The closing of the 108 year-old Steuben glass factory, its only production facility and an iconic presence in Corning, NY, marks the end of the luxury glass brand that defined a category and an era.
"It was absolutely perfect glass, something that was revered and respected all over the world," said Jim Bacalles, former Corning mayor and state Assemblyman, in a brand obituary in the Ithaca Journal.
Steuben, founded in 1903 by Frederick Carder and Thomas Hawkes was sold to Corning Glass Works, now known as Corning Inc., in 1918, who maintained ownership until selling to Schottenstein Stores Corp. of Columbus, Ohio, in 2008.
Its heritage is one of "casual luxury": within reach, yet often presented as an elite gift fit for popes, leaders of state and other VIPs. "Presidents of the United States have sent many Steuben pieces to heads of other countries. The queen of England got one from Eisenhower or Truman. It's sad, very sad,” added Fran Gehl, former president of Local 1000 of the American Flint Glass Workers Union.
Declining sales and a challenging economy steadily reduced Steuben Glass' profitability and the sole factory with 60 employees is set to close on November 29, while is New York City store will close once its inventory is sold. "I think all of the people involved with Steuben Glass were saddened that (Corning Inc.) had to sell it due to financial and economic reasons," commented local historian Tom Dimitroff.
Founder and designer Frederick Carder's exquisite creations placed him in the ranks of Louis Comfort Tiffany and Rene Lalique with some Steuben Glass items costing tens of thousands of dollars. More recently, the brand has partnered with the likes of designer Ted Muehling (at top) to create modern crystal glassware.
Fans have been mourning the news on Twitter and Facebook, where Steuben posted this response:
In the early days Corning held exhibitions of crystal works by artists Henri Matisse, Georgia O'Keeffe and Salvador Dali, while advertisements in The New York Times magazine perennially showcased limited-edition pieces.
In pop culture, the glass egg in the Tom Cruise break-out Risky Business was designed by Steuben, as was the glass bowl in the Merchant Ivory film, The Golden Bowl, while Martin Sheen as President Bartlett broke a Steuben glass pitcher in an episode of The West Wing.
Before selling to Schottenstein, Steuben had lost $30 million over five years and sales had sunk to $25 million a year. The company tried to reinvent the brand unsuccessfully, but Corning became the world's largest maker of optical fiber and cable in the 1990’s, and still leads the global market in liquid crystal display glass for computers and television monitors. “I just thought that kind of brilliance, that kind of importance, that kind of beauty, I thought it would always be here,” commented Dimitroff.
"Obviously it's a big hole that will be over there (at the factory). For some of us old-timers, it's going to be missed. It's always been the hallmark of perfection, really," said Bacalles. "The thing about Steuben was, it was not only the premier American glass in the whole country, it was the best glass there was to buy.”
For more on the heritage of a brand that will never be replaced, but now is shattered, visit this timeline.