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Frederick Carder: The Early Years: An exploration of Carder’s years at Stevens & Williams

All About Glass

Frederick Carder was born on September 18, 1863, in Brockmoor, Kingswinford, Staffordshire (now part of the English county of West Midlands), the son of Caleb and Annie Carder. His father and grandfather owned Leys Pottery, and by the age of 14, Frederick Carder had left school in order to start working in the family business. However, following the death of his grandfather in 1878, Carder decided that his position at the pottery was untenable, and through the influence of John Northwood I (1836–1902), he decided to enter the glassmaking business. By 1881, Carder was a draftsman and designer at the Stourbridge firm of Stevens & Williams. This article focuses exclusively on what Carder produced for Stevens & Williams before he and his family relocated to Corning, New York, in 1903.

The glass scholar and art historian Charles Hajdamach has accurately stated that, in terms of Carder’s reputation and legacy, he is (and was) somewhat revered in the United States, while he is regarded in his native England as something of a deserter. This is very unfortunate in light of his enormous contribution to the output of Stevens & Williams. The solid foundation he established there in all of the techniques and processes involved in the successful production of glass led to the founding and sustainable success of the Steuben Glass Works in Corning.

This article illustrates Carder’s work for Stevens & Williams in the collection of The Corning Museum of Glass, drawings from the company’s archive in the Museum’s Rakow Research Library, and a previously unrecorded Carder notebook dating from 1887–1888, which is also housed in the Rakow Library [CMGL 84746].

Detail of The Muses, Frederick Carder, Stevens & Williams, Stourbridge, England, 1889. Overall Height: 55 cm; Rim Diameter: 9.7 cm. (68.2.23, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Gillette Welles, Sr.)The Stevens & Williams objects in the Museum’s collection were acquired by bequest of Gladys Carder (Frederick’s daughter) in 1969; as gifts from her and her husband, Gillett Welles, before her death; and as gifts made by her husband during the early 1970s. Frederick Carder took these objects with him when he left England in 1903, and they were probably in his possession from the time they were made in the late 19th century throughout his career in the United States. Many of these pieces are signed “F. Carder” on the base, and these signatures were likely added after the pieces were made or after Carder arrived in Corning.

Carder obviously learned the technique of cameo engraving from his mentor, John Northwood. According to Hajdamach:

After establishing his acid-etching workshop, Northwood and his factory carried out for Stevens & Williams a great deal of etched and engraved work, which is recorded in the archives of Royal Brierley Crystal. . . . With that connection and with his success in cameo, Northwood was invited by Joseph Silvers Williams-Thomas to join the company as its art director and works manager. Carder was 18 years old. Northwood was 27 years older, had just completed a stunning cycle of cameo masterpieces, and was regarded as one of the greatest of the nineteenth-century glass pioneers.[1]

But this symbiotic relationship between mentor and pupil would eventually deteriorate to such an extent that Carder apparently decided he had no choice but to leave Stourbridge when John Northwood II succeeded to his father’s position as art director at Stevens & Williams.

Cameo vase, Frederick Carder for Stevens & Williams, England, Brierley Hill, about 1870-1899. (69.2.46)The influence of Asian decorative arts was very strong at that time. Japonisme, which was widely reflected in European decorative arts, was among the harbingers of Art Nouveau. Carder’s work was inspired by this trend, and especially by such French glassmakers as François-Eugène Rousseau (1827–1891) and Ernest-Baptiste Léveillé (1841–1913).

Carder’s masterpiece The Muses [68.2.23] was completed in 1889, when he was just 25 years old. This vase was given to The Corning Museum of Glass during Gladys Carder Welles’s lifetime.  

A related masterwork, made one year earlier, is titled Cupid and Psyche [68.2.22], and it, too, was added to the Corning collection as a gift from Mrs. Welles. Made of transparent dark amethyst lead glass, this vase has a sculpted wax coating.

Carder's notebookThe recently identified Carder notebook in the Rakow Library (Carder Steuben Archives, box 4), dated October 24, 1887, includes various numbered shapes, as well as some recipes, ware numbers, orders, miscellaneous notes, and drawings. There are several beautiful vase and jug/ewer forms, and an interesting façon de Venise covered goblet. The notebook presumably has two sequences because, about two-thirds of the way through, the volume must be turned around in order to be read properly.

