Thursday, December 18, 2014

“Operative Potters”

[Roughly 1½" square. I didn’t think to measure.]

A page from the Kent State Libraries traces the history of the potters’ union. The National Brotherhood of Operative Potters began in 1890. The union went International in 1931. In 1969 “Operative Potters” became “Pottery and Allied Workers.” Several mergers later, the Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics & Allied Workers International Union took shape.

But what’s an “operative potter”? I thought operative might refer to functional not decorative porcelain. But no. Merriam-Webster explains: “a person who does work that involves using tools, operating machinery, etc.” In other words, someone doing factory work, not a solitary figure sitting at a wheel in a shed. [See below.]

I took this photograph right before our toilet plumbing fixture vanished with the rest of our old bathroom. I helped our plumber carry the fixture up a flight of stairs to his truck and got on his authority what I had suspected: there is no good way to carry one of these things. The fixture was likely original to our house, c. 1959.


December 19: An anonymous commenter points out the contrast between operative and speculative in Masonic tradition: practical construction work, spiritual construction work. I would like to know if members of, say, the Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ International Association are aware of that distinction.

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comments: 2

Anonymous said...

Operative in this context is most likely being used the way it is in Masonry. The Operative Potters may have been copying or at least accounting for trends in other guilds and orders when they decided on the name.

Google Operative vs Speculative...

Michael Leddy said...

I had no idea. Glancing around reveals “operative plasterer” as a current union i.d. I wonder what the term might mean to present-day plasterers.