American Art Nouveau Glass - The Steuben Glass Works
In the first decades of the 20th century, the Steuben Glass Works produced some of the great collectibles of the American interpretation of Art Nouveau. The early Steuben design styles are associated with Frederick Carter an artist and glassmaker who co-founded the firm with Thomas G. Hawkes in 1903. Carder led the company until 1918 when it was acquired by Corning, where he continued as managing director of the Steuben Division until 1932. Typically referred to as the Carder Period, the colorful wares that Steuben produced in this time are very distinct from later Steuben pieces and are now highly prized by collectors.
Born in England in 1863 Carder rose to prominence early, working as a designer at Stevens & Williams while still a teenager. At Stevens & Williams he experimented with colors, cameos and etched glass, designing a number of commercially successful pieces. After immigrating to America and joining forces with Hawkes, Carder’s artistic vision and drive for technical innovation flowered. In the years between 1903 and 1932 he produced roughly 8,000 designs in as many as a 100 different colors. Although Tiffany is the undisputed king of American Art Nouveau glass, the two firms are frequently compared, and in particular Steuben’s Aurene Ware is said to rival Tiffany’s Favrile lines but with a lighter feel and rendered with more classical stylings.
What follows is a summary of the types of Art Nouveau glass made by Steuben during the Carder period.
Aurene Ware is by far the most popular style made by the Steuben Glass Works. Most of these pieces were blue and gold lustre. These pieces were produced from 1904 to 1930.
The trademark name Aurene was registered on September 6, 1904, and their trademark papers stated that the name had been in use by the Steuben Glass Works since June 20, 1904. We can safely date this style to beginning at that time. The name Aurene is derived from the Latin word “aureatus” which means “like gold in resplendence”.
While all of the styles of Aurene Ware are covered under the name Aurene, the types were differentiated by the names Gold Aurene, Blue Aurene, and Decorated Aurene in the catalogs. Decorated Aurene usually had opaque glass pulled through it to create designs of feathers, leaves, and ovals.
Some people argue that Tyrian glass should really be a subcategory of Aurene. But the color (which Carder discovered accidentally) is so unique that it is classified in a group by itself.
The body of this glass is an opaque material that flows together like Tiffany’s Agate glassware and has grayish green, grayish blue, and grayish purple colors that flow together. Gold Aurene decorations cover most of the surface of the Tyrian Glass and the inside is often lustred as well.
These glass pieces have the word Tyrian engraved on the base. There were not many made, because the process was extremely difficult.
Verre de Soie
The Verre de Soie style began in 1905, and was made by spraying the surface of the glass while it is still hot with a solution of stannous chloride. The finish on these pieces is rainbow like and iridescent. The body of the piece is usually done in crystal with colored glass in the decorations, stems, and handles.
Very similar glassware was being produced at the time in many other factories, including factories in Germany, Belgium, Austria, France, and England. Therefore, unless a piece is marked with the Steuben mark, it is very hard to know its origins.
The Steuben lines of opaline glass were called “Jade Glass,” a marketing maneuver which lent the pieces air of elegance and a hint of oriental mystique. The defining characteristic of opaline is that is either opaque or semi-translucent. Although the name implies green, Jade Glassware came in many different colors:
- Rosaline: A light rose opaline glassware often used in combination with the Steuben Alabaster glass.
- Alabaster: An opaline glass of translucent white.
- Blue Jade: Light and dark blue glassware with the dark blue being more rare.
- Jade or Green Jade: This glassware is a true green color.
- Amethyst Jade: A muddy amethyst opaline glassware.
Each of these colors has some variations within different pieces which can be attributed to the various colors within this glassware.
Rouge Flambe was a difficult type of glass to produce and was a beautiful vibrant shade of red. The production of this glassware involved using selenium, cadmium sulphate, and chrome oxide in the glass melt. The chrome oxide lends a unique pearly texture to these pieces. According to Steuben himself only 50 to 100 pieces were ever made at the Steuben factory and none were made for public distribution.