The most interesting aspect of the second part of the notebook is the following reference: “Léveillé of Paris has been taken off a patent in this country for Glass.” This is extremely significant in terms of the craquelé technique that Léveillé developed in France. Although the technique was first used in 16th-century Venice, it was rediscovered in the 19th century by the English glassmaker Apsley Pellatt. Craquelé was characteristic of the unique work of Rousseau, and of the stunning pieces made by his collaborator/pupil Léveillé. Crackle glass has a deliberately rough and fractured appearance. The hot parison is plunged into cold water during the blowing process, creating a network of cracks and fissures that continue to grow during later blowing and reheating. An adept hand is required to maintain the crackled effect, the result of which is also known as ice glass.

An example of the craquelé technique made by Carder for Stevens & Williams is a cut vase [70.2.15] from about 1884 that is transparent yellowish, pink, green, and black-brown, with powdered glass inclusions that resemble moss agate. The inner surface of the body has the crackled appearance, and “F Carder” is wheel-engraved on the pontil mark.

The notebook refers to “experiments of Aventurine Glass” in January 1888, stating that “Exp. 2-13 – had streaks of Aventurine, whereas 4 had too much iron, making it dark and too opaque looking. No. 2 and 3 had very minute specks of Cu [copper] observable with microscope & streaks of brighter crystals coming through the mass.” There are also references to “Cryolite Glass” (cryolite opal or bone glass):

A series of experiments have been tried to determine which of the constituents of cryolite occasions the opalescence of cryolite opal or Bone Glass. Analysis of the glass showed that its formation depended on the precursor of (1) the Aluminium, (2) the fluoride & (3) the fluorine and aluminium contained in cryolite. It was found that opal glass could not be obtained from either aluminium or sodium fluoride, but that for its production the presence of both is considered necessary. Probably aluminium fluoride is formed which dissolved in the fused Glass & is deposited on cooling in a finely divided form producing a milkiness in the glass.

“Analysis of Venetian Aventurine” is also mentioned in the notebook, illustrating Carder’s preoccupation with perfecting its formula.

In addition to experimenting with various ingredients in making unique types of glass, Carder was drawing on a very wide range of influences. His notebook from 1897 records his visit to Paris, where he saw vases by Emile Gallé and recorded one vase with a carved rim. Therefore, it is perhaps not unusual that one of Carder’s drawings features Gallé’s favorite motif, the dragonfly. According to Hajdamach, Carder found this inspiration in a Japanese bronze figure of a carp.[2]

Japonisme is also evident in the form of the Mat-su-no-ke designs of glass for Stevens & Williams, which can be seen in a candlestick [69.2.15], vase [70.2.14], and bowl [69.2.11], dating from 1884 to the 1890s.

The classical influence was also apparent in much Stevens & Williams material designed by Frederick Carder, and with the increasing popularization of such ancient Roman sites as Pompeii and Herculaneum, the public’s imagination was transfixed by the subject. This influence on Carder’s oeuvre is apparent from his sketches, especially one dating from 1888 and based on his visit to the South Kensington Museum in London, now the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Corning Museum’s holdings from the Stevens & Williams Pompeian ware series include vases [70.2.1769.2.19], candlesticks [70.2.18], and a cologne bottle and stopper [69.2.21], with four objects signed by Carder.

More commercially successful and accessible material produced by Stevens & Williams included such commemorative wares as a vase with a portrait of Queen Victoria from about 1887 [71.2.58], which marked the queen’s golden jubilee. In the company’s design books from the year 1887, there is a pattern 12237, titled “Queen’s Head,” featuring this vase, which encloses a portrait sulphide of the queen.

Among the other very interesting designs produced by Stevens & Williams and created by Frederick Carder in the Corning Museum of Glass collection is a bowl/vase made between 1880 and 1889; it is signed “Fred’k Carder” [71.2.56]. This piece is similar to Léveillé’s craquelé glass referred to above, which is emblematic of the considerable French influence on English glassmaking at that time.

Vase, Frederick Carder for Stevens & Williams, England, about 1880-1889. (59.2.24, Gift of Frederick Carder)This bulbous, elongated colorless vase with a copper blue fishnet pattern on the body [59.2.24] is a significant work because it was donated to the Corning collection by Frederick Carder only eight years after the founding of the Museum.

