"The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name." - Confucius


It appears that sometime in the 1970s some influential tile collectors invented a set of new names for common things as if a kind of code for the initiated, that members of the club understood but outsiders did not.

What usually may be called the back of a tile was named reverse, grip patterns were also given names too. What may usually be called a grid was named portcullis, a ring grip pattern was named target. These terms whilst a little confusing at least have some semblance of sense about them, others did not.

Works of art and collectables etc have a specific word for when the back of a flat piece such as painting, sheet of paper, coin, even watch etc., has markings or data, it is verso. As tiles that are collected are considered works of art then verso seems the appropriate word to use in preference to back or reverse when use of either may cause temporary confusion.

In technical applications such as architectural drawing, and most tiles' primary use was architectural, the horizontal is the first figure and the vertical the second figure in any expressed dimension so 6" x 3" is a horizontal tile and 3" x 6" is a vertical tile. In the art world both would be 6" x 3" because there the convention is to put the larger dimension first even though that then fails to convey a possibly vital piece of data.

I prefer to use the technical way of expressing dimensions for it does convey more information without occupying more space, "in the house and up the stairs,"is a mnemonic to remember it taught to students in many technical classes. People are now more familiar with dimensions of rectangles as we have more photographs, screens, we use map references and all manner of things where width before height, horizontal before vertical, is the standard used.

When it comes to outright fiction one of the leading phrases is 'relief moulded' which appears in no original literature that I have seen and that which it seeks to describe is well described in normal language. Original catalogues for the most part describe such tiles as majolica and/or embossed, as there are other methods of making majolica such as hand pressing or the application of sprigs 'embossed majolica' is definitive and the actual phrase was in use. 'Relief moulded' is not a definitive phrase indeed there are 'relief moulded' tiles that are not majolica being unglazed or partly glazed, partly enamelled and whatever combination of such and similar a designer, artist or craftsman may devise.

'Intaglio (moulded)' is another made up phrase, intaglio means cut i.e. with knives, chisels etc, 'intaglio moulded' is therefore an oxymoron. I think the confusion may have arisen because most tools (moulds, dies, pattern plates) for making embossed tiles were made by the intaglio method and appear so described in technical descriptions. The correct word for patterns pressed in to a material in a press is impressed, indented also describes adequately and appears in the Mintons catalogue.

When it comes to condition self publishing has led to a lot of new words being created or words misused. It seems that some sellers will say or write anything to avoid using the word chip.

Fleabite is the standard and is a joke, literally, it goes like so:

Buyer says to vendor in trying to negotiate a better price, "what about this chip?"

Vendor replies, "ah good sir, it is but a mere fleabite," preferably in a cockney accent.

Some sellers have started using 'bite' instead of 'fleabite' to obscure the meaning still further, maybe just as well as the size of fleas capable of creating most fleabites in ceramic would be a bit scary. In fact the meaning of fleabite is 'an insignificant pain or annoyance' so that there is a 'bite' out of the edge of the tile is not directly related to chomping, but then along comes nibble.

Nibble is perhaps worse, it surely is in some respects. There are nibbles on tiles, they are done on purpose, there are tools for the purpose of creating nibbles called 'nibbling pliers' or 'nibblers' for short. They are used to trim the edge of a tile, piece of glass, slate etc., as there is a minor skill in their use nowadays power tools have to a great extent taken over the role. Power tools are a poor substitute for skilled hands as a quick bit of nibbling with nibblers is a lot faster than using a power cutter and of course requires zero other resources. This is particularly true in stained glass making, with many pieces of glass to cut and trim to shape frequent use of a glass grinder is very time consuming.

Nibble is occasionally shortened to nib which has more or less the opposite meaning, a nib is a projection. I actually used to buy tiles with nibs from the manufacturer, I didn't want them but if it was all that was immediately available I would have to buy them and nibble the nibs off. This was back when nibs served the function of grout spacers, it is more efficient in manufacturing to avoid them and for spacers to be plastic disposables. Nibs are widely used on roof tiles, to grip the battens.

Frit is been becoming quite widely used as a means of avoiding chip especially in circles where it should not be, by dealers who claim expertise. Frit is a mixture of chemical compounds (minerals) used in glass and glaze manufacture. Fritting refers to a manufacturing flaw whereby due to the constituents of the glaze and temperature in the kiln glaze-bubbles form usually around the rim, broken glaze bubbles due to this are called fritting and have been for many, many years.

Frit is also a past participle of fright, it means the same as frightened, one could say dealers who misuse frit are frit of saying chip.


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