Transparent Colored Glass
There are many shades in the Transparent Colored Glass line of glassware, so much so that collectors should always consult a color chart to determine which of the varying shades of glassware they have or are considering purchasing. The shades are as follows:
As you can see the Steuben Company produced a very wide variety of these pieces in a large array of colors.
- Gold Ruby: more pink than red
- Selenium Red: intense red with a slightly orange hue
- Cerise Ruby: bright pinkish red
- Rosa: the color of Rose wine – pinkish amber
- Antique Green: pale yellow-green
- Pomona Green: darker and less yellow than antique green
- Celeste Blue: medium copper-blue
- Marina Blue: the color of the gemstone Aquamarine
- French Blue: grayish-blue
- Flemish Blue: dark cobalt blue
- Amethyst: rich reddish purple
- Orchid: light amethyst
- Wisteria: light purple-blue
- Gold Purple: deeper purple-blue
- Amber: a true light amber
- Bristol Yellow: golden yellow
- Topaz: medium brownish amber – like the gemstone
Peach Blow Glass
There were two distinct types of Peach Blow Glass produced by Steuben Glass Works. The first is similar to the style made by Hobbs, Brockunier & Company. This product was an opal glass cased with a deep brownish-red ruby glass.
The other style was made by reheating the extremity of an object that was made from a uranium and gold ruby glass melt. Most of the time, the top of the object was treated with the heat to make it peach. Both types of this glass were produced from 1908 to 1930.
To make this unusual bubbly glass a special “secret ingredient” was used. Amazingly enough it was tapioca. The base started as Alabaster glass and was rolled over fine particles of other Jade Glasses then it was rolled over small pieces of tapioca which produced a chemical reaction that caused an effervescent affect and bubbling in the glass. When the glass was blown, the bubbles enlarged – some as large as an inch in diameter.
Cluthra was produced at Steuben starting in 1920 and came in several different color combinations. These included rose, light and dark blue, purple, gold ruby, yellow, brown, and white flecked black. They are usually marked with a fleur-de-lis combined with the name Steuben.
The name Cintra comes from the word sinter. Sinter is defined as “to become or cause to become a coherent mass by heating without thoroughly melting.” This definition sums up the manufacturing process of this glass.
Hot glass was rolled over fine particles of colored ground glass. When it had been completely covered it was reheated, and blown into a cup of crystal. To achieve the striped effect that most Cintra wares display, the glass was then blown into a pattern that created raised ribs on the surface. The ribs picked up the particles of ground glass and then it was rolled to make it smooth again. This process was repeated until the coloring was finished.
The Quartz glass produced by Cintra is either Cintra or Cluthra ware with an acid finish. One of the things that makes Quartz glassware really stand out is the satin smooth finish. This style came in various colors such as: blue, green, yellow, and rose. In addition the Quartz pieces are occasionally called Cluthra when describing Quartz pieces with acid cutbacks.
Acid Cut Backs
Acid Cut Back pieces are what I would call engraved glass. The process that was used to make them was a glass-chipping process that was patented by Philip J. Handel and was also used by Steuben. These pieces have a textured surface and are usually done in colored glass that is etched to reveal the lighter color underneath. There is often an Asian theme evident in this style of glassware. These pieces also often feature birds, dragons, and flowers.
The thing that makes Steuben’s Bubbly Glass desirable is not the bubbles – which are produced the same way as the Cluthra glass, but the “reeded” decoration. These were threads of glass that were applied in a random fashion to many of the Bubbly pieces. It is a more organic look and approach than the machine threaded wares of other factories, and makes these pieces desirable to collectors.
In Steuben’s catalogs he describes Florentia as having a “frost-like beauty in white Florentia glass decorated in green and rose”. These wares were made of the Steuben Alabaster glass which was treated with mica flecks running through it. It has a distinctive leaf design that is made with Rosaline or Green Jade glass, and is treated with acid to give it a frost-like appearance.
