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definition of "seconds"

updated thu 18 jul 02


The Chapel of Art / Capel Celfyddyd on wed 17 jul 02


"Seconds" (plural) is a term used in manufacturing, which basically means an
article produced which shows a flaw, blemish or some inferior quality. The
Oxford English dictionary simply defines "seconds" as "inferior goods" i.e.
not a perfect product or first class, therefore it is a second. There are
thirds, fourths, fifths... Degrees of inferiority. Indeed, if you go to a
market in Europe, even the produce is marked with I, II, III and IV -
indicating the quality of the fruit, veg, etc. on sale.

The term "seconds" has been adopted by all makers and craftspeople, but is
especially relevant for potters.

The classification of work as a second, naturally causes many potters a lot
of difficulty and heart searching. The "perfectionists" amongst us will say
a very minor blemish makes a pot a second or even if the pot does not turn
out the exact way they intended, they will deem it below their standard and
therefore a second. At the other end of the spectrum, the slap-dash,
take-it-or-leave-it, abstract clay artist will never admit to ever producing
a second... There is naturally a lot of ground in between.

We are unfortunately hung-up on this "quality testing" and "classification"
in the West. It is not very helpful for the lone craftsperson. "True
seconds" -- those items which have a small imperfection which does not
affect the function of a piece -- are actually prized in countries such as
Japan. I forget what the word is for it there, but it basically means it has
become a unique piece through the very "imperfection" which we will not
tolerate in the West. Far from decreasing the price tag (which we also
insist upon) the value will actually increase in the discerning gallery out

The degree of the flaw which makes a pot a second is another touchy area. I
have written in the past of a goblet I bought in the USA from a seconds
basket. That goblet leaks and in my opinion should not have been sold,
because the fault (a hairline S crack) made it unusable for the purpose it
was made. It is not a second, but a dysfunctional piece and it should have
been hammered. Vases, oil burners and the likes which leak through the body
and glaze should also never be sold, even if they are classed as seconds by
the maker. It brings all makers and work into disrepute, not just the
unethical individual.

Sorry to go on, but I get really peeved at customers insisting work is a
"second"... The worst is the slate on exhibition. They want "perfect" stone
for goodness sake!! Something which is 300-500 million years old and IMHO
looks wonderful when a green or white splodge or seam runs through the
middle of the black, red or purple... It becomes a truly unique piece and
shows it is not made of plastic!

Janet Kaiser
The Chapel of Art . Capel Celfyddyd
Home of The International Potters' Path
8 Marine Crescent, Criccieth LL52 0EA, Wales, UK
Tel: (++44) 01766-423570

----- Original Message -----

> Can someone explain seconds to me. I've read all these emails and still
> haven't figured it out. Is it two of one thing, second best pieces? thanks