A magnificent bowl with stand [2010.2.35] produced sometime in the 1880s was designed by Carder for Stevens & Williams and manufactured by the Meridien Silver Company. The glass cutter for this piece was Joshua Hodgetts.

An amethyst (manganese)-colored to transparent goblet with transparent foot has a traditional conical form with a slightly flared rim, a solid stem, and a domed circular foot [2004.2.11]. It was made in the late 19th century, probably by Stevens & Williams but possibly by Thomas Webb & Sons. It is nevertheless typical of some of the Stevens & Williams designs from boxes 30 and 31 of the Stevens & Williams Archive in the Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass.

A relatively recent Stevens & Williams acquisition by the Museum is a beautiful cameo lamp dating from about 1885–1900 [2002.2.12], the period that marked the high point of English cameo glass production.

A cologne bottle and stopper [59.2.19] made in the last quarter of the 19th century was given to the Museum in 1959. It displays naturalistic floral motifs that can also be seen in design sheets from Stevens & Williams, which may well have been drawn by Frederick Carder.

Another 1959 gift from Frederick Carder is a cologne bottle and stopper of blown, cut, engraved, and polished glass, created sometime between 1870 and 1899 [59.2.12]. The floral decoration is extremely similar to that found in boxes 30 and 31 of the Stevens & Williams design sheets in the collection of the Rakow Library.

By comparison with what was being produced at Stevens & Williams, here is a work made by Thomas Webb & Sons: a fountain with a marble base and fairy lamps [2013.2.1] dating to about 1886–1890. The glass came from Webb, and Samuel Clarke and Joseph Storer patented the fairy lamps and the fountain respectively. It is interesting to compare this fountain (an excellent example of Victoriana) with the Stevens & Williams cameo lamp referred to above. The fountain is gilded and enameled, while the lamp is cameo-engraved.

Turning our attention to the design sheets in boxes 30 and 31 of the Stevens & Williams archive in the Rakow Library, we can detect several links between the sheets and the company’s pattern books on microfilm, which are also in the Rakow Library’s collection.

Design drawing for richly cut rock crystal goblet, 1899. (CMGL 135424)Here, for example (left), is a richly cut goblet bearing the monogram (“FC”) of Frederick Carder [CMGL 135424]. It offers an intriguing use of floral and vine motifs that are not too dissimilar to the background motifs found in pattern 13366 from the Stevens & Williams pattern books of 1887–1888.

The next two design sheets, which show a scent bottle inscribed “Sc M, No. 2 size, 2-17/6, 3-14/6,” illustrate nationalist symbolism in the arts [CMGL 135423 and 135425]. Several nationalist cultural movements occurred throughout Europe during the 19th century. In Ireland, for example, the Celtic Revival (or neo-Celtic movement) extended from the late 19th century to the 1920s in the applied arts, as well as in literature, music, and language. A similar “revival” of interest in native culture took place, albeit to a lesser and not as overtly political extent, in Scotland. The thistle motifs on the scent bottle symbolize Scotland, and they were usually placed alongside the rose representing England and the shamrock symbolizing Ireland in decoration referring to the Act of Union (1801), which, until the signing in 1921 of the Anglo-Irish Treaty (which granted independence to Ireland), joined England, Ireland, and Scotland under the aegis of the United Kingdom.

Design drawing for scent bottle with clover or shamrock decoration, Stevens & Williams Ltd., 1899. (CMGL 135425)This scent bottle (right) has shamrock motifs, which can be interpreted as applied decoration referring to Ireland.

Pattern 15294 [CMGL 135431] is heavily cut, and it dates from the 1880s to perhaps the turn of the 20th century. It continues to reflect a strong Neoclassical influence.

The next two designs, numbers 24902½ [CMGL 135414] and 24911½ [CMGL 135409], illustrate the late 19th-century fashion for stoppered ewers used to contain claret. They are described in the drawings as “rock crystal work,” and they are similar in shape to pattern 12236 in the 1887–1888 Stevens & Williams pattern books. They indicate that the manufacturer may have decided to retain them as popular forms that were commercially viable.

The next seven design sheets reflect the massive influence of the Art Nouveau movement on English glass design of the period. The numbers are higher, meaning that the designs are to be dated later (1890s to 1900). Design 25817 [CMGL 135427] reads, “Rich rock crystal Clareturn.” Design 25908 [CMGL 135426] has this faint note at the right: “You will be copying this as nearly the same as we did for [sic], but it is Carder’s design.”

