CANVASES, CARATS AND CURIOSITIES

Wedgwood: A Collector's Guide to English Ceramic Treasures

10 minute read

“Beautiful forms and compositions are not made by chance, nor can they ever, in any material, be made at small expense.” – Josiah Wedgwood

 

In a career that lasted more than 40 years and fundamentally spurred the industrialization of the manufacturing of stoneware, Josiah Wedgwood and his factory achieved perfection in ceramic art. When people think about ceramics, they tend to only think in simpler terms: jugs and mugs made from earthen clay. However, the range and sophistication of ceramics reaches far beyond that, a notion forever changed by Josiah Wedgwood. From vases to dinnerware, our Wedgwood collection offers something for every kind of collector. Read on to learn more about the different types of Wedgwood stoneware that are most essential for collectors.

 
Wedgwood maker's mark.

Wedgwood maker's mark.

 

Jasperware

Crafted with an unglazed matte "biscuit" finish, jasperware is perhaps the material that most often comes to mind when one thinks of Wedgwood ceramics. There’s no denying its incomparable elegance and impact in the history of decorative arts. Throughout the roughly 250 years Wedgwood has been produced, the neoclassical designs of jasperware have remained the English firm’s most iconic creations. Some even describe this stoneware art form as the most important development in ceramics and pottery since porcelain’s invention in ancient China some 1,000 years earlier.

 

Wedgwood Jasperware Cupid Bulb Pots, circa 1790.

Wedgwood Jasperware Cupid Bulb Pots, circa 1790.
 

Named after the natural mineral jasper, Wedgwood jasperware is the result of several-thousand individual experiments. Groundbreaking in the field of ceramic art and style, jasperware techniques were introduced to the public in 1775. After perfecting his jasperware technique, Wedgwood opted to adorn its surfaces with stark-white reliefs, giving it what we know today as the “Wedgwood look,” characterized by neoclassical scenes and motifs in a cameo silhouette.

 

Searching for the perfect Wedgwood jasperware piece to your antique collection? Shop our collection today to find a unique Wedgewood tea set, bowls, or tableware pieces.


 

 

Colors

Wedgwood produced unglazed stoneware in approximately 30 different colors, ranging from the firm’s signature pale “Wedgwood blue” to vibrant hues of crimson, sage, royal blue and a number of tri- and multi-color motifs. The amazing craftsmanship of these pieces makes each one so unique. With the vast number of pieces produced by Wedgwood, it is easy to distinguish them by the multitude of colors possible in this medium. More than that, color is also one of the main contributing factors in determining the value of Wedgwood jasperware.

 

Wedgwood “An Offering to Love” Crimson Jasperware Jug, circa 1920.

 
Wedgwood “An Offering to Love” Crimson Jasperware Jug, circa 1920.

In addition to each Wedgwood mark, color can help to identify the age of a particular piece, as hues tended to vary slightly over the years. Of course, while condition and shape also play a part in a piece’s value, some colors fetch higher prices than others. The rarity of the color, or the complexity of multi-color pieces, can all drive the value reflected in the price tag.

 

Wedgwood Jasper-Dip Diceware Teapot, early 19th century.

Wedgwood Jasper-Dip Diceware Teapot, early 19th century.
 

Creamware or Queensware

Creamware is a cream-colored, refined earthenware with a lead glaze over a pale body popular throughout Europe during the 18th century. A common form of earthenware, simple creamware was widely used across classes for its lightweight durability and affordable cost in contrast to porcelain exported from China and India. Despite being mass-produced by numerous potteries in Staffordshire, Josiah Wedgwood’s innovative genius transformed this unglazed stoneware into a highly refined, technically perfect and more aesthetically exquisite ceramic material in the mid-18th century.

 
Josiah Wedgwood presenting his Creamware to Queen Charlotte.

Josiah Wedgwood presenting his Creamware to Queen Charlotte.

 

Wedgwood's improved cream-colored earthenware was dubbed “Queensware” after the successful completion of his first commission for Queen Charlotte in the summer of 1765. The English firm produced “a complete set of tea things” for the Queen's use, including a dozen coffee cups, six fruit baskets and stands, six melon preserve pots and six candlesticks. On June 6, 1766, the Aris Birmingham Gazette announced: "Mr. Josiah Wedgwood, of Burslem, has had the honour [sic] of being appointed Potter to Her Majesty." Within the next decade, Wedgwood would create Queensware services for royalty across Europe, including Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia.

 
Wedgwood Creamware Cruet Set, circa 1770.

Wedgwood Creamware Cruet Set, circa 1770.

 

Wedgwood's Queensware would reached its zenith during this period, exhibiting a fine form, thin body and clear glaze perfect for enamel ornamentation. The Wedgwood Queensware trend became ubiquitous across Europe and the new United States, killing the demand for tin-glazed earthenware and pewter vessels while simultaneously sparking the development of local stoneware industries. Multipurpose in use and decoration for everything from elaborate vases to humble utilitarian wares, Creamy Queensware became one of the most versatile and long-lived ceramic materials ever created. To this day, the craftsmanship of these wedgwood ceramics is not something to be overlooked.

