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In its 118 years in business, Steuben was a leader in the luxury glass market. Both vintage and contemporary Steuben pieces are the frequent target of imitators, and forged marks and signatures are often applied to Steuben lookalikes. In this article, we’ll discuss some easy tests to authenticate genuine Steuben and how to detect fake and forged marks.
The Categories of Steuben Glass
Authentic Steuben can be roughly divided into two broad categories:
- colored glass from 1903–1932
- colorless crystal from 1933–2011
Although the marks of the two periods differed, the exceptional qualities of Steuben glass remained the same and are one of the best indicators of authentic Steuben.
Indicators for Authentic Steuben
1. No Mold Seams
Genuine production-run Steuben of both periods, for example, is never found with mold seams. All colored art glass, including lamp shades, was free-blown, never made in press molds. Some stemware from both periods was shaped with molds but never pattern-molded. Any piece purporting to be Steuben with obvious mold seams should be viewed with great suspicion.
2. Ground Pontils or Ground, Polished Bases
Almost without exception, genuine production-run Steuben of both periods has either a ground pontil or a base that is entirely ground and polished. Figural pieces made since 1933, for example, have perfectly smooth, ground, and polished bases. Art glass pieces such as vases have ground and polished pontils. The only exceptions to this general rule are certain stemware patterns of both periods with particularly high-domed bases.
3. Flawless Glass
The quality of the glass is virtually flawless. Clear crystal since 1933 virtually never has extraneous air bubbles in the glass unless bubbles are part of an intentional artistic design. Accidental dips, slumps, or burst bubbles are never present.
Glass color is consistent from piece to piece within sets of stemware, lamp shades, and other similar groups. Color may vary from set to set, but it's virtually always consistent from piece to piece within sets. Clear Steuben refracts only the natural prismatic rainbow of colors, never a single tint such as green—a sign of iron impurities.
4. Precise Construction
Construction of authentic Steuben is exacting and precise:
- Bowls are perfectly centered on stems of wine glasses.
- Vase bodies are centered on their bases.
- Hand-tooled surface decorations—such as pulled feathers, pinches, rim crimps, etc.—are of consistent appearance around the circumference or entire object.
- Applied glass objects (such as single handles on pitchers and cruets and double handles on opposite sides of vases) are perfectly centered and square to the glass bodies to which they are applied. They are also symmetrical from side to side.
- Sizes of matching pieces within sets are virtually identical.
- Fitter rims of sets of shades, diameters of stemware bases, heights of water tumblers, and other similar dimensions appear virtually identical in size.
5. Authentic Marks and Signatures
The marks are genuine and not forgeries. See below for detailed information on the different marks and signatures used by Steuben over the years.
List of Steuben Marks and Signatures
The only authentic standard mark on colorless Steuben made since 1933 is simply “Steuben” handwritten in ordinary cursive lettering with a diamond-tipped pencil (see above), producing very thin, slightly frosted lines. Regardless of the size of the piece of glass, the mark is quite small, generally about 3/16 of an inch high, about ¾ inches wide, and rarely over one inch long.
Forgeries of diamond-tip marks appear most frequently on inexpensive crystal made in Eastern Europe. Forged marks are generally quite large and appear on pieces with obvious mold seams.
Prior to 1932, Steuben used several marks that varied depending on the type of glass. Steuben’s line of iridescent glass, named Aurene, had “Aurene” or “Steuben Aurene” engraved on the base (see above), usually around the ground pontil. Authentic engraved marks may or may not include a catalog number.
Aurene marks were applied with a rotary engraving wheel and have a shaky appearance. No authentic Aurene mark was applied with a diamond-tipped pencil, vibrating engraver, or rubber-stamped acid.
Pre-1932 Art Glass
The majority of Steuben’s pre-1932 art glass was marked with an acid-stamped mark consisting of a fleur-de-lis with the word “Steuben” within a banner (see above, leftmost image). Genuine fleur-de-lis marks are quite small, only about 3/8 of an inch in height. The only genuine iridescent Steuben that is marked with the acid stamp is light shades. Acid marks on any other iridescent Steuben are forgeries.
A genuine fleur-de-lis mark also rarely appears as an acid cut back mark, the fleur-de-lis being raised above the surrounding surface. In those marks, the banner across the middle may read either “Steuben” or a specific line of Steuben such as “Calcite” (see above, rightmost image).
