Josiah Wedgwood founded the Staffordshire pottery that bears his name in 1759. The company’s rise to prominence was extraordinarily fast, in part because Wedgwood initially focused on refining existing techniques and working in traditional forms rather creating something entirely new from scratch. He also appeared to understand the power of branding and marketing.

His first major success, and the one that would open doors for his company throughout the rest of his life, occurred in 1765, when he developed a cream-colored earthenware of Cornish clay and presented a tea set of the ware to England's Queen Charlotte. By all accounts, the queen was so pleased with the look and feel of Wedgwood’s creation that she gave him permission to market it as Queen’s Ware.

Despite its name, Queen’s Ware was not designed for royalty or special occasions. In fact, it was meant for daily use. Accordingly, Wedgwood produced Queen’s Ware plates, cups, saucers, bowls, and even candlesticks. Surfaces were typically gilded or enameled, with designs often taken from nature. By 1766, Wedgwood had been named Potter to Her Majesty, and within just a few years, Queen’s Ware was so ubiquitous that Wedgwood’s competitors, especially those creating goods for the growing markets of the New World, took to calling their products Queen’s Ware, too.

Wedgwood’s next big success was another refinement, this time of a style known as Egyptian black. Wedgwood called his version Black Basalt, and produced vases and urns with a smooth, matte black finish. On the surfaces of these vases, he painted Etruscan scenes in rusty red—the handles ranged from lion’s heads to swans. The Black Basalts were such a signature for Wedgwood that when his company moved into new quarters in 1769, Wedgwood himself made a set of six commemorative vases in the Black Basalt style to mark the occasion.

Charlotte was not the only royal to fall for Wedgwood ware. In 1773, Russia’s Catherine the Great ordered a 1,000-place setting known as the Frog Service after the green frog crest that sits in the oak-leaf border at the top of each piece. Hand-painted scenes on the ware were of views near the new Wedgwood factory.

Jasperware came next in about 1774, and, unlike Black Basalt and Queen’s Ware, this was something entirely new. Like the Black Basalts, the surfaces of Jasperware pieces had matte finishes, but the range of colors was greater, with blue being the most famous. Against this hard "ground" of color, Wedgwood placed ceramic reliefs in white, creating panoramic cameos on the sides of his vases.

If Queen’s Ware was meant for the every day, Wedgwood’s Jasperware pieces were produced primarily for display. There were vases, pitchers, and large bowls. Jasperware portrait me...

If Wedgwood had done nothing else in his life, it would have been a rich one, indeed, but one of the little-known facts about Wedgwood is that he was an active supporter of progressive causes. From the beginning of his rise, he contributed to free schools in his hometown of Burslem. In 1778, when the Revolutionary War was at its height, he supported the Americans. And in 1787, he created a cameo medallion of a chained slave kneeling beneath the words "Am I Not A Man And A Brother"—the Slave Emancipation Society was allowed to use the image as its logo.

After Wedgwood’s death in 1795, his sons permitted the firm to drift, and mass-production techniques in the 1840s resulted in a loss of quality. But the company found its footing again in the 1870s with majolica pieces and creamware that featured the animal paintings of Henry Hope Crealock. Thomas Allen became Wedgwood’s chief designer in 1876, and signed Shakespearean plaques by him are highly collectible.

In the 20th century, Wedgwood designer Daisy Makeig-Jones strayed even further from the company’s Greco-Roman forms and naturalistic designs with a series of vases and other objects that were decorated with dragons, fairies, and goblins in the manner of illustrations for children’s books. This was not your father’s, or even great-grandfather’s, Wedgwood, but the public warmly embraced it.

Today, Wedgwood collectors are aided by the company’s habit of marking all pieces to help ensure their authenticity (Wedgwood fakes were a problem almost from the beginning). So, for example, if a piece of bone china has an iconic depiction of the Portland Vase on its underside, along with a single line punctuated by three dots and the word "Wedgwood" below that, it is from 1878 to 1890. In 1891, the word "England" was added below "Wedgwood," and in 1940 pieces of Queen’s Ware got a mark of their own.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Steve Birks' super deep site is a tribute to a bygone era, chronicling how a pottery center of excellence (they did… [read review or visit site]

The Bowes Museum: Ceramics

The Bowes Museum: Ceramics

This gallery showcases highlights from the 5,000 items in the museum's ceramics collection dating from 1500-1900. I… [read review or visit site]

