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”)

Thepotteries.org

Thepotteries.org

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    

Rare Circa 1800 Wedgwood Black Jasperware Dip Ornate Handled Urn Vase NrAntique Wedgwood Porcelain Black Basalt Jasperware Large Vase Urn 13 1/2"Rare Antique 19thc Wedgwood England Blue Dip Jasperware Portland Vase NrRare Wedgwood Black Basalt Gurgle Jug C1980Antique Circa 1900 Set Wedgwood Black Jasperware Dip Demitasse Cups & SaucersAntique Wedgwood Yellow And Black Basalt Jasperware Small Pitcher 5" 1930'sRare Antique Circa 1900 Blue Wedgwood Dip Jasperware Covered Cheese Dome DishLarge Vintage Wedgwood England Jasperware Green Greco-roman Handled Campana Urn Antique 1920's Wedgwood Crimson Red Jasperware 7oz. Mini Pitcher Or CreamerRare Antique Pre 1860 Blue Wedgwood Dip Jasperware Planter Jardiniere W/ LionsRare Circa 1820 Spode Drabware Double Inkwell W/ Greek Motif In Raised Relief87 Piece Wedgwood Kutani Crane China Dinnerware Set, Service For 14Scarce Crimson Dip Wedgwood 8 " Pen Tray - WweRare Antique Circa 1860 Blue Wedgwood Dip Jasperware Planter Jardiniere W/ LionsAntique Wedgwood Basalt Plaque -golden Lady - Ww Only19th C. Wedgwood Jasperware Royal Blue "fox Hunt Scene" Biscuit Barrel W/ LidWedgwood Jasper Ware Dancing Hours Clock & Candle Holders Wedgwood Dinnerware Nantucket Basket Covered Vegetable Dish Bowl New With TagsWedgwood Terracotta On Black Jug PitcherFabulous Cobalt Blue Wedgwood Jasperware Vase Three Graces Grape Vines 18711993 Wedgewood Oberon 5-piece Place Setting Bone China EnglandAntique Wedgwood England Green Majolica Grape & Basket Weave Plate Circa 17656 Wedgwood Bone China Gold Florentine Salad Plates 8"Antique Circa 1900 Josiah Wedgwood England Blue Dip Jasperware Miniature Vase NrWedgwood Dinnerware Nantucket Basket New With Tags Covered Butter Dish Cheese Wedgwood Queensware 27pc Dinnerware Set Roses Sunflower Pattern 6 Settings12 Wedgwood Majolica Etruria Green, Cabbage Leaf PlatesLot 4 Wedgwood Yellow Green White Brown Ceramic Shell Jasper Ware Pill BoxesWedgwood Blue White Ceramic Jasper Ware Greek Classic Design Large Imperial BowlWedgwood Dinnerware Nantucket Basket New With Tags 15.25" Oval Serving PlatterWedgwood Dinnerware Nantucket Basket New With Tags Open Vegeable 9.75" Bowl DishWedgwood Embossed Queensware Celadon Green On Cream (set Of 8) Cup & Saucer SetsWedgwood Black Basalt Jasperware Imperial Footed Bowl 8"Pair Wedgwood Blue Jasperware White Bas Relief Neoclassical Teacups Saucers Mth 3 Wedgwood Dinnerware Nantucket Basket Weave White Bone China 4" Ice Cream BowlLot 3 Wedgwood Blue White Black Gold Ceramic Lion Classic Jasper Ware Pill BoxesAntique Wedgwood Etruria 9 1/2" Transferware Plate Elk Deer Dog Formosa BorderKutani Crane Bone China Mug Wedgwood -gold Trim, A Rare, Rare Beautiful Piece!6 Wedgwood Queensware Cup Saucer Set Lavender Blue White Antique Wedgwood Jasperware Vesta Lidded Match Box Doncaster Coat Of Arms 1904Lot 2 Wedgwood Lilac Purple White Ceramic Jasper Ware 1960 BowlsWedgwood China Columbia W595, Four 5-piece Settings, Green TrimWedgwood Cream Ware Dish, Tray Etruria, James Powell, Decorated With Leaves19th C. Wedgwood Ocean Majolica Oyster Plate ~ Lot 2 Of 612 Piece Vintage Jasperware Wedgewood China Coffee/tea Set €Wedgwood Embossed Queensware Celadon Green On Cream (set Of 8) 8" Salad PlatesWedgewood Bone China Kutani Crane Peony - Set Of 4 Cups And Saucers Excellent!Wedgwood Lavender Blue Embossed Queensware21 Piece Wedgwood Amherst China Serves 4 Dinner Salad Bread Butter L@@k MibWedgwood Embossed Queensware Celadon Green On Cream (set Of 8) Fruit BowlsWedgwood Embossed Queensware Celadon Green On Cream (set Of 7) 10" Dinner PlatesWilliamsburg Wedgwood Potpourri China-covered Vegetable Dish-excellent ConditionWedgwood Complete Alpine Pink Tea Service, C.1936A Porcelain Creamer And Sugar, Black Florentine, Wedgwood, Globe ShapeWedgwood Porcelain Pink Historical Plate "capitol, Atlanta, Georgia" C:1940-61 Wedgwood Bone China Peter Rabbit Miniature Teapot EnglandWedgwood Bone China Tea Cups & Saucers - Runnymede Blue Pattern - Lot Of 4Wedgwood Embossed Queensware Celadon Green On Cream TeapotLarge Wedgwood Primrose Yellow Jasperware Square Lidded Trinket Box W/sticker Wedgwood 8 Inch Plates Bone China Clio Pattern Eight Pieces