5th July

On the Division of Labour: The Nail Painters of Pathhead*

for Davey Stewart

To take an example from a very trifling trade, that of a nail painter: a worker not educated to this business (which the division of labour has rendered a distinct trade), nor acquainted with the use of the machinery employed in it (to the invention of which the same division of labour has probably given occasion), could scarce, perhaps, with her utmost industry, paint one nail in a day, and certainly could not paint twenty. But in the way in which this business is now carried on, not only the whole work is a peculiar trade, but it is divided into a number of branches, which are likewise peculiar trades. One worker assesses the condition of the nail; another cleans it; a third cuts it; a fourth points it; a fifth prepares it for receiving the paint; to select the correct paint requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on is a peculiar business; to dry the nails is another; it is even a trade by itself to admire them when painted; and the important business of painting a nail is thus divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which, in some salons, are all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same woman will sometimes perform two or three of them. I have seen a small salon, where ten women only were employed, where some of them consequently performed two or three distinct operations. But they could, when they exerted themselves, paint among them about twelve pounds of nails in a day. There are in a pound upwards of four thousand nails of a middling size. Those ten persons, therefore, could paint among them upwards of forty-eight thousand nails in a day. Each person, therefore, might be considered as painting four thousand eight hundred nails in a day. But if they had all wrought separately and independently, they certainly could not each of them have painted twenty, perhaps not one nail in a day; that is, certainly, not the two hundred and fortieth, perhaps not the four thousand eight hundredth, part of what they are at present capable of performing, in consequence of a proper division and combination of their different operations.

* Adapted from Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. The trade of nail-painting has entirely replaced the trade of nail-making once observed by Smith in this part of Kirkcaldy.

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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