Alabaster history: history of the Company Artieri Alabaster Volterra Tuscany.

Alabaster history: history of the Company Artieri Alabaster Volterra Tuscany.

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Artieri Alabastro
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Alabastro a Volterra

History of cooperative

The history of the cooperative society Artieri

The cooperative society was born in Volterra in the 1895 with the name Cooperativa Industriale Magazzino Di lavori in Alabastro. It will change the name to Società Cooperativa Artieri dell’alabstro in 1908 when the famous poet Gabriele D’Annunzio, visiting Volterra and seeing the beautiful work of the artisans, invented the word “Artieri”.

The main purpose of the foundation of the Cooperative society was to permit the alabaster artisans, blackmailed by dealers without scruples, to have a warehouse to gather all the manufactured articles to be managed as a monopoly.

In fact the biggest piece of the gain went to the dealers, who had within their power to speculate twice: the first time when buying from the artisans, incapable to sell their own products, and the second time when selling the manufactured articles to the buyers.

The traders, masters of the market of the alabaster, and also with important interests in the field of the food trade, went so far as paying the artisans not in currency, but with food vouchers. The food that was bought with the vouchers was often of a bad quality or even spoilt.

Due to the bad conditions in which they lived, the alabaster artisans were always in commotion. Their only organized way to protest was the demonstration , but this was condemned and sentenced in the court.

In this society, during the ten years previous to 1895, the idea of the foundation of the Cooperative society matured. This was borne from a project made by Onorato Della Maggiora, an esteemed and well known person in Volterra for his acquired experiences and his devotion to the problems regarding the alabaster trade. The project had as it’s first purpose to monopolize the trade, creating a warehouse to which all the artisans were obliged to sell and from which all the traders were obliged to buy. The partnership was motivated from the necessity of giving a defence to the workers, although partial, of their interests.

The first partners in the 1895 were 472 craftsmen with 35 apprentices.
The cooperative society was borne with the important limit of a small capital. As a company it couldn’t secure the necessary capital to reach the monopoly of the production. Already the following year, the Coop. wasn’t able anymore to secure the purchase of all the manufactured articles of the partners, and had to give back to its partners the full freedom of action. Furthermore, the export duty was raised, making the export more difficult. The Coop. continued anyway in its activity even if with limited tasks. It gave up the monopoly of the production but had as a main aim to satisfy the requirements of the few artisans still left.


A turning-point of the management of the society was given by the elections of the chairman Enrico Barbafiera under whose guidance it became possible to realize the settling of the Coop. as a company. He took initiatives that allowed the recovery of the capital giving an economical prospect to the society.
In fact, Barbafiera saw the necessity to extend the relations with foreign countries and took, in this sense, opportune and successful initiatives. He gave a new course to the production extending also the range of products.
From 1896 to the 1898 the Coop. recorded a constant increase of the capital. The sales volume of the society, even though in constant increase, was between 8 and 12% of all the alabaster production in Volterra.
The Coop. could be considered well thriving, thanks to a new production that, having finally sold off the remaining stocks, circulated with a satisfactory speed.


The years from the 1900 to the 1910 were very favourable to the alabaster market. Furthermore, the government helped the craftsmen trade trying to give the right push to the production, both on foreign markets as on the Italian market.
In 1913 the Coop. received in gift from Alessandro Bolognese, the owner of an old alabaster factory in Volterra that was closing, besides a big quantity of material and working tools, also all the sale organisation with a solid net work of correspondents.
From 1922 to 1924 was Lorenzo Bresciani the chairman of the Coop. Due to the first world war, the profit of the society which had increased in 1912-1913 suffered a bad crash in 1915-1916, but it began a fast resumption from 1917.

During the years of the war the Coop. took some important initiatives and two of these were the most important. The first was the promotion of competitions and the institution of scholarships for the local Art school, investing in the vocational training of their future artisan masters.
The second one had a more important economical and social influence. In those years the world war had drastically reduced the number of unemployed. The Coop. organized and directed a subscription of the shareholders and the proceeds were used to invest in alabaster items that agents brought on the markets of the neutral countries. This work was concluded with success and served to absorb a part of the unemployed labour.
For the alabaster trade and the activity of the Coop. a new economically favourable period began.


The crisis of 1929 was a hard blow for the alabaster trade. The main part of the companies were dissolved and the few remaining had to reduce their organic and the artisans had to find other jobs. The fascists annulled the national league of the co-operative societies and the Coop. lost its autonomy in the 1925.
The charter of the society was the first thing changed by the fascists. Partially already previously modified, in 1932 they were revised article by article.
The most representative men of the National Fascist Party in Volterra succeeded one another directing the Coop. The Coop. suffered, in these years of regime, bad mutilations: it lost its democratic freedom, typical for this association, and went towards a grave economical destruction of the company due to the autarchic politics wanted by Mussolini and due to the choices in foreign policy.