The most commonly forged Steuben mark is the acid-stamped fleur-de-lis. Almost all forgeries are way too large, frequently an inch or more tall. Many acid-stamped marks are badly blurred, almost illegible (see above). Original marks, even those with naturally occurring wear, have smooth, evenly formed letters that are legible despite being worn.
Karen W. Hanna on June 08, 2020:
After having written about my inherited bowl 2 years ago, I have found out that the Steuben acid cut bowels were ot always signed. My bowel is Plum color with acid cut Thistle flowers allover it. The condition of the bowel/vase is very, very good. I do not know how old it is or where my
parents got it to begin with. Probably my Dad bought somewhere.
Karen Hanna on October 10, 2017:
I inherited a large bowel from my parents house. My Dad told me "Karen, please take very good care of that, it is very valuable". Since I have owned it, I have tried to confirm what it is. There are no marks anywhere on it but it looks just like some of the Steuben glass bowls or vases I have seen. It is very dark purple and is carved in a second layer with flowers all over it. The design is different from the one I saw marked Steuben, otherwise it was the same. There are no identification marks anywhere on it but I know my parents had for a very long time before I got it. I am 73. My Dad was 95 when he died and it was in the house for at least 40 years that I know of. I would like to find out from someone what it really is because I can't say for sure it is Steuben without any marks on it.
acidiumsix on December 07, 2016:
i recently purchased a glass peice that i have passed by in a local thrift store for the last month..the reason was because i wanted a tall iced tea glass with a heavy bottom..it is hour glass shaped with the bow being near the bottom and has 2 applied glass ribbon like features applied with absolute precision on opposite sides where the bow in the hourglass is..as i was placing it into the car i noticed that distinct "ting" that you hear when tapping quality crystal..apon further investigation i found the Steuben signature along the outer edge on the very bottom of the piece.. so i looked up the name..at first..since i was unfamiliar with the name i thought it said "starbucks"...lol..and i thought, "thats fitting..but this is not cheap glass"..so as in denial as i want to be about the fact that im 45 years old i stopped and bought a pair of reading glasses on the way home..and after much reading i am quite certain this is a genuine piece..id post a photo if the site would permit but it does not..anybody interested in taking a look or helping me authenticate the piece can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.. any communications will be welcome.
TomDNichols on March 06, 2012:
More precisely, a scam. Tom Nichols in Houston
Jennifer on February 07, 2012:
Ditto to Sandra's comment. I was not overly impressed with the decanter (the wide bottom tortoise)I purchased. I have some older Steuben pieces (that have the hand-signed Steuben marking) that are brilliantly clear. The pieces I purchased through their web site were made in Portugal and the standards don't seem to compare. At least my stopper fits. I recall seeing the full-cut decanter in the showroom in NYC. It once was spectacular. The outsourced glass does not appear to be the same quality. And I have noticed MORE things on the website that were not there when the closing sale first began. Buyer beware! The Steuben name is being ruined.
Sandra on December 29, 2011:
I recently purchased a Steuben tortoise full cut decanter from Steuben, and I was very excited at the opportunity to own a piece of their precious glass. It arrived several days ago. However, when I opened the box and looked at the decanter, I was really pretty disappointed. The workmanship is surprisingly quite imprecise, and it arrived with a mismatched stopper which is asymmetrical, and sits askew on the decanter. On the base of the decanter is machine etched, STEUBEN, in block letters. There is a blue sticker on the piece which states, STEUBEN MADE IN PORTUGAL. The sticker also has a logo on it, and it is not the complete Steuben logo--only the calipers. I realize Steuben outsourced some of their glassworks to Portugal, so I wasn't entirely surprised that this decanter was made there. However, I was stunned by the second rate workmanship, the lopsided mismatched stopper, the sticker with a similar- but not identical Steuben logo, and the machine etched Steuben on the base. It is certainly not the quality workmanship Steuben is known for, and I feel perhaps they sent a "second" or even a fake, in an effort to clear out their inventory and maximize their profit. The myriad artists and craftsmen who have given of their talents, time, and selves to create Steuben's reputation for excellence would be embarrassed by the quality of this piece. Shame on you Steuben for selling out on your reputation, and the people who created it for you.