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    

Antique Eric Ravilious Alphabet Plate For Wedgwood 1930s Art Deco Modernist Vintage Eric Ravilious Steam Train Bowl For Wedgwood Railwayana Art Deco Superb 19thc Wedgwood Queens Ware Lobster Decorated Salad Bowl C1880sTwo Wedgwood Three Colour Jasper Ware Plaques Josiah W + Bentley Ltd. Edition Antique Pre1860 Wedgwood Tobacco Jar Black Jasper Basalt Jasperware Weight Cameo19th C Antique Wedgwood Jasperware Cobalt Blue Dip Portland Pitcher 8" Greek Wedgwood Jasperware Sage Green Tea Cup 1868Antique Wedgwood Jasperware Porcelain Cobalt Footed Jardiniere Centerpiece BowlAntique Wedgwood Jasperware Cobalt Blue Cachepot Jardiniere Planter Flower PotAntique German Villeroy & Boch Mettlach Jasperware Porcelain Cameo Charger PlateWedgwood Gold Gilded Black Basalt Jasperware Egyptian Sphinx Candy Box In BoxWedgwood Daisy Dsytea Teacup & Saucer Set Blue- Iob #2Wedgwood Butterfly Bloom Teapot- Iob #2Antique Wedgwood Egyptian Sphinx Lidded Round Box With Terra CottaWedgwood Cuckoo Tea Story Teapot- Iob #1#2 Wedgwood England Butterfly Bloom Teapot - 1.0lWedgwood - Eric Ravilious - Persephone Design - Oval Platter - 12 1/2 Inches Wedgwood Bone China Ralph Lauren Pocketwatch 12" Charger Plate.Wedgwood Sarah Garden Soup Tureen LadleWedgwood Blue Jasperware Miniature 6 Pc Teaset Teapot Sugar Tray Creamer C/sNew! Wedgewood Sugar And Creamer Wild Strawberry2 Wedgwood Pearlware Creamware Peony Pattern Handleless Tea Cups & Saucers 1807Rare 19 C. Wedgwood (only) Jasper Light Blue Dip Potpourri Vase On Drum Base.Wedgwood Queensware Embossed Lavender Blue Dinner Plates Shell Edge (4)Rare Wedgwood White Sprigged Black Basalt Jasperware Robert Minkin 'rough' Vase12 Wedgwood Queensware Etruria Demi Cups & Saucers Tea Blue On WhiteWedgwood Bone China Samurai Open Oval Vegetable Dish 1st Quality Saad HotelsWith Box! Wedgwood Jasperware Blue Laurel Oval Photo Frame 3.5"x5"Wedgwood Sarah Garden Mug Set - 2Wedgwood Cobalt Dip Match Striker Vintage- Rare, Perfect PieceEngland Wedgwood China Embossed Queensware Urn White With Silver Lyre Rams Head3 Wedgwood Queensware Cream On Lavender Blue Cup & Saucer Set & 2 -8 Inch Plates4 Wedgwood Bone China *wild Strawberry* Dinner Plates #r4406~10 3/4" Complete Set Of Four Hollins College Wedgewood Commemorative Plates 10 1/2" #3Antique Early 1800s Wedgwood Creamware Oval Teapot Redish/gold Staple Repairs Antique Black Wedgwood Jasperware CandlestickWedgwood - Eric Ravilious - Persephone - 7 Inch Plate American Clipper - Wedgewood China - 29 Pc. SetClare Leighton Wedgwood Plate - Codfishing - New England Industries - 10.5" Ex.Wedgwood Prestige Bone China Black Tonquin 11" Dinner Plate England 1st QualityWedgwood Jasperware Cobalt Blue Dip Teapot - Pre 1891Wedgewood Jasperware Black Olympus Jar With Lid-made In England-4"x3"Lot Of 3 Wedgwood Embossed Queensware Pattern No. 2243 Tea Cup, Saucer And PlateWedgwood Pale Blue & White Jasper Ware 8" Sacrifice Bowl 1985 Figures EnglandWedgwood Cornucopia Fine China ClockVintage 49 Piece Wedgwood Countryside China England Plates, Dishes, BowlsWedgwood England Strawberry And Vine 14" Oval PlatterMint Wedgwood Jasperware Light Green Dip Jasper Pitcher Creamer JugWedgwood Extra Large Platter Patrician Etruria & Barlaston 18.5" Rare No ReserveWedgwood China Sarah's Garden 10" Vegetable Serving Tureen, No Lid, 2nd QualityVintage Wedgwood Jasperware Lamp Original FinialVictorian Wedgwood Large 3 Handled Black Basalt Loving CupWedgwood Bone China Golden Bird Covered Vegetable Dish / Tureen New 1st QualityWedgwood Charnwood 8 Luncheon Plates 9" GreatAmerican Clipper - Wedgewood China - Gravy Boat4 Midwinter Wedgwood Group Sun Stonehenge 10 1/2" Dinner Plates England 4 Vintage Wedgwood Midwinter Stonehenge Earth Dinner Plates Rustic Stoneware The Governor's Palace Virginia 10" Plate Wedgwood Williamsburg Restoration 19538 Sets Of Wedgwood Quince Fruit Ring Cups & SaucersWedgwood Runnymede Blue Fine Bone China Napkin Rings Set Of 8 W4472