Wedgwood has been the most celebrated name in English china for the past two centuries. Lord Wedgwood, descendant of the company's founder, Josiah Wedgwood, shares with Martha the company's history and displays some significant pieces from the Wedgwood archive.
Josiah Wedgwood was born in Staffordshire, England, in 1730. His father died when Josiah was young, so he quit his studies and became an apprentice to his eldest brother Thomas, who had inherited the family pottery works. He mastered the art of throwing and handling clay from his brother, then in 1754 formed a partnership with Thomas Whieldon, the greatest English potter of his day. In 1759, Josiah set up his own business. His first great achievement was developing a formula for a brilliant green glaze to decorate earthenware with leaf and vegetable shapes. Josiah, and later his descendants, made many innovations that revolutionized the international ceramic trade. The Glossary contains types of china that represent milestones in Wedgwood's history.
Josiah's refinement of creamware, an earthenware that was being produced at the time by several Staffordshire potteries, distinguished him from the others -- and attracted the attention of the monarchy. Queen's Ware, which Josiah first produced in 1762, was named for Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III, who received a set and was so pleased with it that she gave Josiah her endorsement. Catherine the Great of Russia ordered a Husk Service of this china in 1770. Each piece of her set was handpainted with rose-colored floral sprays. Later, Catherine ordered a set of almost a thousand pieces of Queen's Ware bearing scenes of England.
This china was Josiah's refinement of a cruder material known to Staffordshire potters of the time as Egyptian Black. The new black basalt was richer in hue, finer in grain, and smoother in texture than any previously made. It was used for tableware, as well as for plaques, vases, busts, and other decorative elements. Black basalt was prized because its matte-black surface resembled ancient Greek and Etruscan artifacts.
A fine unglazed stoneware that usually bears bas-relief ornamentation in a contrasting color, Jasperware is Wedgwood's best-known ornamental ware. Josiah developed jasperware in the 1770s, and considered it his greatest achievement. Its intense, bright colors, including green, yellow, lilac, blue, and black, are created by the addition of minerals to the clay before it is fired. Wedgwood's famous neoclassical Portland vase epitomizes this technique.
Drabware is a simple glazed earthenware that varies in tone from light coffee to dark olive. It was introduced around 1800 and was produced on a large scale until 1860; special sets are currently manufactured for companies such as Tiffany's in New York.
Wedgwood first produced bone china in 1812, and it continues to be the company's best-seller. Bone china gets its name from its high proportion of bone ash, lending the porcelain heightened luster, translucency, and durability. President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned a set of Wedgwood bone china bearing the presidential seal for use in the White House.
Learn more about Josiah Wedgwood & Sons Ltd. at wedgwood.co.uk.