Glazing ceramic objects

Three razorbill jugs (Alkemugge). Photo: Tønnes Gundersen

Glazing provides ceramic objects with a thin layer of glassy coating. There are several reasons to glaze objects. It prevents water from being absorbed by the porous bisque when the object is used. It also provides it with an easy-to-clean surface. Finally, it can strengthen the object or give it a certain colour via the glazing. Several of these aspects are usually desired. Glaze is most similar to glass when it comes to structure and properties.

To get specific effects from the glaze, various metal oxides are added to it. Glaze is usually applied in one of two methods – dip glazing or spray glazing. At the factory, dip glazing was done until after World War II. Dip glazing involves dipping objects in a tub of glaze. The glaze is mixed with water in large vessels. The glazers at the factory held the objects in their hands and dipped them quickly. Then, an assistant took it from them and placed it on a table. When an object is dipped in glaze, the porous material absorbs the glaze at once. The glaze forms a thin film around the object. Dip glazing requires a highly developed work technique.

Hand movements had to be carefully adapted to suit the size and shape of an object. Fingerprints had to be avoided. For the glaze to gain the desired thickness, the glazers had to carefully monitor for how long the object was held in the glaze. If it was held in the glaze for too long, the layer became too thick, and if dipped too quickly, it would become too thin. This work technique had to be learnt through trial and error, and by seeing how others judged the glaze’s thickness on various objects. Coloured glazes were especially hard to work with, because the last drops of glaze had to be shaken off, so as not to create dark stripes or spots in the glazing.

At the factory, glazing was a job that required a well-coordinated team. The assistant had to keep constant watch on the glazer's movements , so that he took the dipped object from him at the right time.

26 people were employed in the glazing workshop, 12 men and 14 women. Work was paid by the hour up until 1935. From 1935 onwards, this was changed to piece rate pay. Experienced male workers earned from 100 to 107 Norwegian øre per hour. Male apprentices and women earned from 55 to 60 Norwegian øre per hour. Men glazed the heaviest objects. Women and apprentices took the glazed objects and placed them on a table. Women glazed lighter objects, such as cups and plates. During glazing, the glaze had to be constantly stirred to keep an even consistency. When items had been glazed, they were ready for glost firing.

Glost firing

In order to bind the glaze to the ceramic material, it needs to be fired at a high temperature. This process has a lot in common with bisque firing. Four kilns, with the same shape and construction as the bisque kilns, were used for glost firing. These were named Jon, Kristen, Håkon and Johannes.

Work with the kilns was done as piecework by a 34-person work team. Four of the 34 were women. The hourly pay was approximately 100 Norwegian øre for men and 55 to 60 Norwegian øre for women. As with the work team at the bisque kilns, the team shared various assignments among themselves. Following World War I, only three of the kilns were generally in use. Johannes, the smallest kiln, was from then on only used as a reserve, during especially busy periods or when any of the other kilns were undergoing repair. The work process was generally similar to the one at the bisque kilns. The items were placed in saggars and stacked inside the kiln. However, the process differed at one point, in that the items were placed on stilts. Stilts are little “feet” made of a ceramic material that prevented items from melting together during firing. When the kiln was fully stacked and sealed, the fire was started and the “burner” took over. There were two burners working shifts at the glost kilns. These kilns were fired at a slightly lower temperature than the bisque kilns. This was necessary to avoid tension forming between the ceramic material and the glaze. As with the bisque kilns, the firing could be monitored through inspection hatches. The burner climbed a ladder to study the flames and the positions of the pyrometric cones. Work as a burner could be dangerous. Firing in the glost kilns took as long as in the bisque kilns. When the kiln had cooled down, the finished items were transported on trolleys along tracks to the sorting cellar.


20 workers were employed in the sorting department – 4 men and 16 women. At first, work was paid by the hour. It became piece rate work in 1935, with an hourly rate that averaged 105 Norwegian øre for men and 55 Norwegian øre for women. The work was led by a male foreman.

In the sorting cellar, items were divided into three different categories: prima, secunda and kraks. Sorting was done through individual judgement, based on norms established by the management. Sorting demanded great skill and accuracy. It was necessary to be able to identify flaws quickly and to swiftly place the item in the right category.

After firing, the objects were left with marks in their glazing from the stilts. Any bumps were removed with a small steel spike and sanded. If the finished objects were not getting overglaze decoration, they were transported to the packing hall. There, they were packed for storage or shipment. Items to be given overglaze décor were transported on trolleys to the decorator’s workshop.


Goods were packed in wooden crates, protected by straw. This was done in the packing hall. There were 13 workers employed there, all men. The crates were nailed shut in a dedicated workshop, which employed four men. The packers collected the crates, in various sizes, when they needed them. From the packing hall, the crates were driven to a storage shed. The shed was located by the seashore. From the shed, the goods were loaded onto cutters or rowed to the steamship quay for shipping to buyers in Norway or abroad.

