Wedgwood was founded in 1759 by Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795).
Born in Staffordshire, Josiah was one of 12 children. It might surprise you to know that despite being one of the most famous potters in history, he was unable to use a potter’s wheel. Thanks to a bout of childhood smallpox he was left with a permanently weakened knee.
At the age of 29, Josiah became an independent potter. He began by introducing creamware tableware which was made from refined earthenware and given a lead glaze. His first showroom opened in London and by 1763 he was receiving orders from many high ranking people, including Queen Charlotte who requested a creamware tea and coffee service. Josiah took this opportunity to ask for permission to call himself “Potter to Her Majesty”, which was given. When the service was delivered in 1766, it was referred to as “Queen’s Ware”. Since then, Wedgwood collections have been found on the tables of British monarchs and heads of state around the World, including in the White House.
The Royal Warrant
In 1995 Wedgwood was granted the Royal Warrant, a mark of recognition given to those who have supplied goods or services to the Royal Households for at least five years, from HM Queen Elizabeth II.
Following the grant of the Royal Warrant, substantial investments were made to buy new manufacturing equipment, allowing production to increase. Collaborations followed with many different artists and designers including Jasper Conran, Vera Wang and Kelly Hoppen.
Jasperware and Wedgwood Blue
Jasperware was developed by Josiah in the 1770s and is stoneware with an unglazed, matt finish. It took more than a staggering 5,000 experiments over a number of years before Jasperware was developed by late 1774. It was a dense white stoneware which easily took on colour. By December of 1774, Josiah Wedgwood ‘… had no doubt of being able to give a fine white composition any tint of fine blue…” By January of the following year, the stage was set for Blue Jasperware. Jasperware was made in a number of colours, with the best known and most common becoming known as Wedgwood Blue. The colour is now recognisable as being Wedgwood worldwide. Developing Wedgwood Blue took a great deal of time and experimentation. At the time, the colour choices for Jasperware were much dictated by the shades most favoured for neoclassical interiors. White, blue and green were the first colours developed for cameos and were soon followed with bas reliefs and plaques in black, lilac and yellow.
Jasperware reflects Josiah Wedgwood’s career and innovation, his creativity and determination and it is still produced in Staffordshire today, carefully handcrafted by the company’s expert artisans. Many of the techniques that he pioneered are still used today to make Jasperware, Queen’s Ware and fine bone china.
The decoration of Jasperware was in the neoclassical style, fashionable for the time period and used in the centuries following, although it could be made in other styles. Portraits in profile matched the fashion for paper-cut silhouettes, typically in white. Decoration consisted of original designs as well as copying modern and ancient works.
The artists and people commissioned to design and work for Wedgwood are not necessarily easily identifiable as they were not always named on the pieces. However there are a number that are well known:
John Flaxman Jr (1755-1826), a neoclassical sculptor and draughtsman, who worked with them from 1775.
Artist George Stubbs (1724-1806 was commissioned in the 1770s.
William Wood (1746-1808) was employed as a modeller. From a family of Staffordshire potters, William was one of a number of his family to have a connection to Wedgwood.
William Hackwood (c1757-1839) was a modeller for Wedgwood, occasionally being allowed to sign his work. He is also said to have modelled for many of the 18th century portrait medallions.
Following Josiah’s death, his son John Wedgwood continued to grow the company. John introduced bone china and the first printed back stamp on a piece of Wedgwood made its appearance. Next followed new production techniques and a 3 letter code impressed on the bottom of each piece of Wedgwood made, denoting the month, potter and year the piece was made. From 1910 “Made in England” was added to all designs.
John Wedgwood had an interest in botany and horticulture and in 1804 founded The Royal Horticultural Society. The modern Jasperware collections reflect John’s passion. Burlington Ports have been developed in collaboration with the Duchess of Burlington and give a nod to Wedgwood’s rich history. Jasper Folia Vases and Pots use earthy colours and texture, giving the material a modern twist.
Josiah’s Connection to the Slave Trade
Whilst the name Wedgwood and the iconic Wedgwood Blue Jasperware is instantly recognisable and known by many, what is less commonly known is that Josiah Wedgwood was active in working towards the abolition of the slave trade. From 1887 until his death he participated in fighting for the case. His greatest legacy to the anti-slavery movement was the production of a slave cameo, modelled by William Hackwood. The design was adapted from the movement’s seal with a kneeling, monocled slave and the words “Am I not a man and a brother”. The medallion/cameo is thought to be one of the first visible campaigning tools against a morally repugnant social evil. The pieces proved to be popular and were provided free of charge to anyone giving their help.
For Wedgwood collectors looking to expand their collection, The Warehouse Antiques Centre has over 100 dealers spaced across 15,00 sq ft. With stock arriving daily, we are confident that we will be able to assist!