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    

3 Antique Historical Blue & White Yale Wedgewood Staffordshire Plates & PlatterWedgwood China Dinnerware Set Kutani Crane Service For 8-newHuge Wedgwood Dragon Lustre Bowl PerfectRare Wedgwood Covered Bowl/jar - Dragon Lustreware By Daisy Makeig-jonesWedgwood Jasperware 1977 Queens Silver Jubilee Plaques, 40g Silver Ingots Ltd EdVtg 1930s Art Deco Orig John Skeaping Wedgwood Cane Glaze Kangaroo Animal FigureWedgwood Jasperware PlaqueWedgwood~rare Bust Of Sir Haratio Nelson ~black BasaltWedgwood Aesthetic / Japanesque Fan & Prunus Motif Cabaret SetWedgwood Signed Black Basalt Pitcher Creamer 4" Tall Man With Head2 Dinner Plates, 10 Dessert Plates, Cup & Saucer Yale Wedgewood China Dessert SeLarge White Footed Pedestal Bowl - Royal Ironstone China Johnson Bros. England Antique Wedgwood Black Basalt Candlesticks No Reserve Wedgwood Edme Soup Salad Pasta Bowls Off White Ribbed England Embossed Set Of10Antique Wedgwood Jasperware Medallions James Dixon Sheffield Silverplate HolderWedgwood Mie Rare Buff Yellow & Black Dip Bonbon Heart Trinket Box N/rWedgwood Bone China Cornucopia Large 8.5" Tall Lidded Urn VasePr. Vintage Wedgwood Blue Jasper Ware CandlesticksWedgwood Etruria & Baralston Porcelain Teacup Saucer Plates Embossed Queens WareVintage Wedgwood Black Pedestal Jasper Fruit Centerpiece BowlWedgwood Tricolor White, Lilac And Green Jasperware Pot, Wedgwood OnlyWedgwood Embossed Queensware Cream On Lavender Blue Shell Edge 5 Piece SettingWedgwood Embossed Queens Ware Etruria & Barlaston Teapot Vase Sugar CreamerAesthetic Brown Transfer Wedgwood Sugar Bowl Seaweed 1883Arabia Finland Ruska Set Of 9 Soup BowlsWedgwood Etruria & Baralston Embossed Queens Ware Porcelain Teacup Saucer PlatesAntique Wedgwood The John Wesley Teapot Methodist Wesleyana C1908 Blue WhiteWedgwood China - Bianca (williamsburg) - 5 Pc. Place Setting - A True Auction!!Wedgwood Hand Painted Covered Box Josiah Wedgwood Wedgwood China - Bianca (williamsburg) - Big Round Salad Serving BowlWedgwood Antique Egyptian Jasper Ware Teapot Wedgwood Mie Rare Buff Yellow & Black Dip Bonbon Pentefoil Trinket Box N/rRare! Vintage Wedgwood Miniature Blue Jasperware 9 Piece Tea/coffee Set- "mint"Vintage Wedgwood Blue Jasper Ware (2) Teacups & (2) SaucersWedgwood Florentine Turquoise W2714 Large 17" X 13" Serving Platter- Mint!Arabia Finland Ruska Set Of 7 Dinner Plates 10 1/8"Wedgwood Florentine Black 10 7/8" Cake PlateWedgwood Blue Jasper Planter With Gold TrimPair Wedgwood Pink Jasperware 6" Tall Candle Holders Candle SticksSarah's Garden Wedgwood Set 3 12oz Mugs Queen's Ware England 1997Wedgwood China Columbia Sage Green Demitasse Cup And Saucer SetsWedgwood Florentine Black 6 Egg Cups 2 1/2"Antique Wedgwood Green Jasperware Deer Falcon Tea CoffeepotWedgwood Osborne Bone China R4699 ..8 Salad BowlsWedgewood Ironstone Flow Blue Chapoo 10 5/8" Rimmed Serving BowlBasalt Sugar Bowls 2 For Price Of 1Beautiful Rare Vintage Jasper Wedgewood Sacrifice Bowl- Black & White Beauty!Wedgwood Black Basalt Busts Ltd. Edition Queen Elizabeth & Duke Of Edinburgh8 Wedgwood Bone China Gold Grecian Cups & SaucerWedgwood Osborne Five Piece Place Setting Bone ChinaVintage Wedgwood Etruria Small Leaf Shaped Green Glazed Majolica Footed DishWedgwood Mie Rare Buff Yellow & Black Dip Barclay Oval Pin Tray N/rWedgwood Lavender/blue+white Embossed Queensware Covered Serving Dish MintWedgwood Florentine Black Covered Veg Bowl Round 4 Midwinter Natural Cereal Bowls Wedgwood England Four Mid Century Stoneware Mcm3 Lovely Wedgwood Bicentenary Celebration Blue Plum Bone China Mugs / Cups 1995Wedgwood Colonnade Black Gold 5 Piece Setting Service For 8 R4340 PatternWedgwood Florentine Black Chop Platter 13 1/2"Wedgwood Florentine Black 17 1/2" Oval Platter Wedgwood "countryware" Strawberry Basket With Creamer And Sugar