The alabaster industry needed, to live and to prosper, a peaceful clime and friendly international relations. The Coop. reduced gradually its economic potential, due to the effects of the politics of Mussolini.
Nevertheless it’s also true that the regime paid attention to the alabaster trade.
The uniqueness of the alabaster, and the way it was worked, was shown in the Italian colonies as an example of the Italian fascist industry. Therefore Mussolini granted a subsidy of £ 500.000 thanks to which it was possible to give work to the artisans, but the produced goods remained unsold in the warehouse.
In 1933 the society Artieri gave up its historical offices, “Palazzo Salvi” bought in 1910, to the local bank.


The collapse of the Fascism and the end of the second world war returned the Coop. to its associates, the legitimate owners. In the immediate post-war period all the alabaster trade was in ruin, finding itself in a market without buyers. It was a period in which the citizens they had need, first of all, of consumer goods.
Fortunately, together with the army of liberation, the first costumers, the American troops of the fifth army, arrived. They commissioned the coats of arms of their army to the artisans and found in the articles realized in this extraordinary stone nice souvenirs to bring back home.
They were buyers of modest pretensions, but thanks to these sales, the Coop. which had its warehouse full of unsold items produced during the war, it was possible to resume force and a new economic energy.


In the years of the immediate post-war period and until the first years of the fifties, the Coop. Artieri was the only company on the territory that could guarantee safety and stability to the craftsmen. In this period the Coop. had 185 partners, and each of them had from 2 to 5 workers.
To these they should be added all those craftsmen that worked for the trade as black smiths and carpenters who produced and repaired the tools for the artisans.
The first years of the fifties represent for the Coop. a phase of extreme economic prosperity; the market, most of all foreign, demanded an always greater number of manufactured articles. Beyond the Coop. Artieri a number of privately-owned companies, fate in that particular moment in order to answer to the crescent requirement of exports, operated in the trade. Some of these companies were of remarkable dimensions, arriving to have until 70 employees.

In all Italy in the fifties and the sixties there were tens and tens of stores that bought alabaster items from Volterra. They were found dislocated along all the peninsula from Lago Maggiore on the east coast to the south of Italy. A big warehouse in Rome, clients of the society Artieri, sold the alabaster articles to souvenir shops in all the city. The most important exports were directed towards Mexico, Portugal and Greece, without counting the United States that was, and still today remains, the main market for manufactured articles of the Coop. Other important commercial contacts were kept with countries of the five continents: The Scandinavian countries, France, Germany, South Africa, Japan, Australia and countries in South America.
The requests and the strongly increasing sales volume brought remarkable profits to the funds of the society, which were reinvested in the real estate field. In 1958 the Palazzo in via Sarti was acquired, and this remained for many years the head office of the Coop. Some time after, the adjacent land to Via Pisana was also bought, where a laboratory for the craftsmen of the Coop. was placed. That is today where the warehouse and the head office of the Coop. is situated. During the years of the economic boom the Coop. opened also several stores. In Tuscany, there were not only the two stores in Volterra, but also in Pisa, Siena and Florens. A great step was made at the beginning of the sixties when the Coop. Artieri found the Limonex store of Paris, which became the sole agency of the manufactured products of the Coop.


The years between the end of 1960 and the first years of 1970 mark the beginning of the crisis for the alabaster trade in Volterra. In fact, in that period Spain launches their products, made with alabaster quarried from their own quarries, on the market.
The stone extracted in the north of Spain compared to the one quarried in the surroundings of Volterra has minor costs of extraction and has a less hardness and therefore also the working costs are inferior.
The competition for the Coop. and for all the trade was made with items produced in series, of minor artistic value, but with remarkably inferior prices.
The crisis was made acute in the eighties with the lack of off-shore purchases from abroad. There were no more buyers from France, Germany, the Scandinavian countries and Australia. Also the trade with Japan was difficulty and the United States remained the only important market, although the volume of transactions was reduced.
In the meantime, also the Italian buyers bought from Spain.
The drastic reduction of the sales involved all the alabaster trade in Volterra and the number of craftsmen was considerably reduced. Numerous privately-owned companies were forced to close. Also the coop. reduced in a considerable way its number of partners to around 50 partners.

Società Cooperativa Artieri Alabastro

via Provinciale Pisana, 28 Volterra 56048 (Pisa)

Tel. +39 0588 86135 - Fax +39 0588 86224

P. Iva 00116100504


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