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Glassblowing and Sand Quarrying: Resources sought

Discussion in 'Research' started by Rosemary Tea, Apr 29, 2021.

  1. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Inkling

    I'm looking for some solid information on glassblowing and sand quarrying, at the level of technology available prior to the industrial revolution. I have a wip that includes a glassblower and his employees (apprentices and journeymen) and the nearby sand quarry where they're getting their raw materials. Trying to make it as accurate as possible.

    Google searching has given me a general overview, but I can't find answers to my specific questions:

    - What would a pre-modern sand quarry look like? How big would it be? The images I've found are all of contemporary quarries. I expect it would look rather different if it hasn't been shaped by modern machinery.

    - Who would do the quarrying? The glassblowers themselves? Or would it be a separate operation? I imagine quarrying sand would be a laborers' job, while glassblowing is a highly specialized skill. I would think the glassblowers would be entirely focused on the glassblowing part of it, and let less specialized laborers supply the raw material. But, if it's a small operation, might they do their own quarrying, maybe in the off season? Which brings up the next question....

    - One source I found online said glassblowers stopped working in the summer because it was too hot. Makes sense, in the absence of modern cooling systems. But I can't find anything to back that up. Googling "summer glassblowing" or any variant thereof mainly brings up summer glassblowing workshops at various rec centers and day camps. The way I've written the story so far, the glassblowing shop is operating when certain events are taking place, which the glassblower's apprentice plays a key part in, and other parameters of the story require those events to be taking place in the summer. It would be trickier to write if the glassblower closes the shop at that time.

    - By the same token, would quarrying take place year round, or just seasonally? The climate where my story is set is mildly four season: summers get hot, but the mercury won't break 100 (Fahrenheit) unless there's an extreme heat wave. Winters see a little snow, but not a pileup of it, there's more frost and rain than there is snow. I've imagined, so far, that there would be no quarrying in the winter if it's icy. Plus, I don't envision there being permanent housing for the laborers, assuming laborers are doing the work, anywhere near the quarry. Rather, they set up a seasonal camp.

    Would appreciate any information and any resources.
  2. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Maester

    I'm no expert on glass and I (unfortunately) don't have time to dive into this research rabit hole. But I might be able to give you a direction you can search in. In Europe, Venice was the premier glass manufacturer for a large part of the pre-modern era. A search like "glass blowing Venice renaissance" gives a ton on history on the subject (this is an interesting one: History and Evolution of Glass Blowing (mountainglass.com) not so much because of the page itself but because of the links at the bottom of the page).

    Some thoughts: It depends a bit on the scale of the operation how much is done by different groups of people. But I think the glass blowers wouldn't do the quarying themselves. In Venice, they certainly didn't (all materials were imported). But also, glass blowing is a highly technical skill, with expensive output. As a glass blower it makes no sense to spend an hour quarrying for raw materials when you could simply pay someone minimum wage to do it for you while you actually create something fit for a king (and priced accordingly). There are several raw materials needed. It's unlikely that all of them are in the same spot, so you'll have some trade. But even if they are, a highly skilled glass blower is not going to spend 3 days in 3 different quarries to get all the materials while he could make someone less skilled do it for him.

    I also doubt an aprentice would do it. It's not a skill related to glass blowing, so it doesn't help you in becoming a master. An apprentice might go to a quarry a couple of times to get an idea of the materials he's working with and how to get them and such. But I don't think he would spend a lot of time on it. Now, processing the raw materials is different. I can definitely see an apprentice crushing rocks to the right size and mixing stuff.

    Seasonality depends on your location. I think the earliest glass blowing was found in egypt and the middle east (with the phoenicians doing lots of it). And I can see it being too hot to work inside a workshop with fire in the middle of a desert. Anywhere else, not so much. I think the glass blowers of Venice weren't even alowed off their island for some parts of their history. I doubt they would be stuck on there for a whole summer and not work at all.

    By the same token, the quarrying would be a most of the year operation. If the ground is inaccessible because of frost, snow or very heavy rain, then the quarry would probably be closed. Otherwise, I don't think it would shut down because of a season. Modern work and safety regularions weren't a thing in the middle ages.

    I think you should consider the scale of your glass blowing operation. The larger it is, the more industrialized the process will be. As in, if it's one master and an aprentice out in the middle of nowhere, they will do a lot of the work themselves. But once you grow a bit bigger, you will see a lot of specialization, simply because it's more efficient and more profitable that way.
    Rosemary Tea likes this.
  3. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Sage

    OK, you don't quarry sand as such, you dig it out of a pit or off a beach. You'd need to think a bit about your geography and geology, because most sand is found in glacial moraines, or around rivers, lakes and the sea. Digging will be by hand, transport by horse and cart. Given the level of technology it won't be a very big sand pit, and it can't be very deep for fear of the sides falling in. Provided the sand doesn't freeze too hard you'll be able to dig it all year round. The owners of the pit may not just be selling sand to the glass makers, if the locals know how to make mortar then some of the sand may be used in building things such as castles. You'll also need to think where the fuel for your glass smelting is coming from. You can use charcoal, but coal would be better.

    The climate you're assuming will allow glass making all year round. However, you'd need to be careful when you take glass out of the warm building into the frosty air outside, the glass will need to be wrapped. Glass blowing is a highly skilled craft, and your craftsmen will have a permanent place for their work. They may travel around to sell glass items, but they're likely to blow glass all year round if the can. The glass items they produce won't be cheap.
    Rosemary Tea likes this.
  4. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Inkling

    Many thanks Mad SwedeMad Swede and Prince of SpiresPrince of Spires !

    Geography and geology: the surrounding terrain is mountainous, but the town where this takes place is in the valley/foothills. Glacial moraines are quite possible. It's a landlocked area, so no sea, but rivers and lakes, yes.

    Size of operation: this town only has the one glassblowing shop, but there are other locales within a day's travel or so that also have glassblowing. The quarry (or sand pit) would be supplying them, too. I don't see this being a full on industrial scale operation, but it would be big enough for specialization. And yes, there probably are bricklayers around who are using mortar. So that answers my question: the glassblowers would not be doing the quarrying themselves.
  5. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Maester

    Yes, I have the glass industry taking off in a city in one of my novels largely because of coal (they speak of 'coals of the earth' in the book), allowing more heat and stronger glass. Wine bottles was the big thing for them because the country had a thriving wine industry!
  6. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Inkling

    Actually, here's what Wikipedia says about the glassblowers of Murano...
    Now, my fictional glassblowers aren't under the level of regulation the Venetian glassblowers were, but at the very least, they would have to perform repair and maintenance on their furnace periodically. But then, who does the repair and maintenance? Would the glassblowers do it themselves, or would that take another area of expertise? Do they have to call in a repairman?

    If they perform their own furnace maintenance, that solves my problem. I can have the glassblower close the shop for maintenance, for maybe a few weeks to a month, but the employees would stick around to help with the maintenance. They'd still be working, just not doing the usual.

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