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    

Fine French Carrara Marble, Ormolu & Wedgwood Panel French 8 Day Clock No ResGreat Cbi Pilot's Group, Leather Blood Chit, Theater Patches, Wings, Leather TaWedgwood 19c Antique Tricolor Jasperware Plaque Cobalt Buff Cherubs Grapes 12x6"Wedgwood Light Red Jasperware Vase Planter Jardiniere Pot Lion Heads England3 English Wedgwood Box’s Inc Gold Painted Black Basalt & Green JasperwareWedgwood  peter Rabbit Miniature Teaset Frederick Warne & Co Eturia BarlastonWedgwood Fairyland Lustre Sugar Bowl C1920 Daisy Makeig JonesScarce C1920s Wedgwood Fairy Luster Octagonal Small Bowl Cup Dragon 2" X 3 1/2"Gorgeous Wedgwood Jasperware Inkwell And Pen TrayTableware Wedgwood Osborne 35 Pcs. R 4699 PorcelainWedgwood Dark Blue Jasper Dip UrnA Superb English Black Basaltware Pottery Teapot, Widow Finial, Wegdwood, C 1800Rare Wedgwood Texas A & M College Plate Gathright Hall 1876Wedgwood Queensware 5 Piece Place Setting-new - Never UsedWedgwood Gold Florentine Vegetable Dish / Tureen Base Wedgewood China Cream On Lavender Service For 4 28 Pieces Embossed QueenswareLot Of Wedgwood "queen's Plain" ChinaWedgwood Bone China England Cups And Saucers Florentine DemitasseWedgwood Gold Florentine - Three Rimmed Soup Or Pasta Dishes Wedgwood Jasperware Miniature Tea Set Pink - Mint - 11 Pieces Including LidsWedgewood China Cream On Lavender Pieces Embossed Queensware Misc.Beautiful Wedgewood Queensware,bowl,platter Saucers,vase,dessert Plates Wow!Wedgwood Green Jasperware Teapot Godesses , Cherubs & Peacock 1969Wedgwood Embossed Queens Ware Shell Edge Lavender 5 Piece Place SettingWedgwood Pair Of Peter Rabbit Egg Coddlers - Standard And King SizeSet Of 3 Wedgwood Ralph Lauren 'polo Bear' Mugs5 Embossed Wedgwood Barlaston Of Etruria Queenware 9" Salald PlatesSix Wedgwood Queen’s Ware Transfer Calendar TilesWedgwood Fairyland Lustre Z5294 Bowl Hummingbirds Vintage Daisy Makeig JonesWedgwood Teapot Black Basalt Rosso Antico Teapot Oriental StyleWedgwood China Cornucopia 5 Piece Place Setting Unused In Plastic W StickersSmall Wedgwood Dark Blue Jasper Dip Covered BoxWedgwood Embossed Queensware Etruria 3 Pc Tea Cup, Saucer, 8" Plate MintRare Wedgwood Three Color Jasper Dip Diceware Vase Late 19th Cen.12-4 Piece Place Settings Wedgwood Lavender Queensware China Plates Cups SaucerVintage Wedgwood Black Jasperware Compote BowlWedgwood Florentine Dark Blue 4 Peony Shape Cups And 4 SaucersAmazing Wedgwood Sarah's Garden Teapot & 2 Canister Storage Jar Queens Ware 1997Wedgwood Pink Jasper Large Footed Sacrifice Bowl JasperwareWedgwood Florentine Dark Blue 4 Dinner PlatesWedgwood Nantucket Basket Weave Small Basket Serving Dish Nib21 Pcs Vintage Wedgwood Florentine Turquoise Tea Set Teapot Cups Plates ServiceAntique Wedgwood Green On White Jasper Ware Tyg Loving Cup Reverse Jasperware4-wedgwood Coalpoart Country Ware Soup Bowl Cup Saucer Set Of 4 England MintWedgwood Queensware Blue On Cream Square Cake Plate W/ Shell Edge Excellent3 Wedgwood Bone China Cornucopia Blue Oval Platters 11.5"Wedgewood Wild Strawberry Set Plates Cups Saucers BowlWedgwood Bone China Wild Strawberry Large Teapot 1st Qual Made In EnglandFourteen Assorted Miniature And Small Wedgwood Solid Jasper MedallionsWedgwood Bianca Pattern Bone China Teapot And Lid Wedgwood Westbury Bone China England Set Of 2 5 Pc Place Settings (10pcs) MintWedgwood Antique Dark Blue Jasper Ware Small PotVintage Royal Ironstone China White Milk Pitcher 12 1/2 " A.j.wilkinson EnglandWedgwood Vintage Edme Footed Covered Vegetable Bowl With Rams Head HandlesWedgewood India Rim Soup BowlWedgwood Fine Porcelain "eden" 12 Soup/cereal Bowls Wedgewood China - Columbia Green3 Pcs Wedgwood Jasperware Rare Lilac - Egg Trinket Box Bell Excellent ConditionWedgwood China, Cavendish, Four 5 Piece Place SettingsWedgwood Coalpoart Country Ware Soup Bowl Cup Saucer Set Of 4 England Mint