For 100 years, Steuben
has been at the forefront of glass design, balancing state-of-the-art
technological advancements with centuries-old traditional glassmaking
techniques . Founder Frederick Carder was clearly a child prodigy
who was born in England and a self trained chemist, physicist,
draftsman, and pottery. He became passionate about glassmaking
as a child growing up in Staffordshire and spent time sketching,
modeling, and playing with clay at his grandfather's pottery
factory. Unusually headstrong, Carder quite school at 14 to
work full time at the factory. He soon realized he made a mistake
and started taking courses at night in art, chemistry, electricity,
and metallurgy. In 18878, his grandfather died and his father
and uncles inherited the factory not appreciating the talents
of the ambitious 15 year old. He left and took a job as draftsman
and designer at a local glassmaking firm, Stevens & Williams.
Here, he was allowed to experiment with colorizing agents and
create new designs in colored glass, cameo glass, and engraved
glass. The company put his designs into production, and they
were such a commercial success that it eventually sent him on
"fact finding" trips to Austria, Germany, and the
In 1903, Carder was
on his way to meet Thomas E. Hawkes, the president of a Corning
company that bought glass blanks from Stevens & Williams.
When Hawkes offered to establish a glass factory for Carder,
Carder accepted. He named the company Steuben after the county
where it was located and began production almost immediately.
Steuben Glass Works was almost a one man operation, where Carder
designed the ware, supervised production, and dictated sales
specialized in colorful Art Nouveau glass just coming into popularity,
and the early years were the most productive. At least half
of the more than 100 recorded colors and over 8000 design forms
which make up the Carder record from 1903 to 1932 were initiated
before World War I. Carder's innovative experimentation with
glassmaking techniques produced important results including
iridescent surfaces like their well known "Aurene"
glass, murky translucence, and saturated colors. Aurene was
the first great commercial success, glass with a golden iridescence
whose name was taken from the Latin word for gold, aurum, and
the last 3 letters of schene, a Middle English word for sheen.
In 1913, Louis Comfort Tiffany sued Steuben for $50,000 for
copying his trademarked iridescent favrile glass which was somewhat
similar to Aurene. Carder demanded a bill of particulars which
Tiffany's lawyers failed to produce, and the suit was subsequently
dropped and Tiffany and Carder reconciled. In 1918, the Corning
Glass Works acquires Steuben as both companies positioned themselves
for the years following World War I, and Frederick Carder continued
in his capacity of Managing Director of the new "Steuben
Division" of Corning Glass.
Carder was constantly
tinkering, taking rods of differently colored glass to make
Venetian style millefiori wares. He sandwiched a layer of powdered
glass, called a frit, between two layers of clear glass. In
about 1928 Carder made what many consider his pioneering achievement
in "intarsia" glass after the word intarsiatura, a
type of 15th century Italian marquetry. A design is etched in
a colored glass casing which is then reheated and covered with
a layer of clear glass. A third layer of clear glass is added
so it becomes one homogeneous piece. It is a difficult, complicated
process and only about 100 known examples were made, each signed
"Fred'k Carder" on the front, not underneath.
In 1932, Steuben made
one of its most significant technological advances, a glass
they named "10M" which had extremely high refractive
qualities that permits the entire light wave spectrum to pass
through the glass, including the ultraviolet range. In 1933,
Arthur A. Houghton, Jr. became Steuben's new president, and
he introduced to the market this clear, pure 10M glass now known
as Steuben crystal. This new type of glass was created by Corning
researchers and had amazing brilliance, clarity, and surface
finish. Houghton collaborated with sculptor Sidney Waugh and
architect John Gates. With the introduction of Steuben crystal,
colored glass was gradually phased out of Steuben production,
and the Steuben Division became known as simply Steuben Glass.
Some forms of Carder's original glass designs continue to be
made in the new clear glass formula although many new styles
are also introduced influenced by the sculptor Sidney Waugh
and architect John Gates. In these early years of Steuben's
history, Steuben primarily made objects for the home including
stemware, urns, candlesticks, bowls, and drinking glasses. Gazelle,
Steuben's first major engraved design, is introduced in 1935
and reflects the influences of Swedish simplicity and the massive
geometry of Art Deco, and this is the first Steuben pattern
that utilizes all of Steuben's renowned glassmaking techniques:
blowing, cutting, polishing, and copper-wheel engraving. Houghton
continued over the following years to push the boundaries of
creative expression as shown through the partnership of the
glass designer and glassmaker. Frederick Carder himself continued
to work in a small studio at Corning until his final retirement
at age 96.
Having now made glass
for over 100 years, Steuben has always sought to balance state-of-the-art
technological advancements with the centuries old craft of glassmaking
and the skills of the craftsmen. They continue today to create
distinctive designs and to adhere to the "hand methods" of forming,
polishing and engraving fine art glass in a mission to produce
"the finest glass the world has ever seen."
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