seasonal-use,” she said.
A Republican-American staff report was used in this Associated Press story.