Antiques & Collectables - Wedgewood

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The very mention of the word "Wedgwood" conjures up immediately a picture of some jug, vase or bowl, decorated in the jasperware white relief, giving this fantastic silhouette image so immortalised by that particular factory.  In point of fact, Wedgwood is much, much more than this, it is probably one of our oldest potteries, I would think without doubt the one that has been in existence with the same trade name going back right through to 1739.  At that time, no blue and white was produced; it was a simple pottery that Thomas Wedgwood had inherited.  He was the elder brother of Josiah and the Churchyard Works in Burslem was their family factory.

 

In this early part of the 18th century, work in the potteries was exceedingly hard, long hours and very little pay.  An employee at the Churchyard Works was paid fourpence a week in his first year of employment, sixpence in the second and ninepence in the third.  His work was to prepare the clay into balls for Josiah and Richard, his master's sons, both of whom were throwers, to turn into the finished product.

 

To show just what knowledge of his craft Josiah Wedgwood had he was working in the factory from the age of 11 when he was a very proficient thrower.  In fact, he had very little formal education but in potting, he was already an experienced and useful hand.

 

During the latter part of the 18th century, Josiah worked himself up to be the principal of the factory.  There were numerous family disputes, a range of various partnerships with other factories and people with financial interests in the firm.  Throughout that time, they co-operated with some of the leading names in the pottery industry, collaborating with Bentley and Whieldon to name but two.  From these alliances came some amazing designs and, more importantly, varying types of body and glazes.  We also had the emergence of the Jasperware, synonymous with Wedgwood, but they also had some other incredible successes, not least with Queensware.  This was an earthenware of ivory or cream colour developed by Josiah. To crown the success of this particular body and glaze, an order was received from Catherine the Great of Russia for no less than 952 pieces in the form of a dinner service decorated to her own special design. It took several years to complete and even in 1775 cost several thousand pounds. Very occasionally a few pieces of this fantastic service finds its way on to the open market, at every event keenly sought after by dealers and collectors alike.

 

During the Wedgwood/Bentley period around the 1770's there was a great deal of experimentation with marbling.  This was an earthenware made literally to imitate marble.  The effect was obtained by splashes and lines of different coloured slips which were sponged or combed together to create the illusion of marble, a very difficult and laborious process but extremely attractive and creates a ceramic trompe l'oeil.

 

Another product that was keenly promoted by Wedgwood was black basalte.  This was a very fine-grained underglazed black stoneware trying to emulate black volcanic basalte rock.  Over the years Wedgwood gave it many improvements in order to give it a richer hue and finer grain.  Always seeking to obtain a smooth surface, like that of the mined stone.  It is a product that you either love or hate .  For the connoisseur busts, animal studies, and certain vases of considerable size do look very effective in this black single colour pottery.

 

 Not content with just pottery, Wedgwood made jewellery, plaques to go on furniture and there seemed to be no end to the range his factory could produce.  They were great promoters of Pearlware, another 18th century body of clay which contained a greater percentage of flint and white clay than the cream coloured earthenware.  In the glazing process, a small amount of cobalt was added to whiten the finished article even more.

 

Certainly throughout the factory's life and still today, Wedgwood is held in high esteem by collectors and dealers alike.

 

 

 

© Mike Hicks

May 2003