Early Steuben Glass Offered From the Collection of Alan and Susan Shovers

James Ardis
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Alan and Susan Shovers in their “glass museum.” Image from Miami’s Community News.
Alan and Susan Shovers in their “glass museum.” Image from Miami’s Community News.

For nearly 20 years, Alan and Susan Shovers have built one of the most expansive collections of early Steuben glass in the world. The pair prominently display the collection in their home, affectionately nicknamed their “glass museum.” 

Over the years, the Shovers have also made it a point to educate others on the craftsmanship of Steuben glass. Alan Shovers wrote and illustrated Objects of Desire: The Art of Frederick Carder. The couple has also donated some items from their beloved glass museum to the University of Southern Indiana so more collectors can study and enjoy these pieces.

Now, collectors the world over will have the opportunity to own early Steuben glass from the Alan and Susan Shovers collection. Akiba Antiques will present numerous examples as part of its The Marvelous Collection of Mr. & Mrs. Shovers auction. Alexander Anapolsky and Jonathan Akiba, owners of Akiba Antiques, took a road trip to Evansville, Indiana, where they personally curated and packed the collection. Learn more about Steuben glass and some of the items on offer before placing a bid.

Steuben Gold Aurene vase in the Norfolk pattern. Image from Akiba Antiques.
Steuben Gold Aurene vase in the Norfolk pattern. Image from Akiba Antiques.

Steuben Glass Works began operations in 1903. But for co-founder Frederick Carder, the journey started in 1897, when he dedicated himself to glass manufacturing. With Steuben Glass Works, Carder spent decades pioneering colored glass techniques, even under the stresses and shortages of World War I and the Great Depression. 

“[Frederick Carder] was remarkable for his absolute and total devotion to one material,” notes the President of the Corning Museum of Glass, Thomas S. Buechner. “The giants among his contemporaries— Fabergé, Galle, Tiffany, Lalique— all worked in other materials as well… Carder, on the other hand, concentrated on glassmaking.”

One of Frederick Carder’s most well-known innovations with Steuben Glass Works was the Aurene technique. Carder’s Aurene pieces have a distinct coloring made possible by coating glass in stannous chloride and reapplying heat. His Gold Aurene glassworks, in particular, are well-regarded by collectors.

Rare Steuben calcite w/ Gold Aurene vase. Image from Akiba Antiques.
Rare Steuben calcite w/ Gold Aurene vase. Image from Akiba Antiques.

Several examples are available in this Akiba Antiques sale, including a Gold Aurene vase from 1907-1910 (lot #6, estimate: USD 5,000 – $25,000). The unique color created through the Aurene technique can be seen in the leaves swerving across the vase. Collectors looking for Gold Aurene vases can also consider an example in a Norfolk pattern (lot #136, estimate: $1,000 – $5,000) and another in a thistle pattern (lot #137, estimate: $1,000 – $5,000), among several others.

Frederick Carder’s success did not come without controversy, though. Competitor Louis Comfort Tiffany thought Carder’s Aurene pieces were too similar to those created with his own Favrile technique. Tiffany threatened to sue, and to this day, historians are unsure who was in the right.

Frederick Carder Steuben blue Intarsia vase. Image from Akiba Antiques.
Frederick Carder Steuben blue Intarsia vase. Image from Akiba Antiques.

In 1916, Carder began experimenting with the Graal technique developed that same year in Sweden. This process creates a smooth, colored relief on glass. Eventually, Carder developed his own pieces, referred to as his Intarsia series, inspired by this technique.

Examples available in this auction include a blue Intarsia vase from 1930 (lot #11, estimate: $2,000 – $20,000). Before finding its way into the collection of Alan and Susan Shovers, this vase belonged to a salesperson at Steuben Glass Works, Charles Potter. Bidders can also consider a black Intarsia vase (lot #10, estimate: $2,000 – $20,000).

Steuben "Diving Lady" Figural Centerpiece Bowl. Image from Akiba Antiques.
Steuben “Diving Lady” Figural Centerpiece Bowl. Image from Akiba Antiques.

One of the most noted Steuben glass pieces in this sale is a “Diving Lady” bowl from 1926 (lot #4, estimate: $10,000 – $20,000). Three women, depicted in clear, frosted glass, hold up a multi-tiered bowl. Akiba Antiques notes this is one of only three examples of the “Diving Lady” bowl known to exist. 

By the 1920s, Steuben Glass Works was a subsidiary of Corning Glass Works and was under growing pressure from the parent company. World War I halted glass manufacturing, causing a financial strain that was exacerbated years later by the Great Depression. Eventually, the financial realities were too profound to ignore, and Corning Glass Works forced Steuben to suspend all work on colored glass and moved Frederick Carder elsewhere in the company. Despite the mounting setbacks, Carder never stopped experimenting with glass. He continued working on projects well into the 1950s, when he was in his nineties.

For collectors Alan and Susan Shovers, pulling together all these pieces was also a rewarding exercise in patience. They believe their success came down to “luck, timing, and their relationships with dealers and collectors.”

The hunt for antique glass pieces has even created a playful rivalry between the spouses. When Alan and Susan Shovers were invited to speak at the Carder Steuben Club 17th Annual Symposium in 2017, they titled their talk “Anything You Collect, I Collect Better.”

Akiba Antiques’ The Marvelous Collection of Mr. & Mrs. Shovers auction begins on July 29th, 2021, at 12:00 PM EDT. Register to bid and view each of the lots on LiveAuctioneers, Bidsquare, or Invaluable

Beyond Steuben glass, the sale will also feature an Amelia Peláez painting, an antique Chinese tea caddy, and many other lots across categories. Learn more about the diverse range of lots with Auction Daily’s preview of the event.

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James Ardis
James Ardis
Senior Writer and Editor

James Ardis is a writer, editor, and content strategist focused on the auction industry. His company, James Ardis Writing, has partnered with auction houses, galleries, and many clients outside the art world.

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