Don't get Confused

A guide to those words which sometimes confuse


BLISTER and BLOAT

A blister is a glaze fault sometimes created due to over glazing or severe over-firing which can cause the glaze to boil and create bubbles, some of which burst to form craters. The surface of the glaze is very unpleasant and looks like a boiled mass of bubbles, craters and pinholes. Whereas a bloat is a body fault looking like a very big blister or bulge. Caused by gas bubbles forming in the body and getting trapped under the surface of the piece by the vitrifying clay surface during firing.


BISCUIT and BISQUE

Same thing! But 'biscuit' is the Potteries way of saying it. Biscuit ware is undipped pottery which has been fired once, not glazed. Biscuit is the clay piece when it has been fired once to give it sufficient strength to be glazed or decorated. Biscuit ware feels dry and coarse. Jasper and Parian wares are left purposely in their 'biscuit' state but they are a particular ceramic recipe called stoneware which is particularly strong and non-porous. Earthenware biscuit is porous. Biscuit firing temperature? Earthenware around 1100°C to 1150°C, Bone China around 1200°C to 1250°C.


CHINA and POTTERY 

In The Staffordshire Potteries the word china is the name given to a particular and specific pottery recipe. For instance it may be fine china, vitreous china, stone china, or bone china. But in the United States the word china is often used to describe all types pottery. In The Potteries the word pottery is used like the word china is used in the US. More about recipes? More here>


CLAY and BODY

Clay is one of the raw materials which go into making a ceramic body, using a recipe.


CRACK-CRACKED and SOUND-CRACKED

Pottery which was found to be cracked after its glost firing was usually scrapped as useless. It was described as LUMP or PITCHER and usually sent to the shraff tip. However, some entrepreneurs in the industry were able to make money from selling cracked pottery - depending on how cracked it really was! Here, to explain is a quote from Brian Milner. He was one of those entrepreneurs in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. "We used to buy China teacups from Ridgways. These were termed "crack cracked" and "sound cracked". I am not kidding. They were [packed] 40 dozen in a teachest and we used to buy about 12 chests every 2 weeks. We would sound every one of the "crack cracked" and find a lot of sound ones which we used to decorate and we were still able to sell the really cracked to market men."

DINNER and TEA

A potter's dinner is eaten in the middle of the day, at lunchtime. Lunchtime is regarded as a posh dinner time. Tea is eaten at dinner time. Dinner in the evening would be regarded as posh. More here>


EARTHENWARE and STONEWARE and PORCELAIN

Very (very very) broadly speaking there are three types of pottery: earthenware, stoneware and porcelain.

  • Earthenware is a clay body fired at a comparatively low temperature, about 750 to 1100°C. It is porous and has to be glazed to make it impervious to liquids.
  • Stoneware is hard, impervious and made from a clay and flint mixture, fired at a high temperature of 1,200 to 1,400°C. Vitrification (the formation of a glassy outer surface) occurs at these high temperatures, so it does not have to be glazed unless a fine or coloured surface is required. 
  • Porcelain is fine ceramic and originated in China in about AD 700. It is made from fine white-firing clay, fired at a high temperature, and is translucent. Bone china (invented by Spode in the Stoke-on-Trent Potteries around 1800) is regarded as English Porcelain. 

HUMPER and WHIRLER

A humper is a fault on pottery flatware. It appears as a domed base, causing the plate (or other flatware) to bow upwards. It looks ugly and causes gravy to accumulate in a ring around the edge of the plate. Regarded as seconds, or if its really bad, lump. On the other hand, a whirler is the exact opposite. It's also a pottery flatware fault, but this time refers to a plate with a bowed base so that it doesn't sit flat on a table but spins or whirls around. Giddy making.  Causes gravy to accumulate in a pool in the middle of the plate.


JIGGER and JOLLEY

A jigger is a potter's machine for making flatware. A jolley is a potter's machine for making for holloware. Look for the OLL in jOLLey and hOLLow and you'll remember it! (Interestingly, and to confuse matters, in the 1840s Jolley was the word used for making flatware.)  More here>


MAIOLICA and MAJOLICA

Maiolica pottery has its origins in Spain and Italy. It is earthenware, fired to the biscuit stage, then covered with opaque, white, tin glaze and then superbly painted directly onto the unfired glaze surface with decoration in Renaissance styles. The decoration is so detailed that it is akin to a painting. The piece is then fired again. Majolica pottery has its origins in Victorian Britain. It is also earthenware and also fired to the biscuit stage. But it is then decorated with richly coloured, glossy lead glazes, frequently in a relief decorated and naturalistic style. The piece is then fired again. The names of these two types of pottery are very often confused and, quite frankly, misleadingly mixed up. Take care with this one, there is a lot of incorrect information posted on the web! This is a helpful site here>

Majolica on the left vs Maiolica on the right


MUFFIN and MUFFIN DISH and MUFFIN PLATE

An American Muffin is a small domed spongy cake made with butter, plain flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, sugar, salt, milk, and a large egg. An English Muffin is leavened bread, beloved by the English aristocracy particularly in the early 20th Century and served in a Muffin Dish. A Muffin Dish should not be confused with the Muffin which is a small pottery plate measuring 5 or 6 inches in diameter. A Muffin is similar to a TWIFFLER or TWIFLER or TWYFLER - but of different diameter.


