Named for the county where the company was located, Steuben Glass Works is widely recognized for producing a plethora of fine art glass in the early 1900s. The firm actually took shape in 1903 when Thomas Hawkes, president of T.G. Hawkes and Company, and Frederick Carder joined together in Corning, New York.
"This new firm would change the entire glassmaking industry, and etch Frederick Carder’s name forever in the annals of gifted glass masters," wrote John A. Shuman III in The Collector’s Encyclopedia of American Art Glass (now out of print but available through numerous online booksellers).
Steuben produced many blanks decorated by Hawkes' company through 1918 when it became part of Corning Glass Company, as well as making decorative and colored glass in Art Nouveau styles. Some of Steuben's lines were completely innovative and others competed with iridescent wares made by Louis Comfort Tiffany and the Austrian glass company Loetz. In fact, Tiffany sued Steuben after seeing Aurene pieces believing his Favrile glass was being copied. The process for making the two was actually very different, thus the suit never made it to court. Historians haven't really determined which of these companies inspired whom, according to art glass expert Arlie Sulka in an Antiques Roadshow online feature, but there’s no doubt they were all in competition with one another back in their day.
It's also clear that Carder was the mastermind behind the production of Steuben's more revered work. His background included studying with French glass master Emile Gallé and designing for the English firm of Steven s and Williams prior to migrating to the United States. He served as Steuben’s art director through 1933 when he retired. During his tenure, he contributed to the development of some of the firm’s most adored colors and surface décor techniques.
Even after his retirement, he continued to experiment with glass production using the lost wax process in his studio office through 1959 creating a number of rare and desirable pieces of art glass. Carder died in Corning in 1963 after a long and influential career in the glass crafting industry.
Identifying and Dating Using Steuben Marks
Most Steuben glass is marked in some way before leaving the factory, although some only carried paper labels. These paper labels can be round, triangular or octagonal in shape when found intact. There will usually be a polished pontil present even if the paper label has worn or washed away over time.
The most common mark, however, is a matte acid fleur-de-lis with "STEUBEN" written in block letters. This type of mark was used from 1903 to 1932. Other pieces have an etched fleur-de-lis with either "CALCITE" or "STEUBEN" along with it. Around 1929, a matte acid mark of the word "STEUBEN" in block letters or in script was used. After 1932, diamond-point etching is used to form the letter “S” or “Steuben.”
Aurene pieces are also engraved with either "AURENE" or "STEUBEN AURENE" with a rather amateurish look to it.
"F. Carder" is also found engraved on some rare pieces and on items that were brought to him for identification from 1903 to 1932, according to Shuman. Pieces in the Intarsia pattern, Carder’s personal favorite dating to 1930, will have an engraved signature "Fred'k Carder" along the rims. Diatreta pieces Carder made personally in limited numbers from 1945 to 1959 after he retired from Steuben were marked "F. Carder" using abrasive wheels on flexible shafts, and some are dated as well.
Steuben's Varied Lines
Steuben began and discontinued lines frequently to satisfy the whims of consumers, so some were in production for a very short time. Some of the many documented colors, styles and decorating techniques employed by Steuben include (click on the highlighted links to learn more):
Agate or Moss Agate
Aurene (gold, blue, brown, red and green)
Rose Du Barry
Sea Foam Green
Threading and Reeding
Verre de Soie