“What?!” My next door neighbor, who knew I was interested in lost and sometimes weird crafts and trades, had just exhaled a few garbled syllables, totally unintelligible, in my direction. Now my friend is a great lover of jokes and riddles so I thought this was his way of amusing himself, sending me on a wild goose chase after an imaginary activity. “I said, saggar maker’s bottom knocker. I’m serious. It was an actual job.” Just to be on the safe side, I did a quick web search. And sure enough, not only was there (and is there) such a thing as a saggar, but there was also something or someone known as a saggar maker’s bottom knocker. And the route to the saggar bottom knocking starts with ancient China and takes in a few alchemists, white gold, Marco Polo, missionaries, house arrest, and even a wallaby along the way. I had to know more.
Of course, it is easy to make fun of the job title. It very literally explains the activity, perhaps too literally. Its simplicity conceals the importance of what would on the surface seem to be an inconsequential object, namely a box to hold ceramic ware in kilns, moreover only one part of that box. It also provokes a number of questions. Why not put the saggar and all its constituent parts together at the same time? Why does the saggar need two people to assemble it? Why can’t the saggar maker do all of it? Indeed, why is a saggar necessary at all?
What I learned is how an art, craft, industry can depend upon not just a simple, purely functional object, but also the bottom of that simple object. Now that does sound like a punch line….