Last Updated: 02/16/2023
“Beautiful forms and compositions are not made by chance, nor can they ever, in any material, be made at small expense” – Josiah Wedgwood
Whether you are an avid Wedgwood collector or the delightful porcelain has just recently caught your fancy, Wedgwood jasperware’s alluring history is sure to entrance you. In a career that lasted over forty years and fundamentally spurred the industrialization of the manufacturing of stoneware, Josiah Wedgwood and his factory achieved perfection in ceramic art. Read on to learn more about the history, types and legacy of this famous pottery.
What is Jasperware?
When people think about ceramics and pottery, they may only think in simple terms: jugs and mugs made from earthen clay. Josiah Wedgwood changed that notion with the invention of his famous jasperware. The first viewing of Wedgwood's jasperware typically elicits a reaction of awe, particularly from Wedgwood collectors. Whether you have a deep or nascent understanding of the medium, there's no denying jasperware's incomparable elegance impacted the decorative arts in monumental ways.
Who was Josiah Wedgwood?
No other type of stoneware more accurately reflects the perfection that Josiah Wedgwood, the renowned English potter, achieved than his invention of jasperware, named after the natural mineral jasper. After several thousand individual experiments, jasperware techniques were introduced to the public in a watershed discovery in 1775. Some even describe this stoneware art form as the most important development in ceramics since the Chinese discovered porcelain some 1,000 years earlier. After perfecting the technique of crafting wares, vases and figures out of this new material, Wedgwood opted to adorn the surfaces with stark-white classical motifs, giving it what we know today as the "Wedgwood look."
What is the Wedgwood Style?
Wedgwood produced jasperware in approximately thirty different colors, ranging from its signature pale blue to more vibrant hues of crimson, sage, and royal blue jasperware. With the vast number of jasper pieces, like antique bowls, produced by Wedgwood, it is easy to distinguish between them all by the multitude of colors the firm used. The value of a Wedgwood piece is determined by a multitude of factors including individual rarity of the pieces’ color, condition, shape, design and size.
Here we will offer insight into the histories of some of Wedgwood's most significant colors. From black jasperware to green jasperware, learn the basics behind the colors of Josiah Wedgwood's renowned Jasperware.
Pale “Wedgwood” Blue
This calm, light blue English pottery is an iconic staple in Wedgwood blue jasperware. From its early inception and into the contemporary period, this matte blue finish has remained a recognizable staple of the firm’s output. Importantly, older pieces of pale blue are distinguishable from their modern descendants because they have a deeper hue that offers a greater contrast to the white reliefs that adorn them. Today, it is considered the flagship color of Wedgwood pottery and remains popular with collectors.
Perhaps the most distinctive, this color allows the greatest contrast between the classical white relief ornamentation and the dark, rich body of Wedgwood ceramics. Produced at various times beginning in 1878, it was eventually abandoned in 1977.
Black jasper should not be confused with another of Wedgwood's innovations: black basalt. This earlier material, first introduced in 1768, is considered one of Josiah Wedgwood's most revolutionary creations. Noted for its exceptionally fine texture and depth of color, the rich, smooth stoneware was especially suitable for casting and was used for a myriad of items, including vases, urns and remarkable sculptural forms.
Dark Royal or Portland Blue
This color is quite variable, ranging from a bright lively blue to a very dark navy. In most collector’s books, the clear majority of Wedgwood pieces pictured fall in this color category. This is no surprise: up until the very end of jasper production, dark blue was by far the most popular and best-selling color.
Red is considered the rarest and the most darling of colors. Only produced in a short window of time, it is extremely hard to find pieces of this variety. Initially introduced into Josiah's repertoire of different colors in the late 19th century, its short production was suspended by 1910. Discontinued due to its difficulty in craft (color bleeding was the main culprit), the number of unacceptable pieces from the kiln made this color unprofitable. Because of the small number produced, this color is highly collectible on the market. In recent years, this rare art demands the highest prices, with even insignificant shapes taking ten times the price of significant shapes in a different color.
Like other color varieties, this tri-color variation starts from the same white base. Because each color demands a different treatment, successfully applying multiple colors to a single creation is an extraordinary feat. The lavish appearance of this variety not only displays Josiah Wedgwood's great creativity, but it evidences a highly innovative level of craftsmanship the world had previously not yet seen. Naturally, tri-color creations sell for much higher prices than most single-color pieces and in many instances, this variety is as valuable as crimson.
Produced in various stages from the late 18th century to the first decade of the 20th century, this color varies enormously. Pieces in this color category can range from delicate purplish pink in the earlier stages of production to a truer lavender color in the later periods.
Among the various shades of Wedgwood green jasperware that the factory produced, it is the lighter variety, sage, that attracted the most attention and is the most common. At the end of the 20th century, a darker, richer olive green was introduced into Wedgwood ware. However, like the crimson variety, green jasperware easily subjected to color bleeding and therefore was only produced during a short window of time.
Quick Facts:Full name: Josiah Wedgwood
Born: July 12, 1730, United Kingdom
Died: January 3, 1795, United Kingdom
Spouse: Sarah Wedgwood (1734–1815)
Children: Susannah Wedgwood (became the mother of the English naturalist Charles Darwin), John Wedgwood, Richard Wedgwood, Josiah Wedgwood II, Thomas Wedgwood, Catherine Wedgwood, Sarah Wedgwood (1776–1856), Mary Anne Wedgwood
In the years following the development of jasperware, the importance of Wedgwood wares is still far-reaching. Undeniably, Wedgwood's early experimentations were a turning point in the industry. With their unmistakable designs and forms, the different colors of Wedgwood ceramics and dishes continue to enthrall antique pottery collectors and consumers alike, especially if they’re in excellent condition. In many ways, owning a jasperware pot without any cracks is akin to finding the holy grail.