Thursday, December 29, 2011

The End of an Era: Steuben Glass Has Closed

It was with sadness that I read this past fall that Steuben Glass would close forever. Today, I was reminded by the New York Times as I read about the Manhattan store's closing last week. That store was a temple to good taste - and all things beautiful.

The 108-year-old glass maker shut down its factory in Corning, New York, and its flagship store on Madison Avenue in Manhattan - a place I visited on each shopping trip in New York. Apparently, the company’s demise was a waning appetite for stunning crystal, exacerbated by the weak economy. Just as people have turned away from sterling silver, once the gift of kings, they turned away from glass artwork as well. Perhaps collectors, like me, stopped collecting. Somehow, the shuttering of Steuben rings like a death knell for good taste.

I can't explain the historical significance of the company to American glass artistry better than the New York Times, so I'll quote from their short retrospective, published in September.

An engraved fruit bowl or animal figurine handmade by Steuben was considered a can’t-miss present, a sentiment burnished by the choices of American presidents from Harry S. Truman to Ronald Reagan.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower was one of Steuben’s biggest fans. He gave custom-made glassware as gifts to heads of state and also collected some himself. In 1954, on the first anniversary of Eisenhower’s inauguration, members of his cabinet surprised him with a foot-tall pedestaled cup whose engravings depicted his life story.

When Prince Charles married Lady Diana in 1981, the Reagans gave them an engraved Steuben bowl as a wedding gift. In a less official role this summer, two hosts of the Today show, Matt Lauer and Al Roker, presented a Steuben crystal cat to Pope Benedict XVI in Rome. Steuben glass has served as a gift for all purposes for as long as some wealthy New Yorkers can remember.

I collected Steuben animal figurines for years. Now, my collection will be even more cherished. I wish I had been able to collect them all (I'd love to have owned the frog above, but he was out of reach, price-wise). While the company still has an online presence, and I could buy that frog at a close-out price, the timing isn't good for me. If it's good for you, check out this link and shop one last time.

Years ago, Steuben sent me catalogs, which are now well-worn wish lists. Even if I couldn't buy everything they sold, I could dream...I could appreciate the workmanship that went into the pieces, from figurines to bowls, vases, and more. Today, I reminded Charlie that he ran over and broke a Steuben candlestick when he was a kitten. He seemed "unpurrturbed." At least I still have one of the two.

Here’s to our memories that make us who we are. Here’s to growing up, growing up with you…

Photo courtesy of Steuben Glass


Anonymous said...


Evelyn said...

How very sad. I always enjoyed looking in their windows on Madison, seeing all the beautiful crystal. It seems that the lovely things go away and we're left with the vulgar and mundane. We could use more Steuben and less Juicy. :)

Charlestongirl said...

Amen, Evelyn!

Charlestongirl said...

I know, Anonymous, so sad. There's no joy this month among glass art lovers. Who will make my crystal animals?

I want that frog!

Sarah said...

Oh, I am so sad to hear this. I am originally from upstate New York, and have been to the Steuben glass factory and nearby Corning glass museum. The quality and beauty of Steuben glass is something so timeless and old-world. And I completely agree with Evelyn's final comment.

lov2read68 said...

How sad. That truly is the end of an era. When I graduated from college I worked at Hall's in Kansas City. They had an entire gallery dedicated to Stuben pieces.

Eileen said...

I have some beautiful decorative pieces of Steuben art glass as well as some "toasting" glasses that had been my mother's. They'll be all the more precious now knowing that they cannot be replaced.

Charlestongirl said...

Sarah, I had always wanted to visit the museum. I hope it stays, even if Steuben glass is no longer made.

Kate said...

I watched a beautiful piece on Steuben glass a few months ago on CBS Sunday Morning. I had heard the name of the company, but never knew a lot about them. After watching the piece and seeing the hand-crafted pieces of glass, I was so saddened to hear that it would be closing. I echo your sentiments that this is another reminder that the tasteful and elegant seem to be going by the wayside.

Although I like a little "flash" now and then (mostly in lipgloss), far too many people have forgotten what classic and timeless means. And also the value of something hand-crafted.

At least we still have all the good taste and class that is "Best Things in Beauty"!


Charlestongirl said...


They WERE gallery-worthy. I think it's so sad when an American institution of such beauty closes. It makes no sense to me that our economy can support luxury retailers, selling beautiful European goods, but not our own homegrown artists side by side with them.

Charlestongirl said...

Hi Eileen,

I'm thinking I need to put my animals behind glass doors now, safely tucked into a safe cabinet.

Charlestongirl said...

Thank you, Kate!

Isn't it sad that good taste seems to be going by the wayside? When the masses admire Snooki and KK, you've got to wonder.