Steuben Glass Works made a wide variety of glass during its years in production. From those with an iridescent finish to pieces filled with decorative bubbles, learn about a number of them here.
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The first Gold Aurene glass was made by Steuben in 1904, and it was eventually produced in blue (as shown here), brown, red and green. The name of that first glass referred to the golden iridescence of the finish.
The base glass used for these pieces was usually clear, amber or topaz. Tin and iron chloride sprays were used to give them their matte finish, according to The Collector’s Encyclopedia of American Art Glass by John A. Shuman III.
When examined with magnification, thousands of tiny fractures can be seen on the surface of the Aurene glass, which both reflects and refracts light to give it the finish its sheen. If spots were missed when the spray was being applied, the resulting mirror gloss was considered undesirable.
Blue Aurene came about in 1905 when cobalt was added to the Gold Aurene formula. Brown Aurene was made using brown glass sprayed with tin chloride. Alabaster and Calcite Steuben pieces were used as the base for Red and Green Aurene finishes decorated with flowers, leaf shapes, and a decorative technique known as feathering or trailing threads.
Aurene was a Steuben staple until 1933 when the production of these wares ceased. Vases were made more often than any other type of Aurene finished glass. All colors are considered to be rare and desirable collectibles, although Gold Aurene and Blue Aurene tend to be found most often. The marks frequently used on these pieces were "AURENE" and "STEUBEN AURENE" written in a rather amateurish fashion.
When new, Aurene glass competed with glassware made by both Loetz in Austria and Tiffany in the United States. After first seeing Aurene glass, Louis Comfort Tiffany sued Steuben thinking his Favrile glass was being copied. When, in fact, the method used to make Steuben's version was actually very different than Tiffany’s process for imparting an iridescent finish. The suit reportedly never made it to court.
About the Piece Shown Here
This Blue Aurene vase measuring 7 1/2" tall is referenced as shape #2683. It features a nice, even iridescence prized by collectors and is in excellent condition overall. Unmarked with only polished pontil on the bottom (so it was likely marked with a paper label when new in the early 1900s). This piece sold for $720 (not including buyer's premium) at Morphy Auctions in February 2013.
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While certainly not the only manufacturer to make this type of glass, Steuben's wares of this sort certainly have their fans in collecting circles. Frederick Carder, the co-founder of Steuben Glass Works, developed this "air trap" style of glass known as Bubbly in the 1920s and it was made by the firm into the 1930s. He may have been inspired by his prior work with Emile Gallé, who also artfully used air bubbles to decorate the glass.
The first pieces of Steuben's Bubbly were made using spiked molds. "When molten glass was rolled over the slab, the spikes left marks in the hot glass. A second applied a layer of glass locked in the air, so that the controlled designs could be achieved," according to The Collector’s Encyclopedia of American Art Glass by John A. Shuman III. The result was a fairly consistent pattern of bubbles throughout the glass.
Random air bubbles in some Bubbly pieces were created by introducing a willow branch into the glass while hot and removing it immediately. Gasses released from the green wood would enable the glass artisans to work the bubbles. This method also eliminated green and pink tinges that might occur in colorless glass, according to Shuman.
All the objects commonly made by Steuben were fashioned of this type of glass, including vases, bowls, perfume bottles, and candlesticks. Colors used were clear, Antique Green, Bristol Yellow, Wisteria, Topaz, French Blue, and Pomona Green.
Some pieces also had a threading design added for interest. The threading could be in the same color as the base piece, or in a contrasting color like the green threading on clear glass shown here.
Not all Bubbly pieces are found marked. Some have etched markings on the bottoms, while others have paper labels still attached. Some of those have the pattern name written in the center of the sticker.
About the Pieces Shown Here
This lot of Steuben Bubbly pieces included matching candlesticks and two different vase styles. Two of the pieces were etched with Steuben marks on their bases. All four pieces have contrasting threading décor in green. The lot sold for $287.50 (not including buyer’s premium) at Morphy Auctions in December 2010.
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Threading and Reeding
This method of decorating many pieces made by Steuben Glass Works involved applying threads of glass to the outer surfaces of completed wares. Some pieces, as with the bowl shown above, were decorated over the entire body. Most pieces, however, were only decorated on a portion of the object.
“When the spirals are fairly regular and close together, the décor was accomplished by machine and is correctly termed ‘threaded’ decoration.
On objects where the application is both irregular and haphazard, we say that the piece possesses a ‘reeded decoration’,” according to Shuman.
Most of this type of decoration was applied to a clear or iridescent blown glass base piece whether threaded or reeded. Hand-applied reeding can measure from very fine hair-like strands to fairly thick measuring up to 1/4-inch wide. The technique was achieved by the glassmaker rotating an object attached to a pontil rod over the arms of a chair. Molten glass threads were then poured onto the piece in a careful application. Some pieces have a vertical application of the threads so that they run up down in an overlapping fashion, according to Shuman. Some threads were marvered, or made flush with the surface, while others remained raised above of the base glass.
Threading that was not marvered into the base glass is more subject to damage since it can break off rather easily. It’s always wise to check Steuben threaded or reeded pieces for flaws before purchasing them. The texture of this type of glass is also known for harboring dust and dirt within the intricate pattern of the threads.
About the Pieces Shown Here
All the pieces shown are clear glass with green threading or reeding. This includes five wine glasses, a toothpick holder, two candlesticks, and three vases with the largest being 10” tall and all in excellent condition. These pieces sold as a lot for $316.25 (not including buyer’s premium) at Morphy Auctions in December 2010.
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Verre de Soie
Verre de Soie, pronounced "v-air da swah", was made by Steuben Glass Works while Frederick Carder was an art director for the firm from 1903 to 1933. The name translates to "silk glass" in French.
This type of finish was previously known as “Flint Iridescent” when it was made as early as the mid-1880s by Stevens and Williams, an English glass company Carder worked for before co-founding Steuben, according to Shuman.
Referred to as "V.D.S." by Steuben’s employees, this type of frosty hue was achieved by spraying stannous chloride on a base piece crafted of clear glass. The result was a white surface with a very silky feel. And while it is hard to photograph, the finish also casts a faint rainbow spectrum that was as popular with consumers when it was new as it is with collectors today. It was also Carder's favorite iridescent glass back in the day.
Consumers and collectors have referred to it as "Glass of Silk", "Angel’s Breath" and "Angel Skin" from time to time as well.