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