OVEN and KILN

A bottle kiln is the same as bottle oven. But not quite! The words do tend to be interchangeable. But the word oven usually meant the biscuit or glost firing ovens and the word 'kiln' usually meant the enamel firing kiln, hardening-on kiln or calcining kiln. But usage did vary from factory to factory, so its complicated and difficult to be precise. More here> at The Potteries Bottle Oven website.


PEGGING and STOPPING

Pegging is the process of repairing a crack in a clay piece by filling it with slip and smoothing it over before the piece is fired. Hopefully it will be invisible after firing.  Stopping is the process of filling a crack in a fired piece using a mixture of pre-fired body, ground to a fine particle size, and mixed with a resin which sets hard and seals the crack. Many thanks to David Broadhurst for suggesting these two words for inclusion. March 2016 Additional:  "Pegging can also be done in the dry clay state by scraping the crack with a wooden peg and then rubbing usually with a bone handled knife. Bone handled knives were also used to repair fish cracks on the outside rims of closets."


PLACER and PLACER

A placer is the person, usually male but could be female, who places individual clay pieces or dipped biscuit pieces into saggars before they are placed (or set in) the oven for firing. If the firing was glost then he or she would also need to place wads of wad clay on the top rim of the saggar before it was taken into the oven. A placer is also the man who fills or sets the oven with saggars containing the ware which had been placed into the saggars by the placer. (Sorry, but I agree it can be confusing to a beginner!) The placer works for the cod, his boss.


POTTERY FAULTS

The description of a classification of the quality of pottery ware - the seven grades of pot!

  1. BEST - First quality pottery. Good ware. Sometimes called FIRSTS. But there is no such thing as a perfect pot since every piece will always have some sort of slight blemish - this is the very nature of pottery.
  2. BEST SECOND - Not bad enough to be a SECOND and not good enough to be best.
  3. SECONDS - Imperfect pottery. Not BEST and not THIRDS or LUMP! Slightly blemished or faulty and sold at a slight discount.
  4. WORST SECONDS - Sometimes called WORSER SECONDS. Slightly more imperfect than SECONDS. Then there was a DEGREE WORSER which was worse than WORST SECONDS. Or even WORSER WORSER. But not THIRDS, just yet.
  5. THIRDS - This signifies that the ware is well below the usual BEST standard, and not even good enough to fall within the description of SECONDS. But better than LUMP. The ware was/is still marketable, however, and was sold to hawkers or market stall holders for sale on the 'stones'. Badly twisted ware, crooked holloware, nipped ware and whirler plates fall into this category.
  6. LUMP - Massively faulty pottery. So bad that it is worse than WORSER SECONDS. Or even THIRDS. This is almost, but not quite, the lowest quality of ware that leaves any potbank, and usually it is ware that has just managed to escape being deliberately smashed. Whilst there may have been possibilities in some china shops of disposing of SECONDS, or even THIRDS the risk of dealing in LUMP is "too great to be incurred lightheartedly." Top-end, high-grade potbanks see to it that LUMP is sent to the shraff tip, "in spite of the fact that enquiries were freely received from the poorer districts or export for mixed grades of lump."  Usually, about 100 years later,  lump re-appears on TV shows as 'rare and valuable.'  That’s irony!
  7. PITCHER Worse than lump. To be thrown away. Broken. Useless. But strangely saleable, at a price, in some quarters!

PUTTER UP and SITTER UP

A putter up is an occupation, usually female, in the dipping house.  She either takes biscuit holloware (cups for instance) from a ware basket, and places them onto a board in front of the dipper ready for dipping or she takes the recently dipped holloware and places it onto trays or bats or ware boards before they are taken away to dry before the glost fire. A sitter up is a bottle oven fireman's assistant (maybe the fireman's apprentice). He kindles, cajoles, guards, tenders and baits the oven while the fireman takes a break during the firing cycle. The sitter up will get the oven up to a high temperature after about 20 hours of firing, then the fireman takes over to finish off the fire completely.  See also RUBBER UP here>


RIDDING and REBUILD

This is all about Bottle Ovens. Ridding was an essential process in the life of a bottle oven. It entailed the thorough repair and relaying of the flues, oven bottoms, and bags. This was a major operation which put the oven out of use for some considerable time. It needed to be done every three years or so - depending on the work that the oven had been put to. In 1920 ridding would cost around £30. A rebuild was, as it says, a complete rebuild of a bottle oven, excluding the hovel, and was required, on average, every 20 years. More here> at The Potteries Bottle Oven website.


SAFF RUCK, SHAFF RUCK, SHORD RUCK, SHAWDRUCK, SHARD RUCK, SHERD RUCK,  SHRAFF RUCK, SHRAFF TIP. And sometimes simply SAFF  

Don't get confused. They all mean the same thing. A rubbish tip of waste potters moulds, broken saggars and faulty ware such as lump or wasters. A heap of broken crockery!


