My new book, Glass Girl, features a central character who’s a glassmaker. We take glass for granted. It’s in our windows, on our tables, in trinkets. Usually, it’s cheap. But this wasn’t always so. At one time, glass was expensive enough to be a major trade item, and nowhere was this more so than in 13th through 16th century Venice.
Protecting Glassmakers’ Income
Given that a lot of money was floating around, various people acted to protect its source. For instance, by the late 1200s, there was a Glassmakers Guild. You had to become a member to work and to become a member, you had to swear to protect trade secrets. In 1271, Venice passed a law forbidding the importation of foreign glass or foreign glassmakers.
Twenty years later, in 1291, a law decreed that the furnaces used to melt sand and various chemicals into glass had to be moved to Murano Island. The purpose of the law was largely to prevent fires in the crowded city, but the move also served to make it harder for anyone to learn the glassmakers’ secrets.
Protecting the Income of Venice
All of that undoubtedly benefitted Venetian glassmakers, but the Doge was also looking out for his city’s income and probably his own. Nowhere is this more evident than in a 1295 law that actually forbid glassmakers from leaving the city.
Status Reward for Glassmakers
Most workers today would protest that restriction. Some undoubtedly did so in 13th century Venice too, but the Doge knew enough to try to keep them happy. Glassmakers had a social rank much higher than you’d expect from an artisan. Their daughters were allowed to marry into powerful families. Master craftsmen could carry swords, a sign of status.
Glassmakers in Glass Girl
I borrowed some of these factors for Glass Girl, in which the glassmakers are all women (decidedly NOT the case in Venice). Their work is expensive and valued, and they have the right to be respected by their fellow citizens. But theoretically, they’re not allowed to leave, which makes problems when she runs into deadly danger.
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Direct from the UK-based published, Inspired Quill
The image at the top of the page is a contemporary glass pen from Murano Island, courtesy of Melinda Squibb