Another important group of workers were the cleaners. 6 women and 1 man were tasked with keeping the factory premises clean.

Any work involving clay is a potential health hazard. The clay is harmless as long as it is moist, but as soon as it dries, it forms tiny dust particles. If these particles are inhaled and wind up in the lungs, they will start to clog up the lungs. This results in breathing capacity gradually being reduced, making the person slowly suffocate. This is the infamous disease known as silicosis. Silicosis is incurable. When the damage has occurred, there is no way to heal it. Cleanliness and proper ventilation are the only ways to prevent silicosis.

Work at the factory was generally manual until the end of World War II. Most work operations required long training. The work was largely based on practical skills and gave workers a high degree of control over their own work efforts. This created workers that were conscious of their own professional skills.

It wasn’t like we thought we could outclass them. They were so confident in what they did, and so sure of their work. You couldn’t teach them anything. [translated]

The many clearly separated, dominating joints within the production line, makes the factory seem like a work-divided industrial company driven by strong craftsmanship.

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Firing ceramics at Egersunds Fayancefabrik

A work team stowing items in a coal-fired kiln, cirka 1946

Bisque firing

When goods were sufficiently dry, they were ready to be fired. The firing was done in circular kilns. These were made of refractory bricks and shaped like large bottles, releasing smoke from the top. The kilns were coal-fired. Each kiln had its own name. There was Samson (the largest), Møllbach (after an Eidsvold-representative from Egersund) and Harald (unknown origin). To make sure the items were not harmed by smoke, they were placed in saggars, which were crates made of refractory clay. The saggars were made at a designated saggar workshop, which employed six workers, all men.

Work with the kilns was divided into five different operations. First, the items were placed in saggars. Secondly, the saggars were stowed in the kiln. Then, the kiln was fired. After firing, the kiln was emptied. Lastly, the items were transported to be removed from the saggars, brushed clean from dust and sorted into three different qualities of goods.

Work with the kilns was done as piecework by work teams. In the bisque kilns, the kilns used for the first firing, 19 men worked under a leader who took orders from the factory manager. The work was divided so that each man had a dedicated task. The various tasks rotated within the work team, to avoid one person being left with the same assignment over a longer period.

Until the end of the 1920s, two workers were permanently tasked with stowing goods in the kilns. This was considered a specialized type of work. It was important to place the items correctly, to utilize the space efficiently and make sure items were fired at the correct temperature. Temperature could vary according to where items were placed in the kiln. Each kiln had its distinctive characteristics.

When the two placers grew older, they asked to be transferred to easier assignments. Instead of just teaching two younger men the art of stowing, the young workers on the team all agreed on wanting to learn. This meant they could share the heavy work.

Items were placed at the bottom of saggars. The walls of the saggars were glued to the bottom using a paste of refractory clay. The saggars had to be completely sealed to prevent smoke from seeping in during firing. The saggars were shaped based on the objects they were meant to contain. The different types of saggars had different names. The names were the same as those used in English potteries. There were names such as Oval, Round, Shilling, Six Pence and Eights.

A work team stowing items in a coal-fired kiln, cirka 1946

A work team stowing items in a coal-fired kiln, cirka 1946

During stowing, the two placers worked inside the kiln. The rest of the team did various tasks outside - transporting objects, placing objects in saggars, and bringing saggars to the workers in the kiln. The placers put the first saggars at the back of the stove, then kept stacking them on top of each other, and towards the mouth of the kiln. As the saggars were placed on top of each other, they served as lids. The placers used ladders to keep on stacking saggars all the way to the top of the kiln. As the kiln started to fill up, the placers stacked saggars downwards, towards the opening. This made it possible to stack items all the way to the top, at the neck of the oven. The kiln could encompass as much as 40 000 to 60 000 items, depending on size. When the kiln was fully stacked, it was sealed with refractory bricks and clay. Then, ten tons of coal was transported to the oven, to be used as fuel. The coal was placed in heaps around the oven, by each of its firemouths. From then on, a dedicated worker was tasked with the firing.

Firing was one of the most specialized assignments at the factory. Four men were employed to monitor firings - two working with the bisque kilns and two with the glaze kilns. They needed in-depth knowledge of how temperature would distribute in the kiln as the firing progressed. A small mistake could lead to an uneven firing and destroyed goods.

The kilns were built with several canals in the walls and ten firemouths around the bottom periphery. It was necessary to have this many firemouths to keep an even temperature in the kiln during firing. The kiln was sealed off at the top, except for small holes to let out smoke.

