When Josiah Wedgwood first founded the Wedgwood pottery company in 1759, few could have predicted the extent of his success. Today, Wedgwood is remembered for reshaping the pottery business, especially in his innovations of new materials like jasperware and basalt. Whether you’re new to Wedgwood or already a seasoned collector, read on to learn more about the fascinating man behind the potter’s wheel.
Wedgwood Neoclassical Black Basalt Encaustic Enamel Amphora
1. Wedgwood financed a 90-mile long canal specifically to transport his pottery.
Wedgwood was constantly thinking of inventive ways to improve his business, one of which was financing the Trent and Mersey Canal in order to transport his fragile wares more safely. This canal was designed in 1766 as a way to link the Trent, Mersey, Severn and Thames rivers, and it would become the largest engineering project England had ever undertaken. Wedgwood was a key proponent of the project, as the roads of the day were very uneven, jostling his inventory while in transport and often damaging it. This project cost 130,000 pounds, but it was ultimately highly beneficial to Wedgwood and many other businesses in the area. Transporting goods via canals was not only safer for the items but significantly cheaper.
Wedgwood Green Dip Tricolor Snake Handled Vase
2. Wedgwood’s difficult childhood inspired his tenacity and bravery in business ventures.
Walking seven miles to and from school each day was an expected burden placed upon Josiah Wedgwood as a child, who was the youngest of eleven siblings. He got a very early start in the pottery business as an apprentice to his elder brother Thomas Wedgwood IV who was a master potter. An attack of smallpox eventually led to the amputation of his leg, leaving him unable to work a potter’s wheel, however Wedgwood was not dissuaded from pursuing pottery as a career. Instead, Wedgwood began to focus on the business side of his firm due to his physical limitations, an area in which he would excel.
Wedgwood 6-piece Bone China Dejeuner Set
3. Wedgwood was a proud abolitionist and created one of the most influential visual depictions of the movement against the slave trade.
The seal reads “Am I Not a Man And a Brother?” and was replicated among abolitionists in both England and the United States. The titular emotional plea comes from an enslaved man in cameo depicted kneeling in chains. The image draws on the viewer’s conscience, and it was later appropriated for feminist uses with the “Am I Not a Woman and a Sister?” iteration, recognizing the uniquely difficult situation of enslaved women. Some scholars consider this seal to be the first use of a logo designed for a political cause. Benjamin Franklin even referred to Wedgwood’s design as comparable to the best written pamphlet, emphasizing the power of visual depictions in this incredibly important cause.
Wedgwood Bicentennial Portrait Plaque of George Washington
4. One of Wedgwood’s greatest creations is known as the “Frog Service.”
This massive service for fifty included 944 individual pieces and was designed especially for the Empress of Russia, Catherine the Great. The frog motif references the Chesme Palace, referred to as the frog marsh, which was the intended home of this fantastic set. Each individual piece features a hand-painted green frog surrounded by a shield, while some special components include notable buildings and sights in England. These pieces were formed from Queen’s Ware, a select form of fine earthenware crafted by Wedgwood for royal and noble use, beginning with a commission from Queen Charlotte.
Wedgwood Pale Blue Jasperware Coffee Cup and Saucer
5. Charles Darwin is the grandson of Josiah Wedgwood.
The famed scientist was the son of Wedgwood’s eldest daughter, Susanna. Sadly, Josiah Wedgwood died before ever meeting his grandson, although his interest in the Unitarian religion was successfully passed down and influenced Darwin’s academic pursuits. Interestingly, Josiah Wedgwood is also the grandfather of Charles Darwin’s wife Emma, making the pair first cousins.
Wedgwood Decorated Black Basalt Inkstand
6. Wedgwood was both a creative genius and a master marketer.
While the quality of works produced by Wedgwood speaks for itself, Josiah Wedgwood is also credited with the innovation of many marketing techniques we see today, including buy one get one free and illustrated catalogues. The first catalog Wedgwood published in 1773 was titled the Ornamental Catalogue,
and it gave customers a range of shapes to choose from for their wares. These concepts, while obvious to us today, were groundbreaking at the time and allowed Wedgwood to promote his pottery business in England and internationally.
Wedgwood Black Basalt Pastille Burner
7. Wedgwood produced pottery in a variety of colors, but the rarest color was crimson.
Because crimson was so prone to bleeding, Wedgwood only produced wares in this color for a brief period of time, making crimson jasperware
incredibly difficult to find today. Many attempts to craft crimson jasperware like this were scrapped in order to maintain the high levels of perfection expected from Wedgwood, so this endeavor was overall unprofitable for the firm.
Wedgwood Crimson Jasperware Portland Vase
8. You can view an extensive collection of Wedgwood pieces at the Wedgwood Museum in Barlaston.
Josiah Wedgwood knew the importance of his pottery and began to save samples of his works as early as 1774 to create a collection that would later be exhibited to the public. The current location for this amazing collection is the site of a Wedgwood factory that first opened in 1952. Today, visitors can take a factory tour and learn how Wedgwood pottery is made or try out the potter’s wheel themselves in the creative studios.
From basalt to jasperware, Wedgwood created amazing decorative works
suitable for display in any home. You can discover an array of rare Wedgwood creations at M.S. Rau.