 

Black Basalt

After several years of experimentation, Josiah Wedgwood introduced black basalt — a richly hued, glossy black stoneware medium — into production in 1768. Originally called “Black Basaltes” by the founder, this midnight shade of stoneware proved far superior to the fashionable “Egyptian black” ceramics popular in 18th-century England. Made from a reddish-brown clay that burns black in the firing process, black basalt owes its color to the addition of manganese.

 

Black basalt became even more popular in the 19th century, when it was used to create exquisite ornamental wares emulating ancient Greek pottery. Erroneously titled “Etruscan vase forms,” these smooth, black surfaces were bronzed and painted in encaustic lacquer directly copying Hellenistic motifs of the ancient Mediterranean. Over the years, Wedgwood produced vases, portrait medallions, plaques, library busts and candlesticks in black basalt. Josiah Wedgwood is said to have remarked, “Black is sterling and will last forever,” upon the advent of this new stoneware style.

 

Lady Templetown’s Legacy

Josiah Wedgwood excelled in business partly because of his unparalleled respect for the talented artists and sculptors he commissioned, both established and nascent in their craft. Notably, Wedgwood employed and patronized a cadre of women artists — beginning with Lady Templetown — in an era when women were not taken seriously as professional artists.

 
Elizabeth Lady Templetown

Elizabeth Lady Templetown

 

Lady Elizabeth Templetown, a skilled amateur artist, was the first woman artist Wedgwood commissioned. Between 1783 and 1789, she created silhouette scenes from “cut Indian paper” that were translated into bas reliefs applied to jasperware and became part of the English firm’s now-iconic cameo motifs. Templetown’s art was frequently sentimental in nature and heavily featured women and children as the subjects of domestic scenes with titles like, “Domestic Employment,” “Sportive Love” and “Poor Maria.”

 
"Study," a scene from Lady Templetown's "Domestic Employment" series highlighting the daily lives of women.

"Study," a scene from Lady Templetown's "Domestic Employment" series highlighting the daily lives of women.

 

Josiah Wedgwood’s choice to employ Lady Templetown reveals his savvy as a businessman. While neoclassical themes remained king, Wedgwood recognized a growing demand for Romantic-style works in the late 18th century. Lady Templetown’s concepts and designs appealed specifically to the tastes of women, an increasingly important and lucrative aspect of his business. Today, Templetown’s domestic motifs are some of Wedgwood’s most popular and long-lasting designs to the firm’s repertoire.

 

Fairyland Lustre

Introduced in 1915, Fairyland Lustre is Wedgwood’s most fanciful and diversified line ever produced to date. Considered the firm’s most important 20th-century creation, Fairyland Lustre pieces are hotly sought-after by Wedgwood collectors and connoisseurs alike. A pure departure from Wedgwood’s iconic Neoclassical motifs of the 18th and 19th centuries, Fairyland Lustre evokes imaginative, fantasy-inspired creatures such as fairies, elves and goblins rendered in wildly lacquered combinations of vivid colors, including greens, oranges, blues, deep purples and ruby reds.

 

Fairyland Lustre

 

is the brainchild of yet another innovative woman employed by Wedgwood, Daisy Makeig-Jones, an eccentric artist who managed to convince Cecil Wedgwood to hire her as an apprentice painter in 1909. Leveraging her clear talent, Makeig-Jones climbed the firm’s ladder and after only two years of apprenticeship began designing tableware. She began experimenting with Oriental Dragon patterns in 1913, going on to produce lustre patterns of fish, hummingbirds, fruit and other natural subjects before moving onto her flamboyant Fairyland Lustre line. Makeig-Jones would further experiment with brilliant hues in a subsequently intense line titled Flame Fairyland Lustre. Released one year into World War I, Makeig-Jones’ Fairyland Lustre series is credited as saving the Wedgwood company during a slack period of sales. Many Europeans looked to the Wedgwood pottery line’s fantasy subjects and neon landscapes as a means of escaping the horrors of war. Across the Atlantic, Fairyland Lustre proved immensely popular during the late 1900s and Roaring ‘20s, providing Wedgwood with a trendy — and pricey — new product that penetrated the lucrative American market.

 

Fairyland Lustre

 

was discontinued promptly after the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and onset of the Great Depression in the United States. The spectrum of iridescent glazed colors iconic to Fairyland Lustre were a far too expensive luxury to produce during the economic downturn of the 1930s. Thus, Wedgwood abandoned the fanciful style in lieu of a more austere modern motif in line with Art Deco urbanism.

 
 

Browse M.S. Rau’s extensive collection of Wedgwood antiques and find the perfect pieces to start or add to your own Wedgwood collection.

 

At M.S. Rau, we offer a variety of paintings, ceramics, and antiques from famous artists, designers, and makers from all around the world. Browse our antique collections today to discover superior items for all collectors.

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