When the kiln was fired, flames rose towards the top. When they hit the curved roof, the flames were pushed down towards the bottom again and out towards the walls, which had several canals leading the heat up towards the roof again and through the chimney. This is a counterpressure principle where the flames are forced to take a longer path than they would normally do. The smoke holes were small, emitting little heat. Because of this, the flames were forced back towards the bottom and out into the side canals. The kilns had to be built based on this principle to ensure that items in the middle of the kiln were fired at a high enough temperature. There were small holes along the walls of the kiln, to control how the firing was progressing. The supervisor could climb a ladder to study the flames. Judging on the colour and shape of the flames he could decide if the firing was progressing correctly. Pyrometric cones were used to control temperature. The cones were approximately ten cm long and placed in groups of three. They stood upright, points upwards. The cones were made of a special kind of clay that would start to bend over at different temperatures. The first cone would bend at 1000 degrees Celsius, the second at approximately 1100 degrees Celsius, and the last at approximately 1200 degrees Celsius. When the last cone started to bend over, the firing was finished.

The four men who fired the kilns were the only ones who worked shifts at the factory. Each had an assistant who lit the kiln for him. For the first 12 hours, the kiln burned at low heat. This was done to remove any residual moisture from the items inside. After this, the dedicated “burner” took over. He heated the oven to 1200 degrees Celsius. During firing, he worked alone. It usually took 36 hours from the burner taking over the firing to the firing being done. After a shift like this, the other burner took over for the next firing. The two men worked shifts on the kilns.

To become a «burner», an apprentice worked alongside an experienced workman to master the technique of spreading the heat evenly towards the top. The burner also had to make sure that the kiln was evenly warm.

When the firing was done, the kiln had to cool down for three days. It was important to avoid emptying the kiln too early. If opened early, the goods inside could crack as a result of the change in temperature.

Saggars were extracted from the kiln in reverse order of the stowing.

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Decoration on pottery

Fajansekopp med hank på begge sider som har rågodsdekor, cirka 1914

There are two types of décor on stoneware - overglaze decoration and underglaze decoration. Overglaze décor is applied after the bisque firing, but prior to glazing. This leaves the décor protected by a layer of glaze and resistant to all kinds of external stress. The décor is fired with the glaze.

Underglaze decoration

Underglaze decor is applied directly onto the unglazed material, which is very hygroscopic. Because of this, colour is instantly absorbed and impossible to remove. One wrong stroke of the brush equals a discarded item. When the factory switched to electric firing in 1950, the objects were fired harder and became less hygroscopic as a result. This made it possible to remove mistakes with water.

Fajansekopp med hank på begge sider som har rågodsdekor, cirka 1914

Underglaze decoration cirka 1914.

Underglaze decoration was done in several different workshops, depending on which technique was used to apply the décor. The different methods were: Freehand painting with brushes. Painting with stencils where the pattern was dotted in tin foil. Spray painted décor with an airbrush.

Freehand painting required long training. Beginners started doing stencil painting for 1 ½ to 2 years, before getting to try their hand at freehand painting. During this time, they learnt about colour use and the basic techniques of brush painting. Before they were allowed to decorate proper objects, they practiced on discarded goods. When the head of the painter’s workshop decided they had acquired the necessary skills, they were allowed to decorate proper objects for sale. At first, they painted simple patters on smaller objects. Older and more experienced workers painted the more complex patterns on larger objects. Young painters often competed among each other to be allowed to paint harder patterns.

The decorators sat along large tables and painted with brushes. The colours were blended on a palette. It took a long time to master the art of mixing colours correctly. At first, decorators painted with one single colour. As they became more proficient, they were allowed to paint multi-coloured patterns.

There were 60 people employed in the painter’s workshop, 45 women and 15 men. A male foreman supervised the work and was responsible for training the apprentices. The hourly wages for men averaged around 100 Norwegian øre, and for women 55 to 60 Norwegian øre. The foreman was held in high regard among his workers. He examined worn out tools and decided if they were ready to be replaced. Decorated objects were transported to the basement for glazing.

Transfer printing

Kvinnelig arbeider presser trykkdekor på tallerkener, cirka 1908

Transfer décor pressed in place cirka 1908.

Transfer printing was done by engraving the desired pattern on a copper plate. The pattern was then printed onto thin tissue paper using a designated press, located in the attic above the decorator’s workshop. The finished paper was sent through a hole in the floor, to the workshop below.

The paper was cut to separate the different pieces of the pattern and hung on long cords stretching throughout the workshop. The pieces were taken down when the decorators needed them. The paper with the printed décor was placed on the object and rubbed on with a sponge soaked in green soap (soft soap).

Transfer printing underglaze (bisquit). Decor: Brun Fasan (Brown pheasant)

Transfer printing underglaze (bisquit). Decor: Brun Fasan (Brown pheasant)

The objects were then transported to another room. There, the paper was removed using lukewarm water, leaving the transferred pattern intact on the object. The decorated objects were then stowed in small kilns to burn the oil out of the décor. This was necessary to prevent the pattern from being dissolved by the glaze. After this firing, the objects were ready for glazing.

