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    

Wedgwood Dancing Hours No.3 Limited Edition Figure C.1994Wedgwood Dancing Hours First Limited Edition FigureWedgwood Dancing Hours No.6 Limited Edition Figure C.1995Wedgwood Dancing Hours Fifth Limited Edition FigureWedgwood Jasperware Terra Cotta SetScarce 19th Century Three Colour Wedgwood Jasper Dip / Jasperware Biscuit BarrelAntique Wedgwood Pottery England Porcelain Large Blue Jasperware Jardiniere VaseWedgwood Dancing Hours 2nd Limited Edition FigureVintage Wedgwood Muses Urn Vase In Pale Blue JasperwareRare Wedgwood Jasperware Tricolor Marmalade Jar, Blue, Yellow, WhiteVintage Wedgwood Green Neoclassical Jasperware Centerpiece Compote Bowl C1964Very Rare Wedgwood Jasperware Engine Turned Green Dip With White Relief Beaker Wedgwood Jasperware Lilac Purple Match Box Holder & 2 Mini Round Boxes Vgc NrWedgwood Antique Hercules In The Garden Of The Hesperides 21.5" Framed Plaque Beautiful Wedgwood China England Red & Gilt Footed 32 Piece Tea + Coffee SetWedgwood Florentine Sage Green 4 Teacups & Saucers (leigh) Brand New/unusedWedgwood Jasperware Ginger Jar Lilac Purple Large 11" 20th C Wedgwood Jasper Dip Campana Vase And Cover - MarkedVintage Wedgwood U. S. Naval Academy "old Fort Severn 1851" 10 1/4" Blue Plate.Gray Wedgwood Jasperware 8" Wide X 3 3/4" Bowl!Wedgwood Jasperware Cream On Terra Cotta Tea Cup/flat Cup & Saucer, Gorgeous!6 Vintage 1926 Wedgwood Ivory Ventnor Porcelain Tea Cups & SaucersStunning Wedgwood Oceanside Large Salad BowlWedgwood Bone China Columbia Powder Ruby Sugar Box & Cream Jug New 1st QuWedgwood China Williamsburg Cuckoo TeapotVintage Wedgwood Of Etruria Barlaston Horses And Dogs Hunting Scene WhiteWedgwood Jasperware Lilac Smoke Set Lighter & Ash TrayWedgwood Set Of 4 Boxes - England/rare-beautiful/heart/spade/clover/diamondVintage Pair Wedgwood Blue Jasperware Candlesticks Candle Holders 5"Wedgwood Dancing Hours 2nd Limited Edition Figure(3) Piece Vintage Wedgwood Jasperware - Blue - Sacrifice Cake Plate, Cup/saucer 2 Wedgwood ~ Wild Strawberry Design ~ Chinese Soup SpoonsWedgewood Queensware Tea SetWedgwood Florentine Turquoise Coffee/tea PotWedgwood “liberty” Bowl, 10+”, Black / Creamware, J.e. Caldwell & Co., 1964 English Wedgewood Circa 1910 4 Piece Wedgwood Lilac Demitasse Jasperware Cup & Saucer Excellent4 Wedgwood Dinner Plates-florentine/dark Blue K91-1Pair Of Wedgwood Basalt 8 1/4 Inch VasesWedgwood Kruger National Park Roan Antelope 10 3/4" Plate Perfect!!4 Wedgwood American Clipper Cereal Bowls BlueBone Wedgwood China Tazza Pedestal Cake Stand Green Altona Pattern Hand ColouredWedgwood ~ Wild Strawberry Design ~ Chinese Soup SpoonWedgwood Queensware 4 Tea Cup And Saucers White On Grey Shell EdgeSet Of 4 Wedgwood Vases / Urns, Shell Handle, Moonstone In All 4 Sizes, 1964Wedgwood Turquoise Florentine Large Teapot 1.75 Pints (uk)19th Century Wedgwood Black Jasperware Sacrifice Pattern 7 7/8" BowlWedgwood English Cottage Collection " Peppermint" Oval Serving Bowl4 Wedgwood Dinner Plates-florentine/dark Blue K91-2Limited Edition Wedgwood Queens Ware Frog Service Plate Wilton Castle 1195 BoxedVintage 1926 Wedgwood Ivory Ventnor Porcelain Large 13 1/4" PlatterCoalport/wedgwood Countryware Cruet Set With Tray Salt Pepper Mustard Free BellWedgwood Basalt Liberty Bell Figurine Black Jasperware Philadelphia PennsylvaniaStunning Wedgwood Oceanside Candlestick CoalportVintage Wedgewood Cobalt Blue Jasper Ware Muses Spill Vase 4 Inch Tall.1989 Wedgwood Bone China Ralph Lauren Polo Crest Mug VintageWedgwood Etruria Barlaston Patrician 13" Round Platter Chop Plate Flower Scroll Wedgwood Vera Wang Silver Plated Childs Piggy Bank New & Boxed.2 Ralph Lauren Balmoral Hunt Dinner Plates By Wedgwood Great8 Wedgwood American Clipper Salad Plates Blue