Ceramics at The V&A

Ceramics at The V&A

A great reference on ceramics from the Victoria and Albert Museum. Learn about different ceramics techniques and st… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Wedgwood Dragon Lustre Vase Daisy Makeig Jones Chinese Antique FairylandPair Early 1800s Wedgwood Black Basalt Urns Medallion ScenesRare Blue Firs Bizarre Pattern Clarice Cliff Wedgwood Yo-yo Vase Modern Vintage Quality Wedgwood Blue Dip Jasperware Porcelain Lidded Pot19c Rare With Dipped Interior Wedgwood (only) Cobalt Dip Jasper Flowerpot & SandSeven Pieces Of Wedgwood Black Jasperware - Clock, Five Dishes And A PotWedgewood Black Basalt Luncheon Plates - 9 Inch - England 1956Wedgwood Jasperware Lithophane Fairy Lamp Pale Blue & White Dancing LadiesStunning Wedgwood Keith Murray Tapered 7 3/8" Vase - WhiteWedgwood China Jasperware Lavendar Cream Round Plate Grecian Design 8 3/4"Vintage Celadon Green Wedgwood Jasperware Bolted Urn Mint Nr1Rare Emile Lessore Wedgwood Pin Trinket Dish C1860-70 Important Painter Antique Antique Wedgwood Jasperware Dip Dipped Dark Cobalt Blue Salt & Pepper Shakers 19 C. Wedgwood Jasperware Cobalt Dip Two-handled Campana Vase And Cower.Wedgwood Black Basalt 10" Centerpiece Console BowlWedgwood Jasperware Blue Large Tea PotRare Early 19th C. Wedgwood (only) Jasperware Solid Light Blue Trophy Plate.Four Wedgwood Plates Sarah's GardenEarly Wedgwood Jasper Ware Pair Of Bud Vases4 X Wedgwood Porcelain / China Jasperware ThimblesPr Wedgewood Black Jasperware Basalt Candlesticks Candleholders 6"Wedgewood Black Jasperware Basalt Dresser Vanity TrayWedgwood Columbia - Blue And Gold - Covered Vegetable Dish / Tureen Large Early Wedgwood? Stoneware Jasper Ware JugWedgwood China - Dark Green Florentine - 4 Place Settings, 3 Plates, Cup, SaucerPair Of Gentleman's Cuff Links By Wedgwood Black Jasper Ware With Horses BoxedSpecial Pricing - Wedgwood Florentine Bone China Set - 59 Pc Set - New PicturesSix Complete 5 Piece Place Settings Of Wedgwood Runnymede Dark Blue China 30 PcsLot Of Four Wedgwood Blue Flower Pots Cup And Urn Blue JasperwareRare Early 20th C. Wedgwood Jasperware Dark Blue Covered Jam Jar With Stand.2 Antique Samuel Alcock & Co Neo-classical Portland Vases Grand TourSet Of 12 Cornell Univ 1955 Plates WedgewoodRare 19 C. Wedgwood Jasperware Cobalt Dip Miniature Vase.Rare 19c. Wedgwood Jasperware Cobalt Dip Miniature Souvenir Two-handled Vase Antique 17" Wedgwood Platter Cattle In Field Flow Blue TransferOld Wedgwood Light Blue Jasperware 9" Center Bowl - ClassicalWedgwood China Jasperware Lavender And Cream Footed Compote Grapes Ram DesignTwo Wedgwood Black Basalt Vanity Cold Creme Jars One Early 20th Cent One 1963Ladies Wedgwood Dark Blue Jasper Ware Brooch Silver Mounted CherubWedgwood Ulander Ruby Dinner Plate 10 3/4" Mint!Special Pricing - Wedgwood Cuckoo Bone China Set - 55 PiecesWedgwood Jasperware Blue TeapoyWedgwood Queensware Cream On Lavender Blue 5 Pc Place Setting Shell Edge Set #3Wedgwood Cane Ware Gravy Boat (623)8 Wedgwood Queensware Embossed Cream Salad Plates 8"Quality Antique Wedgwood Porcelain Tyg With Intricate Gold Gilt Pattern Wedgwood Florentine Turquoise - Complete Coffee Service - Pot , Cups , SaucerWedgwood Wild Strawberry 8" Salad/dessert Plates R4406 - Set Of 8Wedgwood Osborne Set Of Four Soup Bowls 8"Wedgwood Runnymede Dark Blue China 14" Oval Serving Platter Pristine ConditionAntique Wedgwood Queensware Open Rim Basket Tray Early English Pottery CreamwareWedgwood Oceanside 8 Tea Coffee Cups & 9 Saucers Lot Bone China Made In EnglandWedgwood Etruria & Barlaston (5) Cabbage Leaf Plates - 8" - Made In EnglandAntique Wedgwood Jasperware Dip Dipped 9 3/4" Dark Cobalt Blue Dish PlateWedgwood Wild Strawberry Bone China Teacup And Saucer Set Mint ConditionWedgwood Cornucopia Berry Bowls 1 Lot Of Ten Bowls 4 1/4" In Dia. And 3/4" TallNew 12 Pc Wedgwood Nantucket Basket White Cup Saucer Dish China Dinnerware PlateSet Of 4 Wedgewood Patrician 10/1/2" Dinner Plates (etruria & Barlaston)Wedgwood 'candlelight' 4 Dinner PlatesWedgwood Beatrix Potter Peter Rabbit Large Candy Bowl