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    

1920s Wedgwood Fairyland Lustre Small Bowl Daisy Makeig-jones Fairies ElvesWedgwood Jasper Ware Lilac TeapotWedgwood Green Jasper Ware 3 Piece Tea Set Large Circular Antique Wedgwood Caneware Game Pie Dish / Tureen & Cover C1860Eric Ravilious Wedgwood Garden Pattern Deck Chair Lemon Boarder 9" Dish PlateVintage Wedgwood Green Jasper Ware Large Tea Pot Glazed Interior JasperwareEric Ravilious Wedgwood Garden Pattern Deck Chair Lemon Boarder 9" Dish PlateRare Wedgwood Crimson Jasperware Bud VaseWedgwood Neo Classical Solid Black Jasper Flaxman Dancing Hours Plaque 14" C1840Antique Dark Blue Wedgwood Jasperware Dip Sugar Bowl W/figural Lid Finial NrMarked Wedgwood Dark Blue Jasperware Classical Urn Form 8 Inch Vase5 Vintage Napoleon Ivy Wedgwood China Square Luncheon Plates, NrRare Wedgwood Tricolor Trophy PlateWedgwood Jasperware Light Blue Tea Sugar Bowl & Covered Jar & CreamerRare & Huge Wedgwood Majolica Fish Platter - Multi-color - 25 By 13 Inches ! Rare 19th Century Wedgwood (only) Jasperware Cobalt Dip “byerley” Jug.8 Vintage Wedgwood China 9 1/4in Dinner Plates, Napoleon Ivy Pattern, NrRare Stunning Antique Handpainted Wedgwood China Teapot C1812-1822.Vintage Napoleon Ivy Wedgwood Vegetable Tureen W/ Lid & 2 Platters, NrVintage Wedgwood Dark Blue Jasper Ware Game Pie Cheese Dish Bowl England DipVictorian Wedgwood Dark Blue Dip Jasper Ware Biscuit Barrel Jasperware7 Piece Vintage Napoleon Ivy Wedgwood China Serving Salad Bowl & 6 Salad BowlsWedgwood Black Basalt Jasper Ware Imperial Pedestal BowlWedgwood Ulander Powder Turquoise Cup & Saucer Peony Shape Footed4 Vintage Napoleon Ivy Wedgwood Bread Plates & 4 Salad Bowls, NrRare 19th C. Wedgwood (only) Jasper Sage Green Dip Miniature Perfume Bottle.Wedgwood Queen's Ware Queensware - White On Lavender - TeapotRare 19th Century Wedgwood Jasperware Cobalt Dip Covered Chocolate Or Coffee PotRare 18th, Early 19th Century Wedgwood Black Basalt Creamer, Squat Shape. Wedgwood Queensware 6 Cups 9 Saucers Embossed Lavender Blue &cream Shell Edge Two Dark Blue Wedgwood Jasper Pieces: A Bud Vase, An Antique Decorative ColumnRare Vintage Wedgwood Embossed Queensware Butter Dish Cover +plate Blue On CreamSet Of 4 Wedgwood White On Blue Embossed Queensware 10" PlatesWedgwood Us Naval Academy Plate Navy Sailboat Drill - Ship MilitaryVintage Napoleon Ivy Wedgwood 14 Piece Tea Set Cups & Saucers, NrRare 19th Century Wedgwood Jasperware Sage Green Dip Miniature Covered TeapotWedgwood Turquoise Florentine Fine China Round Covered Vegetable Dish Vintage Wedgwood Blue Jasper Ware -covered Jam Marmalade Jar -condimentVintage 1950 Wedgwood England Sage Green Jasperware Tea PotWedgwood Cornucopia Accent BoxRare Large Antique Wedgwood Vase Rosso Antico W/black Accents Dated 1765-1769Rare 19th Century Wedgwood (only) Jasperware Cobalt Dip Miniature Souvenir Vase.Wedgwood Runnymede Cobalt Blue Round Salad Vegetable Bowl 8” W4472Vintage Wedgwood Jasperware Black Slave Yellow Dish Am I Not A Man And A BrotherSuperb 19thc Wedgwood Queensware Neptune Salad Bowl With Majolica Fish FeetLot Of Two Vintage Wedgwood Jasperware Pink Bud Vases 5.5" Vintage Wedgwood Candle Sticks Pink Jasperware Girls Dancing Excellent No ResWedgwood Ferrara Blue White Harbor Scene Serving Oval Platter 10 3/4" Flow BlueAntique Wedgwood Crimson Jasper Ware Sugar Bowl LooooooooookVtg 1955 Wedgwood Sporting Dog Plate Golden Retriever Rare VgcBig Vintage Wedgewood England Light Blue Jasperware 10 Inch Center Piece Bowl6 Wedgwood Candlelight Bone China Dinner PlatesWedgwood Jasper Ware Sage Green Round Trinket Box Dated 1977Vintage Enoch Wedgwood Flow Blue / White Countryside Dishes Svc For 12 + ServingWedgwood Cornucopia Ornamental Cherub UrnWedgwood Embossed Cream On Blue Queen's Ware 8 Bread And Butter Plates Lot Of Vintage Wedgwood Blue & White Jasperware Items~card Suit Dishes,vase ,cupWedgwood Ferrara Blue White Harbor Scene Oval 2handle Celery Dish 9" Flow Blue West Point Military Academy Wedgewood Plate, 1933, "dress Parade" Blue/whiteWedgwood Kutani Crane Porcelain Dinner Plates Set Of 4