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Steuben Glass To Shut Doors After 108 Years

Thu, 09/01/2011 - 5:38am
Ben Dobbin, Associated Press

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) — The Ohio owner of Steuben Glass, the company still making luxury lead crystal by hand in the United States, said Wednesday that it plans to end production after 108 years.

Schottenstein Stores Corp. of Columbus, Ohio, which bought the business from longtime owner Corning Inc. in 2008, said declining sales in the choppy economy have been eroding Steuben Glass' profitability.

Steuben's sole factory, which employs 60 people making everything from wine glasses to art objects in the small city of Corning in western New York, is set to close Nov. 29.

When the factory opened in 1903, founder and designer Frederick Carder's richly hued creations turned him into a giant of the glass arts scene alongside Louis Comfort Tiffany and Rene Lalique.

The Steuben Glass store in New York City will remain open until its inventory sells, while the shop at the Corning Museum of Glass will close in November, Schottenstein spokesman Ron Sykes said.

Before its sale to Schottenstein, the crystal maker had been unprofitable for a decade. It had lost $30 million over the previous five years, and its sales had shrunk to $25 million a year, company officials at Corning said.

Steuben Glass artwork can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Its wine glasses start at $75 apiece.

President Mark Samitt said in a statement that the company and its workers tried to reverse the downward sales trend by restructuring and repositioning the brand but were unsuccessful.

Schottenstein said hourly employees who are union members will be able to apply for openings at Corning Inc. for which they qualify.

Corning bought out Carder in 1918 and, as popular taste turned less ornate, formulated a colorless, highly refractive, heavy lead crystal that has distinguished Steuben since the Depression era.

To spread Steuben's reputation, Corning staged dazzling exhibitions of works in crystal by leading contemporary artists such as Henri Matisse, Georgia O'Keeffe and Salvador Dali.

Steuben advertisements were long a staple in The New York Times Magazine, showcasing limited-edition pieces including a trout jumping to catch a fly and an arctic fisherman poised on the ice, preparing to spear his catch.

To mark the company's centennial, about 200 rare and iconic Steuben pieces, many from private collections and major European and U.S. museums, were displayed at the Museum of the City of New York.

Corning Inc. evolved in the 1990s into the world's biggest maker of optical fiber and cable and now dominates the global market for liquid crystal display glass used in computer and television monitors.

Still a minority owner of Steuben, Corning is buying back the brand name for an undisclosed price.

 

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