Steuben: An American Icon

Two French blue Steuben finger bowls with applied threading and a modern crystal Steuben decanter are beautiful examples of Steuben's wares.

Today, given instant gratification and carefree living, the demand for some products such as table top items - china, crystal, and silver flatware - to create gorgeous dining tables has fallen. Disposable, inexpensive and microwave-safe seem to be key words to an audience that has grown sharply over the past two decades. With this shift, we have lost some fine workshops here in the U.S. and in other parts of the world.

Steuben, an American glass factory, is one such company that created handmade fabulous stemware, accessories and other blown glass items. Thanks to antique stores and estate sales, we can continue to purchase Steuben and continue to be enamored by its beauty.

Steuben was a go-to name for wedding, anniversary and holiday gifts in the 1950s. Places like Potter and Mellon and Higbee’s were proud sources for Steuben in Cleveland. The company, however, dates back much further than the clear crystal wares with air twist and teardrop bubble designs that are grandparents received as wedding gifts 60 years ago.

History

The company was opened in 1903 by Frederick Carder (just one of the founders). He started his career in England as a designer for Stevens & Williams, a creator of great colorful opaline glass. The simple but elegant forms heavily influenced the design of Steuben studios.

Steuben was opened with the help of Thomas Hawkes who had been in the glass-cutting business for some time. The relationship of Carder and Hawkes lasted for several decades. During this time, Carder developed various colors and techniques. Although an expensive endeavor, he created such classics as Rose Quartz, Aurene, Moss Agate, Cluthra and Oriental Poppy, just to name a few.  This specialty glass was made until 1932.

Rare examples of this glass come up for public sale and are a delight to see. However, if you head to pinterest.com and search “Rare Steuben,” you will see many spectacular examples of what the company made during the first 30 years of its history.  

By 1932, the depression and changing tastes shifted the demand for the wares Steuben was known for.  Based on this demand shift, the company's new director, John MacKay, made a major change to production to create a line that only used clear glass. This very modern, clean and heavy stemware is what most of us know as Steuben glass. If you are so lucky as to have a piece or to see an unveiling of a piece from its distinct box and gray felt bag, you will instantly know how breathtaking it is. The clarity and weight is specific to Steuben.

Today

Where is Steuben? In 2011, the owners of Steuben decided to close the factory and end production. This iconic company lives on today in its vast inventory held in private hands, traded among people or offered to the public through shops or auctions. To know Steuben is to fall in love. Take the time to seek out an example and you will see true quality and artistic design.

Mitchell Sotka

Mitchell Sotka

The Eponymous Antique Shop Owner

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Volume 2, Issue 10, Posted 3:44 PM, 05.09.2015