Enamelled décor

Underglaze decoration is applied after bisque firing and prior to glazing, and is thus protected by a layer of glaze. Overglaze decoration, also called enamelled decór, is applied on top of the glazing.

Vase med emaljedekor, 1886

Vase, enamelled décor 1886.

Enamelled decór is characterized by a much richer colour palette than underglaze décor. This makes it possible to decorate objects with gold. Objects with gold décor have always held high prestige, placing them in a higher price range.

Enamelled décor was done with fine brushes in a range of different designs. Each brush had its own name. Cutliner and tracer are names adopted from English.

The decorators sat along large tables when painting. The décor could either be applied freehand or based on a pattern. The pattern was dotted out in tin foil. The foil was placed loosely on the object and the pattern applied using a broad brush dipped in soot. After removing the foil, the pattern was visible as tiny dots of soot. The pattern was then painted, making the soot disappear.

Training happened through a direct transfer of knowledge from an older to a younger decorator. The foreman gave the beginner an item decorated with a simple motif. This was followed by a brief introduction to colours and correct brush use. After this, the apprentice tried to copy the pattern freehand. When the foreman was away, the older and more experienced decorators gave further advice. This was especially valuable when mixing colours, to get the desired shade. Colours were mixed on a palette with turpentine and conditioner. In addition to attaining the right shade of colour, it was important to make sure that the colour was not too thin. If so, one risked the colours seeping out and blending with each other on the object. When the apprentice mastered the technique, he was given more difficult assignments. Several of the patterns took a long time to paint. These were often patterns made by famous artists, such as Kitty Kielland.

En kvinnelig arbeider påfører gullrand på bolle. Emaljesalen, 1950-årene

Application of a golden rim. Decorator's workshop, 1950s.

A lot of decor was done in silver and gold. This was based on genuine raw materials that were portioned out in tiny, carefully measured quantities by the foreman. The gold was imported as a finished blend. It came in different qualities. The most commonly used type was 15 % gold, but on especially fine objects 24 % gold was used, or even powdered gold, which was nearly a pure metal. The finest qualities were only used on special objects, such as punch bowls. To achieve a high level of gloss, the gold was brushed with a glass brush. The remaining gold or silver was scraped from the table and tools and returned to the foreman.

The decorator could be given a couple of large baskets of objects to decorate. When these were finished, he went to the foreman to request a new assignment. The foreman wrote a note which he gave to an in-house messenger. The messenger made sure the finished objects were transported away and new ones brought to the decorator.

The finished items were transported to the enamelling kilns. There, the décor was fired at approximately 800 degrees Celsius. The enamelling kilns were the first electric kilns used at the factory, in 1931. Before this, the enamel was fired in coal-fired enamelling kilns. After firing, the items were sent to be sorted and packed.

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The casting of ceramic objects

Skisse som viser hvordan keramiske gjenstander kan støpes i form

The method of producing ceramic objects differs depending on the clay’s properties - its plasticity or liquidity. Throwing clay on a potter’s wheel requires a thick and plastic clay with a mushy consistency.

For slipcasting, the clay used needs to have completely different properties. This process requires a smooth, liquid mass with a milky consistency. This kind of clay is called “slip” and was transported to the casting workshop in large crates. About 60 people were employed in the workshop. They produced objects that could not be made by throwing clay, such as pitchers, coffeepots, washstands, figurines, oval trays, etc. Two narrow railways went through the workshop, where the plaster moulds stood on trolleys.

Plaster moulds absorb water from the slip poured into it. The clay closest to the mould’s walls will therefore start to dry within 10-15 minutes, while the rest of the slip remains liquid.

Skisse som viser hvordan keramiske gjenstander kan støpes i form

Sketch showing how ceramic objects can be slipcast in moulds. From the left – 1: The parts of the plaster mould are bound together and filled with liquid clay. After a while, water is absorbed into the mould and the slip starts to sink. The mould therefore has to be replenished with more slip. 2: When so much water has been absorbed by the mould that the clay starts to solidify, the mould is turned upside-down so that the remaining slip is poured out. 3: When the object is so dry that it is releasable from the mould, the mould is opened and the object removed.

