Various cake and dessert pans

In 1953, Dr. S. Donald Stookey of Corning Glass Works invented Pyroceram, a white glass-ceramic substance capable of withstanding a tremendous range of temperature fluctuations. Five years later, Corning's applied kitchenware technology took the North American market by storm with the introduction of elegant and almost indestructible pieces that transferred instantly from freezer to oven to tabletop. Over 40 years, Corning manufactured many different patterns and lines of Corning Ware (also often spelled CorningWare and Corningware), but after the company changed hands in 1998, the original glass-ceramic cookware was phased out of production. "Classic" or "vintage" Corning Ware has never lost its appeal to home cooks--but is now also deemed collectible.

The Challenges of Identifying Vintage Corningware

Invest in the reference book. If your interest goes beyond picking up a few pieces for the kitchen, buy "The Complete Guide To Corning Ware & Visions Cookware" by Kyle Coroneos (Collector Books, 2005, 144 pages). Now in its third edition, this book, written by a collector for collectors, has been highly praised by independent reviewers. Drawing on research from Corning company archives, Coroneos presents more than 60 patterns and hundreds of shapes as the lines changed over the years--this information is essential to identifying and dating pieces. Listed retail price is $19.95 as of November 2010.

Visit thrift shops, flea markets, garage sales and estate auctions. Hundreds of millions of pieces of Corning Ware were manufactured--and because of their durability, most still survive and can often be picked up very cheaply second-hand. Online trading is also brisk, but prices are much higher.

Examine the pattern. The stylized triple-cornflower motif was the first Corning Ware pattern; even though many other patterns came and went, it remained a company trademark throughout production. Other popular patterns include Spice O' Life, a vegetable design, sometimes with a French word in script underneath; Wild Flower, orange poppies with yellow, blue and green accents; Country Festival, a folk art motif featuring two bluebirds and a tulip; and French White.

Check the backstamp. The tremendous popularity of Corning Ware inspired knock-offs and imitations by other manufacturers, many using patterns almost indistinguishable from those on authentic Corningware. At a glance, you can easily be fooled so to ensure an item is the real thing, turn it over and look at the backstamp on the underside. As the excellent non-commercial, collector-oriented website Corelle Corner explains, most cookware produced by Corning prior to 1998 is branded "Corning Ware," but close to that time, the company began using the spelling "Corningware." For four years after Corning was sold to World Kitchens, the original glass-ceramic cookware was still produced under the spelling "Corningware" before being discontinued. However, in 2009, owing to popular demand, production in North America resumed. The current Corningware line is now more expensive than most of the company's all-ceramic products but is not considered "vintage." Corelle and Pyrex are separate divisions of the Corning Glass Works (or Corning Inc.) brand name, not to be confused with Corning Ware, CorningWare or Corningware.