Near the end of a recent tour of the Steuben Glass section at the Museum of Glass in Corning, New York, the guide said that she had learned that Steuben Glass was going out of business.
Perhaps, she wondered, were we going to be the last tour?
Steuben Glass is a 108-year-old American manufacturer of art glass. It specialized in designer glass that, in the waning days of the Victorian era, was a sought-after decoration for a mansion living room or as a wedding gift.
As tastes changed, and the economy dipped, Steuben's crystal ball shattered. Corning Glass, which had been moving to high technology glass, found it could no longer support the much smaller and less profitable designer glass and the company sold it in 2008 to Schottenstein Stores Corp. of Columbus, Ohio. The business had lost nearly $6 million in 2007.
Schottenstein Stores owns stakes in DSW, American Signature Furniture, American Eagle Outfitters, SB Capital Group, Albertsons grocery, some 50 shopping centers, and five factories. It owns the rights to many brands including: Bugle Boy, Cannon, Royal Velvet, Charisma and Fieldcrest.
Shortly after Schottenstein purchased Steuben Glass, the economy dipped, and after three unprofitable years, it decided to close the business.
Schottenstein announced that its sole factory and its Corning Museum of Glass retail store, will close Nov. 29. Over 70 employees, some of them master glass blowers, will lose their jobs. The Steuben store on Madison Avenue in Manhattan will close as soon as it can sell off its inventory.
Steuben Glass Works was founded in 1903 in Corning, New York by glass designer Fredrick C. Carder and glass manufacturer Thomas G. Hawkes. Carder, who was hired away from the English firm of Stevens & Williams, experimented with colored glass and perfected an iridescent art glass that competed with Tiffany. Steuben produced art glass in more than 7,000 shapes and 140 colors.
Unable to obtain raw materials during World War I, Steuben was sold to Corning Glass Works. Carder continued as division manager.
In 1932, when Steuben's new president decided to concentrate on colorless glass, Carder left Steuben to become design director of Corning Glass Works. There, he oversaw such large-scale projects as the making of cast panels for Rockefeller Center in New York City. At the age of 96, he closed his studio and retired.
The Steuben Glass factory is located next to the Corning Museum of Glass. It is still owned by Corning Inc., which was leasing it to Schottenstein. The lease was due to expire in 2012.
Corning is repurchasing the Steuben trademark although it has no plans to reenter the designer glass field.