The potter would cut the clay mass with a knife to check if it had reached the desired thickness. When the object’s walls were sufficiently thick, the remaining slip was poured out and returned to its original storage crate. The workers transported the slip in pitchers. When the superfluous slip had been poured out, the plaster mould kept absorbing water. This made the cast object shrink and release from the mould, so that it could be removed. When the object had been removed from the mould, the hole left from the pouring process was sealed and the object smoothed and sanded. After this, a female worker would clean the mould, dry it, and then return it to the workshop to be reused. Slipcasting and the removal of objects from moulds was men’s work. Sealing, smoothing and sanding was women’s work. Women were also tasked with casting handles for cups, pitchers, etc. The handles were cast in two-part moulds. After being cast, the handles were covered with a damp cloth and brought to the potter’s workshop. There, the handles were attached. It was important to make sure that both handle and cup had the right level of moisture. If not, one risked the handle not attaching properly and falling off.

How many times a mould could be used depended on what type of object was being made. If it was for objects to be smoothed, the mould could be used for years. If the mould leaked, the crack could be sealed with a lump of clay. This was not the case for objects to be sanded. The seams became to big and expanded when the object was fired, so that it became ruined.

The basis of slipcasting is as mentioned plaster’s ability to absorb water. There are two different types of casting moulds, both used at the factory. This is the single and double mould. Single casting is done in a mould with only an outer wall. Double casting is done in a mould with both outer walls and an inner core, where the core is made to reflect the cast object’s inner shape.

When double casting, both the inner and outer shape of the object is decided by the plaster mould. When single casting, the inner form is decided by how long the slip is left to be absorbed by the mould. This makes object thickness vary, and leaves the inside of the object less smooth, often with marks from the slip mass. Double casting produces objects with an even thickness and a smooth surface. This is because water is absorbed from the slip from both sides at once.

A mould is composed of several parts, as a kit. The more complicated the object, the more parts. This is necessary to be able to remove the mould after casting, without damaging the object. A good deal of expert knowledge is thereby required to make moulds with the fewest parts possible. When objects had been removed from their moulds, they were put in crates to be finished. One man was fully employed carrying such crates to the female workers who would smoothen and sand the objects, and controlling their work when they were done.

Each of the women were given a blackboard and a slate pencil. The foreman handed these out in the morning. In the evening, the boards were collected and delivered to the factory manager’s office.

Work in the casting workshop became piecework following the wage agreement of 1935. Hourly wages were set to between 105 and 110 Norwegian øre for men and between 55 and 60 Norwegian øre for women. Several of the work operations required in the casting workshop required a great deal of physical strength. The moulds for toilets and washstands could weigh well above 50 kilos. The potter had to be able to carry these moulds back and forth himself.

When the finished objects were ready to leave the casting workshop, they were transported downstairs by a lift and carried into the drying room.

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Forming of objects

Diagram showing how an object is made with a steel stencil and plaster mould.

The potters could make objects shaped on rotating discs - such as plates, saucers, cups, round bowls and trays. The principle of wheel thrown pottery is that one side of the objects is given shape from a plaster mould that the clay is shaped within, while the other side of the object gets its shape from a steel stencil. During production, the mould is constantly rotating at high speed. Centrifugal forces allow the material to achieve a uniform thickness, without joints.

Diagram showing how an object is made with a steel stencil and plaster mould.

Diagram showing how an object is made with a steel stencil and plaster mould.

The potter worked as part of a team, together with an assistant or apprentice. The potter led the work. The assistant was usually a young boy from 13-14 or 16-17 years old. The most common way to recruit new workers was from the pool of apprentices.

Legislation banned factory work for those below the age of 16, but none reacted to the ban being broken. From the 1930s, it was common for children to go to school in the morning and work at the factory in the afternoon. When factory inspector Betzy Kjelsberg came to visit, the children hid from her. The local community knew well that children below legal age were working at the factory, but did not take any action against it.

Production room at Egersunds Fayancefabriks Co. in the 1930s.

Production room at Egersunds Fayancefabriks Co. in the 1930s.

The potters worked on teams with their assistants. The potters all stood in line alongside one of the walls in the production room. The assistant would cut the clay into suitably sized pieces and place them on the right-hand side of the potter. The potter would slam it onto the centre of the rotating potter’s wheel. The wheel had to be kept moist to avoid the clay sticking to the wheel. The potter had a tub of water to keep both the potter’s wheel and stencil moist.

With the aid of a flat steel stencil, the clay was shaped to resemble a pancake. After this, the potter removed the clay and placed it in a plaster mould, located to the left of the potter’s wheel.

Plates were shaped by hand first, and then further shaped by a steel stencil to form the inside of the plate. The plate stencil was regulated by a handle above the mould.

Cups were made in approximately the same way. The stencil could be manoeuvred with a foot pedal. A long cord stretching throughout the production room powered the machines. The cord was connected to an electric engine. The machines were operated through remote transmission. During production, the potter had to use arms and legs. He started the machine using a knob activated with his thigh. The stencil was lowered with a foot pedal or handle. With his other hand, the potter added water to keep his stencil from tearing up the clay.

