Pattern: Solid Colors
Identifiers / Alternate Names: Various color shades, but all completely solid colored on the Pyrex item. Also known as: Primary Colors, Multi-Colored, Yellow Red Green Blue
Item Type: 400 Series Primary Color Mixing Bowls Set
Years Manufactured: 1940s
Values: Check below on Ebay for approximate prices
Sizes and ID#s: #401 (1 pint) #402 (1.25 quart) #403 (2.5 quart) #404 (4 quart)
Added Note 4/08:We would use caution when purchasing a Primary Bowl Set that the seller claims is the rarer or older. You may want to ask yourself:
1. How do you know that the numbers or writing on bottom wasn’t removed or ground off?
2. How do you know that the molds used to make the bowls were not sufficiently worn out so the impression did not take?
3. Do the bowls at least come w/ an original box and packaging to indicate they came together as a set?
I’m not saying that there aren’t old sets out there - just be careful paying the 5 to 10 times premium that we have sometimes seen them commanding. Ok, end lecture.
This is the first of the 4 piece multi-colored Pyrex mixing bowl sets that were introduced in the 1940s, often called the Primary Color Bowls or the 400 Series Color Bowls. If there is any one set that embodies collectible vintage Pyrex, this may very well be it.
This set consists of a 1 pint, 5 1/2 inch diameter Blue bowl, 1 1/4 quart 7 inch Red bowl, 2 1/2 quart 8 1/2 inch Green bowl, and a 4 quart 10 inch Yellow bowl. Originally, we had the two smallest sizes listed as 1 pint and 1 1/4 quart because that is the information I found listed in an advert. However, everywhere I looked on Ebay people were listing the sizes as 1 1/2 pint and 1 1/2 quart! So I changed it to that for awhile.
Update 3/08: So many people have written in asking if it’s 1 pint and 1 1/4 quart or if it’s 1 1/2 pint and 1 1/2 quart. To tell the truth, we’ve gotten tired of people insisting one way or the other. I did see an original box saying it was 1 pint, 1 1/4 quart. I have no idea however, if they changed the size later. Or if they just changed the wording later. Or if the original capacity was wrong on the box. I think this has caused more confusion than it’s worth, and it’s certainly taking the fun out of it, so we’re not going to talk about this size issue any more. Please do not write in about it…
Though fairly common, the popularity of this set is unrivaled. It’s very common to come across stray bowls from a set, with the larger bowls being slightly rarer as usual due to the fact that they were more susceptible to damage. But because they were easier to store being “nesting bowls” and they didn’t have extra lid components, complete sets are sometimes easier to come across. Condition can play a pretty big part in the relative prices of these sets, so if you’re buying on Ebay be sure to ask the seller for details about the condition.
We recently got some great information about the Primary Color bowl set from Bill Keeley, a collector of Pyrex and Fire King glass. Bill writes that there were some variations in the primary color set throughout the years, most notably that the oldest sets from the “1940s” were not numbered on the bottom. According to him, “The markings on the bottoms of the 1940s ‘non-numbered’ bowls are only ‘T.M. REG.’ in an arch above ‘PYREX’ horizontally in the middle, and ‘U.S. PAT. OFF’ below in an up-facing arch.” The later 1950s - 1970s sets do have the numbers and this is what we have in our set, leading us to believe that we have a “newer” set. However, I don’t believe most people are aware of this, because in auctions the prices are the same regardless of the numbers on bottom. We certainly didn’t know about it. I HAVE seen items with the older “T.M. REG” mark, but not on the primary bowls. So if you have a set of Primary with no numbers on the bottom, you might want to hang on to them.
I seem to recall another collector mentioning that you can also tell the older 1940s bowls from newer ones by the “thickness” of the bowl… the newer ones are thinner. This seems consistent with some of the other older Pyrex items we’ve seen.
Bill also cleared up some of the mystery regarding why certain Primary Color sets have different colors, at least for the larger bowls. He says that Yellow was definitely the main color for the 4 quart bowl in the 4 bowl set, but that two other colors (namely, forest green and red) could be purchased separately as 4 quart bowls. I still am not sure how this explains the switching of the colors for the smaller bowls. We originally thought it was just caused by later collectors mixing up the bowls from different sets. I have heard that the primary set might have been sold as a 3-bowl set with different colors, so this could account for the color differences. We haven’t seen a boxed set like this yet, however.
Tammy McKinnon recently sent in the picture below of a 4 color Primary set that has a yellow 403 and an olive green 404 bowl:
This was a wedding gift her parents received in 1970. The 4th bowl is definitely a different type of green than that of the normal primary set. (I’ve also heard that the red 402 was a different type of darker red in these sets, but haven’t been able to compare them side by side). But because this was a gift, we are inclined to believe that the 4 bowl set was indeed sold with this color configuration. Perhaps they switched to (or added as an option) the color configuration for the primary set in the 70s. It also seems to validate a photo of an identical set that appears on pg 103 in the Pyrex book by Barbara Mauzy. We had originally thought that this was a “made-up” primary set using bowls from different sets.
Update 1/08: I want to stress that while it does seem that the “reversed” colors primary set does exist and is less common than the “normal” colors primary set, it DOES NOT mean that it’s worth more necessarily. I just want to make that clear, because I’ve seen a number of auctions referencing our website and saying that we think it is more valuable. We are not stating anything of the sort - and the same goes for older stamps without numbers on the bottom of the bowls. We are going to disavow any claims that we have the authority to comment on the rarity for these sets. However, if others can provide documented proof about that, we will try and post it here.