The beginnings of the tinker´s craft in the northern areas of the former Trenčín county have not been fully explored yet. It is generally assumed the craft might have originated in the 18th century, but its massive boom began in the 19th century.
The very first mention of the tinker´s craft dates back to 1828, from a tax inventory, and only in three villages - Kolárovice, Dlhé Pole and Veľké Rovné. Yet, recent research moves the history of the tinkers´ craft before this date.
Why did the craft originate in this area? The answer is simple. Northwestern Slovakia was relatively mountainous and poor. The population that came with the colonization of Wallachia, dealt mainly with sheep and milk processing. Indigenous inhabitants worked as woodcutters in the mountains. People sought different ways of survival. As they often went close to Silesia, whether for work or business, they came into areas with developed ironmongery. Here, ironore was the most mined. By the the 18th century wire manufacturing and wire stocks were already founded in this region.
Wire was first discovered in Silesia where they became aware of its appearance and adaptability. The cost of wire was very low and it was easy to obtain. Due to short distances, people had no problem with transport.
Today no one knows who first used wire and what was produced from it. It is likely that tinkers produced a wider range of products from the very beginning. Among their first products was earthenware entwined with wire. Repairs of damaged vessels had been known since the earliest times of mankind. Therefore, it was not something new and so-called "haftovanie" (reparation of vessels using wire) became one of the most popular activities of tinkers. A unique profession was created, which aside from Slovaks, was not performed virtually by anyone else in the world.
The first mention about the tinker’s craft
The very first mention that can, but does not have to suggest the existence of the tinker´s craft, is a court file of the Bytča estate from 1714, which mentions the name of Juraj Drotárik. This symbolic date is now considered as the unofficial year of the first development of the craft. The exact numbers of tinkers are not preserved. One might consider statistics from 1877 to be realistic estimates, according to which, 10 000 tinkers from Trenčín county annually went out into the world. The unofficial centre of the tinker´s craft has always been the village of Veľké Rovné. In addition to northwestern Slovakia, the craft passed to the Spiš area.
The advantage of the tinker´s craft was that the craftsman did not have to have a permanent workshop. He only needed his "krošňa" (tinker’s backpack), which he wore on his back, and where he had everything he needed. Wire for entwining containers or for producing traps, etc.., tools and pieces of sheet metal. In the history of the tinker´s craft the concept of a tinker - sheet - metal period is often encountered.
Tinkers not only worked with wire, but also performed what we can identify as sheet - metal work. In addition, there was often confusion with the blacksmith’s profession, which was reflected particularly in various types of garden fencing and bars on windows. Their range of products gradually expanded as they perfected their skills. Commonly, the tinker´s craft would begin locally before eventual world - wide expansion. Trenčín County became too small for hundreds of tinkers, and they had to seek new markets abroad. During these journeys abroad the most famous symbol of the tinker´s craft, a figure of a tinker with a small boy "džarko" was created. The tinker set off into the world in his typical clothes with a leather bag over the shoulder, his backpack and a stick in hand. Alongside him walked a young boy, usually from ten to twelve years old, who was learning the craft. During the journey, despite a very hard life, and frequent battles for every trifle, the džarko learned to work with wire. Most of them later continued in this profession. In his book "Svetom, moje svetom" (Into the world, my sweet) the famous writer and promoter of the tinker´s craft Vladimír Ferko gives the example of Jozef Ruman from Kotešová, who remembers recruitement of the džarkos in the following way:
"When I was a little boy, during Carnival, in January and February, farmers used to go to villages and recruit workers and džarkos. Some farmers recruited workers to the Lowland for agricultural work, and they promised payment in kind, especially grain, which greatly lacked in the Uplands. The other kind of recruiters were tinkers, who recruited workers, but especially boys – džarkos, to their workshops, which were throughout Europe, even in the Asian part of Russia. They, therefore, had a choice: either agriculture, either the tinkers’ craft. Especially boys were more attracted by the tinkers’craft. It meant an opportunity to go into the unknown world, with the possibility to become independent later...".
The stages of development of the tinker´s craft
The tinkers´ craft underwent three main stages of development: a wandering period; a period of workshops; and the final phase was a factory production, which meant, in essence, its end.
In the first wandering period, in the days of door to door trade and repairs, tinkers focused specifically in mending clay and metal vessels, the sale or manufacture of traps for mice and rats which were made in several basic types. Moreover, they offered a variety of other products suitable for use in the kitchen. Their production and repairs were adapting to the requirements of customers and market demands in each country.
The second development phase of the tinkers´ craft was the creation of workshops and small manufacturing plants. It was the period of the second half of the 19th century. Tinkers responded to the demands of the growing market, which could not be satisfied by individual craftsmen any longer. Workshops were always created by more tinkers. Their master was the most experienced and the most skilled of them. 10 or more masters and journeymen worked in a workshop. There were two types of workshops: dealing with sheet metal or wire. Workshops produced practical household things, which found a wide application anywhere in the world, such as baskets for fruit, different types of hangers, strainers, but also baskets for delivering beer. Bird cages were also very popular, as were traps for mice and rats. These were produced in different sizes. Some examples of sheet metal products manufactured are forms for baking, funnels, various containers, etc.
Creation of manufactories
Workshops alone could not keep up with rising demands. A transient element in the form of manufacturing was created. Their range of products was quite varied - decorative household items, such as chandeliers, flower stands and so on. Among the most important factories in Warsaw was Jozef Holánik - Bakeľs, which focused on producing wire goods. Later, wire toys were manufactured here. Also the factories of brothers Dotčár in Samarra and manufacturing plants founded by Tomáš Fasunek based in Tunisia, were well known. The growth of mass consumption required creation of larger factories, where the tinkers became entrepreneurs in the true sense. Among the most famous factories belonged the company of Štefan Hunčík in Moscow or those of Jozef Belon and Jozef Knocík. However, the development of industrial production did not mean the end of the classical tinker´s craft. Tinkers with their džarkos still wandered the world, but they were already selling their goods through so-called hauzírs (door to door sellers). Tinkers brought home not only the knowledge of foreign languages and money, but also valuable experience.
The final chapter of the tinker´s craft
The first and the Second World War were very hard blows to the tinker´s craft. The final chapter of the craft began with the end of the Second World War. After the coup in 1948 there was significant pressure in Slovakia towards the liquidation of free - lance businesses, which also included the tinker´s craft.
Currently the craft exists in two forms: the artistic - craft and the art. The naive art is represented by Ladislav Mikulík, the artistic craft by Ladislav Jurovatý senior, the art by Jaroslav Drotár and the traditional craft by Ladislav Fapšo.
Source: M. Mrva