Photo from the production of plates at Egersunds Fayancefabriks Co. cirka 1955

Photo from the production of plates at Egersunds Fayancefabriks Co. cirka 1955

When the potter had finished an object, his assistant took the object on its mould in one hand, and placed a new mould on the machine with his other hand. The finished object was placed in a cylindrical carousel, provided with several shelves. There were steam pipes at the bottom of the carousel, to ensure that the objects would start to dry. After a while, as the shelves of the carousel were filled, it was rotated to make room for more objects.

A third part of the potter's team worked at the back of the carousel. This was usually a young girl, who removed objects from the carousel when they were sufficiently dry. The moulds were sent back to the workshop to be reused.

In addition to removing objects from the carousel and their moulds, the young girl had to smooth out any marks from the production process and fine-polish the objects with sandpaper.

The work team had a shared piece rate pay that was paid to the potter. The potter was left with 50 to 55% of this. The rest was shared by the two young assistants. The work took place at high speed and the assistants had to work hard to achieve the desired piece rate.

The apprentice watched the potter closely to learn the handicraft through observation. When the potter left his wheel, the apprentice was quick to take his place and practice shaping objects from clay. It was especially important to practice how to adjust the machine correctly. The boy would have mastered the handicraft after 2-3 years of apprenticeship.

Although many started work as a potter’s apprentice, they were not necessarily destined to work as potters. The apprentices served as a pool for general recruitment, and most were transferred to other departments within the factory. The factory manager decided who should be given which kind of work.

Prior to the last war, between 80 and 90 people worked in the potter’s workshop. This was the biggest department handling raw materials. When the objects were ready to leave the workshop, they were taken to a room close to the ovens. This room had steam pipes in the floor to further dry the objects before firing.

Production of moulds

Plaster moulds play an important role within ceramic industry. The moulds were made at a dedicated workshop, the plaster workshop. The starting point was a model of the finished object. Models were made by a modeller. The modeller made the original model, the core, by hand. A mould was then cast using the core as a vantage point. The resulting mould was a negative of the finished product. It was tested several times to correct its form. After this, a new mould was cast, called a block. The block was a positive of the finished product. The final clay mould was cast around the block. At the factory, four men worked making plaster moulds for slip casting and throwing clay.

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Ceramic production

Svingbru for jernbanen og kullager ved Egersunds Fayancefabriks Co. på 1920-tallet.

All ceramic production has burnt clay (Greek: keramos) as its most important raw material. By adding various substances to the clay, it is possible to make blends that result in various kinds of ceramics. Ceramic products can be divided into a range of different categories. The following main categories can be useful: brick, faience, creamware, stoneware, bone china, and porcelain.

Besides faience, the factory in Egersund produced stoneware, creamware, and a special type of porcelain with added corundum. With small variations, the production process for these three types of ceramics is the same.

All ceramic production can be separated into two distinct phases. During the first phase, the objects are given shape from a plastic clay mass. They are then fired at approximately 1000 to 1200 degrees Celsius. During firing, a range of physical and chemical changes occur. Water is driven out of the clay, leading the objects to shrink. At the same time, the material is transformed, from a fragile and loose compilation of minerals, to a hard and firm material. At temperatures above 1000 degrees Celsius, the various raw materials melt together to form a hard mass. This gives the objects completely different properties than the raw materials. Firing is irreversible. It is not possible to convert the fired product to raw materials again, as in the metal- or glass industries.

As mentioned, clay serves as the basis of production. The factory got its clay from England, transported by boat. The clay was brought ashore in wheelbarrows and stored in large cisterns.

Svingbru for jernbanen og kullager ved Egersunds Fayancefabriks Co. på 1920-tallet.

The railroad swing bridge, the coal storage, and the factory in the 1920s.

Coal was used when firing products and for heating the factory. It was transported by boat in bulk from England. The coal was unloaded on the upper side of the swing bridge above Lundeelva (the Lund river). The swing bridge put a size limit on boats coming in to deliver goods. The unloading was done by hired workers. The clay used at the factory was mixed with Danish flint and Norwegian quartz.

The clay was transported from the storage silos to be mixed with several additives. The two types of clay – ball clay and china clay – were mixed with quartz, flint, and broken pieces of unglazed ceramics. The flint had to be fired prior to use. The stones were stacked in layers, along with wood, in a flint oven. The flint cracked into pieces when heated. Crumbled flint was then mixed with pulverized unglazed ceramics and stored in silos. From there, the mixture was transported to ball mills, where it was ground into a fine blend, ready to be mixed with clay.

After being processed in the ball mills, the flint and quartz mixture had a milky consistency. It was mixed with clay in large mixing vessels, driven by rotating propellers.

