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People, technology & expertise

Behind all the many possibilities that glass offers are an unseen multitude of skills, techniques, tools, furnaces and machines which have continuously evolved over the centuries. Glassworks employed men but they also put women and children to work on glass-related tasks, such as cutting, polishing, potting, forging and packing. Such jobs were indispensable to the smooth running of the industry. Likewise glass production, whether artistic or industrial, often required design drawings to be made beforehand, and promotional work to market the finished product inevitably followed. The glass industry was considerably affected by technological innovations and changes in consumer tastes. The arrival in the 1970s of plastic materials forced many glassworks to close. Climate change and more holistic approaches to how we use materials, taking into account the life cycles of objects, may yet bring glass back to the forefront of industry.

Climate change may yet bring glass back to the forefront of industry.


While artistic drawing transcends the very materialization of a piece, a new way of visual representation had to be developed at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Modern technical drawing, which developed from the work of Gaspard Monge on descriptive geometry in 1799, translates technical ideas into a standardized language (dimensions, exact shape) so that the object can be manufactured.


At the other end of the production chain, the resulting piece is dressed, packaged and sublimated. In a world structured by commercial trade, the concept of brand image inevitably developed. The shape of an amphora indicated with precision its origin and contents. Appearing in the late eighteenth century, labels started to adorn perfume bottles and featured floral motifs that evoked the fragrances of the precious liquid contained. In the early twentieth century François Coty, in collaboration with the great master glassmaker René Lalique, introduced a new concept to bottle design: the aesthetic. Typical of this marketing revolution was the bottle designed for the perfume Le Narcisse Bleu, which would become emblematic of the Mury brand. Presented like a jewel in a luxurious setting, the sublimated perfume bottle could but only stand out from the competition. Labels were gradually replaced by the more discreet technique of screen printing.


Glassmaking is part of a long tradition in which men have always played a prominent role. Duties that required working in the vicinity of the furnaces were always the best paid because of the skills and dangers involved, and therefore roles such as glassblower, gas engineer, glass mixer and furnace stoker often went to men. Other predominantly male jobs relating to maintenance were also indispensable to the smooth running of the glassworks, such as labourers, electricians, bricklayers, potters, and the driver of the delivery truck.

Women are often neglected in accounts relating to glassworks, but they were nevertheless present on the factory floor. Comprising up to a third of the workforce in the glassworks of Fourmies and Trélon in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, women were mainly limited to secondary tasks in various workshops, such as the finishing shop, the cutting shop or the packing shop – these jobs all attracting lower salaries.


The finishing shop had well-defined roles which were gradually replaced by machines, such as hand scoring using the glazier’s diamond, topping, grinding off irregularities after topping, reheating to round off the edges of a piece, washing, wiping and, lastly, inspecting the item for defects. Each bad piece was rejected and deducted from the glassmaker’s production tally, a practice that gave rise to many a dispute.


The cutting shop was run by a foreman who gave the workers their tasks, such as grinding on the emery wheel, polishing, washing, checking and boxing. All these repetitive tasks required much concentration and dexterity in a noisy, dark environment where chemical substances were also sometimes used.