A glass manufacturer could hardly be considered Art Nouveau without producing Opalescent Glass and Steuben was no exception to this. However, the opalescent wares of this company were different than those of other manufacturers.
The process used to make this glass was similar to Cintra. The glass bulb was initially plated with a sensitive transparent crystal with arsenic or bone ash added to it in order to create the opalescent effect. This was then blown into a mold with a ribbed pattern and then treated with heat to bring out the opalescence in the glass. The design was then twisted to create a spiral pattern. These designs were produced in many colors.
Clouded Glass was the Steuben factory’s opalescent glass with a lustre finish. However, being a great marketer, Steuben called it Clouded Glass or sometimes it went by the names, Oriental Poppy, Oriental Jade, and Oriental Orchid. None of the pieces found bear any marking of the Steuben Glass Works.
Ivrene, Calcite, and Ivory Wares
Ivrene, Calcite, and Ivory Wares were all made by varying the formula for a white glass called “Opal” in the glass trade. Ivrene was originally used for lampshades because of the quality of light it produced when used in this capacity. Ivrene was also occasionally plated with Gold or Blue Aurene. These pieces were called Gold Aurene on Calcite and Blue Aurene on Calcite.
The trademark Calcite was registered on June 1, 1915 by Steuben Glass Works, and had been in use by them since June 1910. The Ivory glass was produced by adding uranium salts to the Opal base and created a pale yellow glass, which was often decorated with jet black glass for dramatic effect.
Silverine Glass types of wares were made by rolling transparent crystal glass over mica flecks then blowing the glass into a mold that created a diamond pattern. Then the glass worker blew the gather into a cup of transparent or crystal glass, and finally into the shape of the piece.
Once in while this type of glassware was given a matt finish and/or lustred. Silverene glassware was nearly always made in pastel shades to allow the mica to show.
Moss Agate Glass
Moss Agate Glass is believed to have been produced on a limited basis as very few pieces survive. Moss Agate Glassware was created in vivid shades of green, yellow, blue, orange, and purple. These colors were picked up by rolling the glass gather over various colors to get the desired effect. The pulverized glass would have been pulled by a pointed hook prior to rolling to imitate the look of Moss Agate.
Intarsia Glass is considered one of Carder’s finest achievements at the Steuben factory, and he honored these pieces with his signature. There were about 50 of these pieces produced between 1916 and 1923, and they were very time consuming and difficult to produce.
All of the pieces of Intarsia glass were produced by a man named Johnny Jensen, who had been groomed to the glass trade by Mr. Carder himself. In fact, these pieces were so important that Mr. Carder stood by and supervised the process.
Millefiori Tessera Glassware
The time-proven technique of millefiori was used to produce mosaic plates and bowls at the Steuben factory. These plates were made of rods of glass that were cut and fused to make a pattern. Once the pattern was achieved the plates were transferred to a final mold to get the correct shape.
Carder designed his own Millefiori patterns for Steuben and some of his rods reflect his factory’s unique types of glass.
There have also been some vases found in this Millefiori style that are decorated with cameo-relief designs of flowers. The workmanship on these vases is exquisite and very few of these are believed to exist.
Matsu-No-Ke Cactus Glassware
Matsu-No-Ke Cactus is a line of glassware with cactus style decorations and embellishments. Carder had originated this design for a different company called Stevens & Williams and tweaked it for use at Steuben. Interestingly, none of the Cactus Glassware bears the mark of the Steuben factory, and it seems that the pieces were produced mostly for commercial value.
Grotesque Glassware is a name that is applied to the form of different glasses and vases rather than the material. Most of these wares had a handkerchief shaped top which was produced by creating a flared rim on a piece and turning it upside down. When the rim collapsed on itself it created this handkerchief effect. Then, if needed, the glassworker would tease it into the correct shape.
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