Design No. 25914: New secession claret, Stevens & Williams Ltd., 1899. CMGL 135381Design 25914 [CMGL 135381] is described as “New Secession Claret . . . in pure crystal [lead/flint glass] – 30 Aug. 99.” All of these designs are stamped “1899,” which raises the question of what Carder was doing with these designs. Were they all his? The term “Secession,” an alternative name for Art Nouveau, was used mostly in the German-speaking countries of Europe.

Another New Secession design, no. 26300 [CMGL 135403], is for a claret or whisky jug, with a watermark of “1898” running along the left side. No. 26303 [CMGL 135375] shows the influence of japonisme. It dates from the turn of the 20th century, shortly before Carder arrived in Corning, New York. The use of the carp or other fish motif correlates with a Rousseau design of about 1880. The design is referred to as “New Secession Salad Bowl,” and it includes “In pure crystal – 63/ea.” and “In cased colors – 70/=ca.” The word “colors” is spelled without the letter u, so perhaps this drawing was made after Carder’s departure for the United States.

Design 26312 [CMGL 135392] is labeled “New Secession Whisky Jug.” It has a silver mount (inscribed on the drawing) and a “peg stopper for silver mount” (inscribed in pencil). This is a wonderful use of applied decoration in order to emphasize the shape of the jug.

The next design shows heavy cutting typical of the turn of the 20th century [CMGL 135428], followed by a design inscribed “Heavy rock crystal”: a glass for hock or another wine [CMGL 135396]. The naturalistic cut motifs include grapes on a vine, suggesting that the vessel is to be used for wine. 

This design for a slender, narrow outsplayed bottle with an inscription [CMGL 135408] includes the words “can be made straight neck [sic] for silver mounting if required. We can also make larger size to hold a bottle . . . 22/6 + 10%.” It probably dates to the late 1890s.

The final design [CMGL 135407] from the loose drawings in boxes 30 and 31 of the Stevens & Williams Archive shows a heavily cut pitcher in the turn-of-the-century style of cutting that was developed from the shapes of ewers, as seen in the Stevens & Williams pattern books of 1887–1888. The patterns referred to are 13366 and 13367.

Cameo Plate entitled ‘Immortality of the Arts’, Frederick Carder, Stevens & Williams, Stourbridge, England, 1891. Overall Height: 4.6 cm; Diameter (max): 33 cm. (69.2.39, bequest of Gladys Carder Welles)I conclude by drawing attention to a few more significant pieces of cameo-carved glass by Frederick Carder in the Corning collection. One is the celebrated Immortality of the Arts cameo plate [69.2.39], designed and made by Carder in 1891. This unfinished plate, which is nevertheless signed and dated by the artist, was given to the Museum in 1969 as part of the Gladys Carder Welles bequest.

More Carder cameo glass dating from the 1890s includes a vase [55.2.7] with translucent purple and opaque white layers, and an opaque pink and white perfume bottle from about 1890 to 1900 [55.2.8]. Both were gifts of Frederick Carder.

The hallmark of Stevens & Williams during the last two decades of the 19th century was not solely cameo glass and intaglio production. There were also blown, cut, and engraved pieces such as this engraved bowl [70.2.16] from about 1890 to 1900. Signed “S & W & FC,” it was part of the Gillett Welles Sr. Collection. Therefore, the piece was once owned by Carder himself. The bowl incorporates naturalistic motifs, which are found on many of Carder’s works during these years.

Talk presented to the Carder Steuben Club at its annual seminar, The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, September 20, 2013.

[1]. Charles R. Hajdamach, “The English Years, 1880–1903: Carder’s Artistic Milieu and Early Successes,” in Thomas P. Dimitroff, Frederick Carder and Steuben Glass: American Classics, Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 1998, p. 29.

[2]. Ibid., p. 32.

Published on May 2, 2014

Learn more about objects mentioned in this article

Frederick Carder notebook collection. - Library
Cameo Vase - Artwork
The Muses - Artwork
Cupid and Psyche - Artwork
Vase - Artwork
Mat-su-no-ke Candlestick - Artwork
Mat-su-no-ke Vase - Artwork
Mat-su-no-ke Bowl - Artwork
Vase - Artwork
Pompeiian Ware Candlestick - Artwork