Who was Josiah Wedgwood?

Who was Josiah Wedgwood?

Josiah Wedgwood was one of the most prolific potters in the history of Staffordshire pottery. 

He is perhaps renowned for his pioneering mass production in ceramics and playing a significant role in the industrial revolution through his association with steam power. 

It’s also worth noting that he was also an active abolitionist, campaigner for animal rights, and invested in scientific research, among many other initiatives to support humanity.

Wedgwood is regarded as one of the earliest entrepreneurs in modern history. But it wasn’t all plain sailing due to stiff competition from rivals such as Thomas Whieldon (1719-95), who also operated out of Etruria, Staffordshire. 

For example, Josiah’s father Thomas had worked for Whieldon, and there were cases where Wedgwood and Whieldon even collaborated. 

It’s also worth noting that Thomas Whieldon was not afraid to use modern methods, such as using a steam engine in his pottery before Josiah Wedgwood did.

Wedgwood may well have been inspired by the porcelain he saw when he visited the Staffordshire county fair, at nearby Newcastle-under-Lyme (which is now Stoke-on-Trent). 

He later made trips further afield to London, Paris, and Holland to learn about exotic techniques of creating high-quality wares. 

However, what defined Wedgwood’s style of “Etruria ware” was his early experimentation with tin glaze (a form of lead glaze) that helped to give his pottery a light blue hue.

Wedgwood became so proficient in developing new types of glaze by experimenting with various chemicals like feldspar, chalk, and flint. (for example the white “Pearlware”) at different kiln temperatures until he finally had an almost clear glass-like ware, which helped him produce finely detailed engravings on some ceramics. 

This is where Wedgwood’s talents shine because some of his decorative designs are simply beautiful, especially for serving ware like plates, teapots, and coffee pots.

What was Wedgwood’s best-known Ware?

Wedgwood’s “Black Basalt” ware was somewhat inspired by the dark-colored stoneware produced nearby in Stoke-on-Trent. 

The basalt stone Wedgwood acquired from Cornwall is believed to have come from an extinct volcano known as La Soufriere on the island of St Vincent. Once fired, this black pottery had a high gloss glaze that gave it a shiny finish.

The potter Josiah Spode II (1758-1795) helped Wedgwood produce his black earthenware wares around 1775, with production ceasing when Spode died. 

Spode left behind several male descendants who continued making fine quality English ceramics, so it’s no surprise that Spode II’s products are still popular today.

The other notable ware that Wedgwood developed was his cream-colored “Queen’s Ware” which was first introduced around 1775 and later modified for Queen Charlotte by using a soft red glaze known as “PINK”. 

This line of pottery became so popular among the English royalty (who had to wait 3 years) that it helped elevate Wedgwood’s status substantially. 

By one estimate, it took eight separate firings to produce each piece of this beautiful ware which gave it an almost porcelain-like appearance. 

It certainly didn’t hurt that Wedgwood also introduced several new techniques, where he employed highly skilled artisans who became known as the “Potteries School of Art”.

Wedgwood also designed black pottery that was used for formal dinner services. These became known as Basaltes Ware, and each piece had a blue “Egyptian” design on it, with some pieces being gilded. 

Around 1779 Wedgwood’s son Josiah II ran a factory in Liverpool, England, where he produced the same style of pottery in both black and red earthenware wares. 

This line of pottery has been attributed to Josiah Wedgwood II, so credit, where it’s due! 

What does the mark on Wedgwood pieces mean?

Wedgwood’s “mark” is called a back stamp. It is found on most pieces of earthenware, and it includes the following information:

The letter W inside an oval, shown at left, identifies most pieces made by Josiah Wedgwood for export or sale in Great Britain during his lifetime (1730-95). This symbol was introduced shortly after Wedgwood established himself as a potter in 1759. 

Note that this mark is not impressed into the piece. Instead, it is printed on paper and glued to the base before firing. 

The designation ‘EPNS’ refers to electroplated nickel silver (base metal with a thin coating of silver). Sometimes this backstamp also includes the date of manufacture and/or the country of origin.

Most valuable color of Wedgewood?

The most valuable color is Wedgewood Blue, but all colors are good. There are only a few pieces in the white Etruria pattern as it was discontinued, early on. 

Next to Wedgewood Blue, Cobalt blue and Forest green earthenware are the most valuable colors. 

Wedgewood patterns worth collecting

The rarest and most valuable pattern is Blue Jasper, but it’s also the hardest to find. 

It was retired early on because the blue glaze contained lead that caused health problems for workers who produced it, so there aren’t many out there (read more about this process here ). 

For those interested in owning genuine Wedgwood patterns, some of the most popular patterns of value include Black Basalt, Etruria, Queen’s Ware, Basse-taille, and Imari. 

Some can be hard to distinguish from fakes or later wares (described below). Most collectors want only genuine Wedgwood pieces for their collections, as fakes have flooded the market. 

Spotting a fake Wedgwood?

Genuine early Wedgwood is heavy and has sharp, crisp relief figures. 

Genuine pieces from the 1800s to the 1960s have been buried in the ground or survived fires. This means they will most likely be chipped or scratched if authentic. 

Pieces from the 1970s should not have any damage. 

2 thoughts on “Who was Josiah Wedgwood?

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