From the mixing vessel, the clay went through a pipe and into the filter press. Here, water was pressed out of the clay through pieces of canvas. The press was operated by muscle power, which made the pressing process hard work. A lot of water needed to pressed from the clay to gain the desired level of moisture. After being pressed, the clay went through its final preparations to ready it for use in the workshops.

Two kinds of clay were used. One was a thick and viscous mass, pressed into oblong pieces. The other was a thin, watery paste called «slikk», used for clay casting. Working with the mixing vessels was considered the hardest and dirtiest kind of work in the entire factory.

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The factory and WW1

When World War I broke out in 1914, the factory faced troubling times. It was dependent on raw materials from abroad, especially from England. As England was among the warring parties, import became difficult. Another challenge arose due to the economic boom. Prices for raw materials and transport rose monthly. In 1915, Germany declared that the waters surrounding England were war zones. German submarines could from then on sink ships from neutral countries. From 1916, the situation in Norway grew worse.

There was a serious lack of supplies, both for daily consumption and for industrial use. Despite price control, prices surpassed all boundaries.
(Furre 1971:70) - Translated

Conditions abroad affected the factory in Egersund. For the workers, this luckily did not equal disaster. Herring fishing along the coast was a rich endeavour that required large amounts of labour. As the faience factory had to make cuts in operations, dismissed workers found work in the herring industry. After a while, the workforce had been reduced from approximately 400 workers in 1912, to 80 workers in 1918. The annual report from 1917 stated that 250 workers, both male and female, had resigned due to better pay in the herring industry.

After the war ended, the factory gradually recovered. However, it was not until 1920 that the annual report declared operations to be more or less back to normal, with ¾ of the regular workforce. World War I marks a division in the factory’s history. Prior to the war, the factory was the most important workplace in the city. During the war, the herring industry took over this role. In 1920, the factory was once again the biggest workplace in Egersund. The workforce consisted both of seasoned workers and of young teens starting their careers.

In the Interwar period, the faience factory strengthened its position as the city’s most important workplace. Yet the factory was not only the most important place of employment, for most people it was also considered the only secure workplace in Egersund. For young workers, there were few opportunities for employment other than at the factory.

There were some in my generation who were apprentices, but as soon as they were fully taught, they were fired. Because they were employing a new apprentice. It was cheap labour.
(E.F.A.1989) - Translated

Unemployment was high. Getting work at the faience factory stood as a dream for most people. It was said that a boy had only three options in Egersund. One was getting work at the factory, which meant the boy would be well kept. A second option was getting work at sea. The last option was to emigrate to the US.

The faience factory was a dominating force in Egersund throughout the Interwar period. With their central location in the city, the large brick factory buildings stood in strong contrast to the surrounding little wooden houses. Life in the city was largely adapted to the working hours at the factory. When the workers had their dinner break from 12.30 to 14.00, the city came to life. Four hundred workers poured out of the factory gates and went home to eat.

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The pottery becomes a factory

Fotografi av Egersunds Fayancefabriks Co. cirka 1895. Foto: E. H. Torjusen.

The shutdown of production led a group of workers, together with local capital interests, to establish a new ceramic business, Eie Steintøyfabrikk, at the opposite side of the bay. It started production in the autumn of 1862.

In 1863, Feyer initiated a subscription of shares with the purpose of transforming the pottery into a faience factory. The production would be based on resources and raw materials from England. To raise the money to start his new factory, Feyer sold his share in the world’s biggest titanium ore, which he had previously discovered in Sokndal, to an English company for £9000.

In 1865, the factory staff counted 50 workers. Test production of faience had begun. This time trained workers from the Rørstrand factories in Sweden were hired as mentors. Workers were also hired from England.

In the beginning, flint was imported from England, but only for a short period. The factory soon started making its own mixture based on English potter’s clay and kaolin, Danish flint and Norwegian quartz. The factory grew rapidly.

Illustrasjon - Egersunds Fayancefabriks Co. i 1875.

Illustration – Egersunds Fayancefabriks Co. in 1875.

In 1866, 70 people worked at the factory. At the of 1870, the number had risen to 164. Among these, 32 were women and 12 were children under the age of 15. In the 1880s, Egersunds Fayancefabrik had become the second largest industrial plant in Rogaland. The workforce had reached 200.

In the beginning, the production of faience was based on import, both of raw materials and models. Over time, the factory educated its own modellers and decorators. Through this, the factory established an independent production based on its own designs.

Feyer had spent large amounts of money on searching for metals and minerals. Among other things, he invested large sums in a company drilling for coal at Jæren. Egersunds Fayancefabrik went bankrupt in 1876. It was sold to a general partnership consisting of people from Stavanger and Egersund. Johan Feyer was offered the position as general manager, but declined. The position was then offered to his brother Christian M. Feyer, who accepted. Following the reorganisation, the factory was renamed Egersunds Fayancefabrik Co.