SAGGAR SHOP and SAGGAR HOUSE

The saggar house was where saggars were actually made. It was where the saggar maker and his saggar maker's bottom knocker created clay saggars. The saggar shop was where they were used. It was here that they were placed (filled) with either clay or glazed biscuit pieces ready for placing (setting) in the bottle oven for firing.


SINK and WASHBASIN and LAVATORY

A sink is used in a kitchen, not a bathroom. A washbasin is used in a bathroom. A lavatory is not a toilet, it's a washbasin but not a sink. Confused?  Here is a more in-depth explanation but it's messy, complicated and a tad confusing, so bear with me!  In the good old days, in the UK sanitaryware industry, sanitary pottery casters and warehouse packers, called a WASHBASIN a TABLE. But why? Well, in the late 1800s when large WASHBASINS were designed to stand on legs rather than a single column pedestal (as is common in the UK today, 2015) the washbasin actually looked like a TABLE. But actually, the correct word, in those days, for a WASHBASIN or TABLE was LAVATORY. The word LAVATORY is derived from the Latin word LAVARE, meaning 'to wash.' Nowadays, a TOILET is often mistakenly called a LAVATORY since this is regarded as polite. But technically, it is incorrect. Of course, while it would be correct to wash your hands in a LAVATORY or WASHBASIN or SINK (see below) it would be odd to wash your hands in a TOILET, or worse still, to do something 'exceptional' in a LAVATORY,  WASHBASIN or SINK.



SORTING and SELECTING

Sorting is the removal of stuck-on pips which have been used to keep pottery apart during a glost fire. Its the same as as 'ginneting.'   But selecting is the inspection of the product after a processing stage to look for faults.


TRADE SIZES

The Staffordshire pottery industry had a uniquely peculiar system for describing the sizes of its products. To an outsider and the uninitiated, it was complicated, messy, inconsistent and arbitrary. To those in the know, a manufacturer and his workers, it was easy to understand but skewed to the benefit of the boss.

The nominal Trade sizes of flatware, such as plates and dishes, differ from the Actual sizes in inches. For example, a Trade 8” plate usually measures Actual 9” and a Trade 10” plate measures Actual 10.5” or more. Similarly, a 16” Trade oval meat dish would truly measure 18” Actual and the whole nest of dishes will be greater in Actual size than the nominal Trade size.



But, probably, the most perplexing point is encountered in connection with holloware. Jugs. teapots, pudding bowls and the like are described under trade terms such as 24s, 30s and 36s, each gradation occurring in spans of sixes. And, counter-intuitively, the smaller the number the larger the size! The full range of Trade Sizes was 6s, 12s, 18s, 24s, 30s, 36s, 42s, 48s, 54s, and 60s.  The underlying principle of this arrangement appears to have come down through the generations, and the apparent inconsistencies are accounted for by the fact that originally, pottery was sold by the basket, in what were known as "warehouse dozens”. The large size jug or teapot or bowl would be twelve to the dozen, and called a 12s; the next smaller size would be eighteen to the dozen, and styled an 18s; the pint size would be twenty-four to the dozen, and called a 24s and so on down or up the scale. To add to the confusion, one manufacturer's sizes do not necessarily conform with those of other manufacturers; the shapes may be modelled to bigger or smaller capacities.

During the early 20th Century the system was changed and articles were sold in dozens of twelve, yet the old method of describing the sizes persisted well into the 1990s.


TWIFFLER and MUFFIN and PLATE

These are three different sizes of plates. Read on.  In 1843 the Potters' Union began putting right the wrongs which they believed their employers had forced upon their members. One concerned the sizing of flatware and the price which a potter would be paid for making each size of plate.  Here is an extract from The Staffordshire Potter by Harold Owen, originally published in 1901.  "The Mystery of the Muffin. The Union of 1843 found, at its birth, a strike already in progress … but there was a new grievance. In the trade, the different size of plates are distinguished by separate names. The largest size is called a "plate," the next a “ twiffler," the smallest a "muffin." One of the employers, whose workmen had struck, re-christened the series. He called the plate a twiffler, the twiffler a muffin, and the muffin, in the words of the workmen, he “sent to God knew where.” In other words, the men were told that they must make plates at the same price as twifflers, and twifflers at the same price as muffins. There was no alteration in the sizes - the nomenclature and prices alone were affected. This is an interesting circumstance, inasmuch as it is the earliest recorded example of a practice in the trade which subsequently became very common as an oblique method of a reduction in wages."

WICKET and CLAMMINS

The wicket is the open entrance into a bottle oven. Whereas the clammins is the name of the brickwork built to seal the wicket before firing.


WHERE and WEAR and WARE

Where is the wear on this ware?  Not so bad when you read it to yourself. But say it out loud and the listener can easily become confused!  Ware is the potbank word here, meaning pottery product. It might be earthenware, chinaware or perhaps clayware. And it could all be stored in a warehouse before being sold to middle men who peddle their wares.