In 1883, the factory became a limited liability company (stock corporation) under the name A/S Egersunds Fayancefabriks Co. When the factory got new owners, they invested heavily in a mechanisation of operations. In 1881, a traction engine was installed to run the potter’s wheels. In 1885, a new stationary steam engine was installed to run the mills and deliver steam to the drying rooms, in addition to running the potter’s wheels. Production and sales grew steadily and in 1897 the factory employed 250 workers.

Illustrasjon - Egersunds Fayancefabriks Co. i 1884.

Illustration – Egersunds Fayancefabriks Co. in 1884.

Big upgrades were also made in regards to production. Products were constantly improved upon. The product range was expanded and new kinds of glaze tested. The factory took part in exhibitions both in Norway and abroad, winning prizes and gaining honourable mentions. In 1898, A/S Egersunds Fayancefabriks Co. took part in “Landsutstillingen og International Fiskeriudstilling” in Bergen. The factory won several awards for its products.

At the same time as the factory expanded its production and number of staff at the end of the century, several outlets for the factory’s products were established in Bergen and Oslo. Goods from the factory in Egersund were sold across the country. For customers in Troms and Finnmark, items were delivered with images of the Russian tsar-family and Russian inscriptions aimed at the Pomor trade.

In the first years of the twentieth century, the faience factory strengthened its position as the most important workplace in Egersund. The factory kept investing in new production equipment. In 1905, electric lighting was installed, along with engine operated shaping machines.


In 1905, the factory was struck by fire, turning large parts of the old wooden buildings into ashes. The newer brick buildings were salvaged. The same year, new plans were made for rebuilding and expanding the factory. New machines were purchased from England.

The best thing that has happened in the city's history is the factory burning in 1905.
Statement from a former worker at the factory [translated]

The reconstruction following the fire led to a strong improvement in hygiene at the factory. The old wooden buildings had been cleaned by sweeping the floors. This was far from adequate. The amount of clay dust in the air was extremely high. Nearly all those working with clay got silicosis and died young. Most died before turning 50. The new buildings were made so that they could be hosed with water. The water bound the clay dust to it at saved workers from breathing it in. In 1982, a worker said this about the fire: “The best thing that has happened in the city's history is the factory burning in 1905” [translated].

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Feyer's pottery

Portrait photograph of Johan Feyer

Johan Feyer was the founder of the first industrial enterprise in Egersund. He was the son of the local magistrate in Dalane and lived in Egersund. Johan Feyer had an interest in geology and travelled around Dalane searching for metals and minerals. On the farm Leidland at Eigerøya he discovered clay deposits. Feyer quickly saw the possibilities in using this discovery and got the idea to establish a pottery in Egersund, where the clay could easily be transported from the island to the city by boat. He got his father interested in the project and travelled to Newcastle-upon-Tyne to learn about the production of stoneware. After finishing his apprenticeship in England, Johan Feyer returned to Norway. The clay deposits at Leidland were purchased, and an area north of Lundeelva at Damsgaard in Egersund was bought as a site to build the factory.

Portrait photograph of Johan Feyer

Portrait photograph of Johan Feyer

In 1847, work began at the factory. In 1848, the first buildings stood ready. Feyer had brought with him skilled workers from England to train his workforce in Egersund. The two first English workers were William Baal and Joseph Holmes. When Holmes stowed goods into the ovens for firing, he used his wife as an interpreter. He gave her the orders and she gestured and tried to explain the process to the Norwegian workers. The Norwegians did not understand the English workers and several firings were destroyed. Despite great difficulties in the beginning, Feyer became the sole owner of the factory in 1849. In 1851, the workforce consisted of 2 clerks, 2 English craftsmen at the end of their apprenticeship (mestersvenn), 4 apprentice craftsmen (svenn), 9 adult workmen, 7 boys, 2 women, and Johan Feyer himself – 26 employees in all. In addition to this, two manned vessels had crews of 5 men, and 3 men worked as diggers at the clay deposit. The pottery had become the biggest workplace in the city.

Pottery was a handicraft. The potters worked using potter’s wheels. A young boy or woman sat on the floor turning a crank that rotated the wheel while the potter worked. In addition to making items by throwing clay, the factory had a slip-casting workshop. The English influence was clearly evident in terms that became part of everyday language at the factory. From the earliest period, we recognise words such as tray shop, shop for throwing, foreman’s shop and pressing shop. The pottery showed a steady growth throughout the 1850s, with 55 workers in 1855.

Illustrasjon - Egersund potteri i 1860-årene.

Egersund pottery in the 1860s.

After this, things turned for the worse for the factory and operations stopped in 1860. Producers of brown stoneware had established themselves in several different areas in the country. Competition from the Sandnes area proved especially strong. The clay there was of a higher quality and easy to extract.

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